International rescue

It is difficult enough for HR to keep up with the demands of head office,
but what if one of your subsidiaries needs some serious TLC, asks Kate
Stanbury. Enter the international Interim manager…

Do you have trouble overseeing your overseas offices? Are there logistical
problems you can’t anticipate from a geographical distance? Do the differences
in culture and language cause an even greater gap in your knowledge base? You
can post an existing manager overseas, but they might not have the knowledge of
the region or even the language needed to make an impact. And if you opt for a
local recruit, how easily can you monitor their progress? Using an interim
manager may be the best way to bridge the global gap.

"It is essential that UK companies expanding into other countries take
on someone who is not only bilingual but bicultural," says interim agency
Global Executive’s France-based director Ross Allen. "It is vital to
understand the culture of the people and how business practice operates in the
host country. American companies coming into Europe don’t realise that European
countries have distinct cultures. The value of using an IM is that they can act
as a cultural interface."

But what is life like for the international interim manager? Interim
managers posted overseas must live out of hotel rooms and work extremely hard
for short periods of time during which they will probably not have daily
contact with their friends and family.

So what attracts them? Is it the huge salaries and time spent in warmer
climes? Interim agencies think not.

"It’s not the money that is driving them, it’s the opportunity to
perform excellent work," says Nigel Corby, managing director of Global
Executives. "Many have sold on their interests in a company or received a
substantial pay-off which gives them financial security. Many simply enjoy the
adrenalin buzz of being at the forefront of change management where results and
delivery are everything."

Alan Horn, managing director of Albemarle, adds: "Interims working
overseas are going to enjoy something out of the ordinary. Very few of them
would go back into full-time employment, as they don’t regard it as any more
secure than interim work. There is an element of being directly rewarded for
what they do, which is very difficult to get if you are in a company
full-time."

Perhaps the greatest challenge for all interim managers is to perform
effectively from the moment they arrive in an organisation. There is never any
time for an interim, posted to a company for six months to deal with a critical
issue, to spend a couple of months getting a feel for what is going on.

But for interims working overseas, there are the additional hurdles of
culture and language. Most agencies agree that cultural and linguistic
flexibility are a must for interims taking on the tough challenge of an
overseas appointment.

Steven Schick is in Paris working as interim finance director for a luxury
US brand. He says: "Interim managers need to be operational immediately –
that is a fundamental selling point. Equally important is the ability to
integrate into the company and to take responsibility straightaway – to talk in
terms of ‘we’ rather than ‘you’ when discussing company issues."

Nick Cutts, chief executive of agency Barton International, adds:
"Languages are essential, as is cultural understanding. Interims need to
be chameleons. They have to understand the international culture – if the
people in a company don’t think the interim understands them they will not
cooperate."

And for the HR interim, an understanding of local culture and employment law
is doubly important.

Says Chloe Watts, who heads the interim managers division of HR recruitment
specialist Courtenay Personnel: "Because HR professionals deal with the
human element, they must have an understanding of local language and culture,
which includes the relevant employment legislation. We will be unlikely to post
anyone overseas who hasn’t already got considerable international
experience."

Alison Butler is currently on assignment throughout Europe, working as
interim HR recruitment consultant for an international financial services
company. She says: "As a consultant I am seen as neutral. People come to
me for advice because they don’t necessarily see me as part of the executive.
And for me it means I can walk out at the end of the day and not get embroiled
in office politics."

The largest overseas market for interims is in Europe. The Netherlands,
which is generally accepted as having initiated the concept of interim
management, has a strong internal market. But in much of Europe, employment law
and the implementation of the Social Charter make the use of national interims
more difficult.

Chris Hindle, managing director for interim management at Calibre One, says:
"In the UK we are accustomed to using interim managers because the
employment legislation is more flexible. Where countries have inflexible
employment law, you find that they haven’t yet nurtured a good pool of interim
managers, so we end up supplementing them with interims who are UK
nationals."

The flexibility of UK employment law gives UK nationals a big advantage and
means that highly qualified managers have opportunities overseas they would not
otherwise have.

Cutts comments: "In Germany it is much easier to recruit British
interims than it is to recruit a German. And in Germany they are often keen to
break the mould, to get someone in from a different culture. The British are
very popular overseas in a business context."

The market for IT interims has contracted in line with the uncertainty in
that market following the failure of Y2K and e-commerce to bring in the
revenues expected. This market may well pick up again in the future, but at the
moment it is HR, financial and general management that are expanding, following
a quiet few months.

Nigel Corby says: "The effect of 11 September was cataclysmic on the
day and had a 10-week backwash. People stopped making resource decisions for
those weeks, but you cannot put off such decisions forever, and interim
management is one of the markets that picked up quite quickly. We are now
seeing a return of demand and expect the market to start to expand again by mid-year."

The past six months may have been slow in the interim market, but the
predictions are that it will pick up in the UK in the first quarter of 2002 and
throughout Europe by the third quarter. When it does, British interims are in a
good position to be at the forefront of the revival.

Case study

Alison Butler has over 12 years’ HR
experience in the financial services market, specialising in training and
recruitment.

Her current assignment, through Courtenay Interim Practice, is
as European recruitment consultant for a large commercial finance company. She
says: "Because I am responsible for the whole of Europe I haven’t got a
base at the moment. Just this week I have been in Amsterdam and today I’m in
Dublin."

The company is currently going through a period of restructure
and Alison’s role is an important one – to ensure local management fulfils its
recruitment quota with the right people. "I am there as projects manager
to liaise between recruitment agencies and managers and help steer the process
through. Because I am there in an interim capacity, I can focus on what I am
being asked to do – I am not torn in other directions."

Would she recommend the international interim role to others?
"I haven’t got pets or children, and I’m very mobile. Interim management
suits me because I prefer to work extremely hard for nine months of the year
and take time off. But to do this job well you need flexibility. I have become
a good juggler. Overall, I find it exciting and challenging."

Case study

Stephen Schick has spent the past four months working as interim finance
director for the French subsidiary of a US luxury brand. He is managing the
Paris-based finance team and upgrading processes to accommodate growth while
the company recruits a permanent FD. He received the post through Global
Executives and expects to stay for a further three to four months.

Schick has been working as an interim for the past 10 years.
"I enjoy the challenge of new environments and problems," he says,
"and I am encouraged by the favourable feedback and reactions from
clients. I am able to deal with specific issues without becoming distracted by
corporate politics."

He finds that overseas postings do involve spending more time
away from home than would normally be the case, but adds that with the British
transport system in its current state, it is often easier and quicker for him
to get to Paris on a Monday morning than it was for him to get to Bournemouth
in his previous position.

He adds: "Being away from home does have the advantage
that you tend to be more focussed on the assignment."

Schick finds interim postings both by approaching companies
directly and by using interim agencies. "In most instances I am approached
or selected for an assignment because language skills and international
experience are required – I have fluent French and German, and have worked
extensively in Europe," he says.

Schick believes interim managers can provide a vital link
between subsidiaries and head offices. "IM can immediately tackle the urgent
issues, and pass on expertise and experience to local teams – at the same time
advising head office as to local financial and trading practices, which are not
always understood by parent company personnel."

Would he go back to permanent work? "I would not exclude
the possibility of a permanent position," he says. "But it detracts
from your credibility if you embark on an interim role with the idea that it
will become permanent. I enjoy the variety and feeling of independence provided
by interim management, and I am quite happy to continue in this direction.
Anyway, today ‘permanent’ positions often last no longer than interim
positions."

Case study

Colin Okin’s first appointment, through Barton International, was to review
the contract and catering facilities managed by Eurest for the Navy Army Air
Force Institutes (NAAFI). The partnership, which had been in operation for just
over a year, was experiencing difficulties and Okin was called in to recommend
improvements in unit operations and supply chain logistics.

In a six-month period he found himself visiting Germany,
Cyprus, Bosnia, Croatia, the Ascension Islands and the Falklands.

The whole process of food supply was taking around four weeks
and was subject to UK transit documents, health certificates and export
licences and Croatian port authority acceptance.

With Okin’s help the system has now been reduced to a
twice-weekly delivery to each camp via a central distribution warehouse.

He is enthusiastic about his assignment. "It offered rare
opportunities," he says. "First, to get my teeth into an extremely
complex organisation, second, to travel extensively, and third, to work with
some very dedicated people who work and live in some very difficult conditions."

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