Star player

For
Bernard Buckley, super-interim status comes from being a skilled salesman and
strategist. By Sally O’Reilly

In
every walk of life, there are those who make a living, and those who stand out
as top performers. And the IM sector is no exception. Even when business is
slow for providers, and the majority of interims are left waiting for the phone
to ring, there is an elite group who are in constant demand, frequently moving
from post to post through personal recommendation, and having the luxury to
choose between assignments. But what distinguishes this group from their less
successful peers? And can others learn from their experience?

Bernard
Buckley is a man who can provide some of the answers. He is unquestionably in
the league of ‘super-interims’, and has spent the past seven years tackling a
huge range of diverse senior HR appointments. He believes the secret of his
success lies in the experience he gained before he began his life as an interim
– and some very careful planning.

"In
my previous life, I worked for a variety of organisations, including British
Oxygen, where I was the youngest senior HR executive in the group, and The
London Stock Exchange. I finally ended up as HR director, Europe, with the
National Australia Bank Group, setting up an integrated HR function for the
European business – a massive job," says Buckley. "When I left, I had
several job offers, but they were all more of the same thing. So I stood back
and decided what I wanted out of the rest of my career."

Although
he initially saw interim as a stop-gap while he decided on his next move, he
was won over almost immediately. "My first assignment was four months in
the public sector, where I had never worked before. It was my first experience
of understanding how to deal with the bureaucracy." Right away, he saw
that IM was a way to use his broad experience to dramatic effect.

"You
are going in with no baggage, no induction period, and you agree what you are
going to do and over what period of time at the very beginning," he
enthuses. "You are using all your skills, and getting the best out of
people, often without having any management control over them. There is no
politics, and no worry about the historical situation; you go in there with
fresh ideas."

Buckley’s
senior HR experience meant he was eligible for very challenging, board-level
posts – but it was his flexible and thorough understanding of what his new role
meant which kept him in the fast lane. "A lot of my time out was for
planning – developing my CV and so on. I knew I was going to be working in a
different way. As a senior corporate HR director, your reputation is important,
but you aren’t selling yourself. As an interim, selling and marketing yourself
is vital. You have to demonstrate that you have done a range of different
things, and the depth of your experience."

He
is also clear about where his strengths lie, and how they might fit into a new
organisation. "I would see myself as very definitely a generalist, and my
key skills are organisation, design and development in change
environments," says Buckley. Being aware of his skills also means he is
focused about how they can be applied. This is an attribute he believes is
common to all super-interims.

"There
are groups of ‘super interims’ and they don’t just rely on suppliers, they are
busy reading the FT, seeing what’s going on in industry and where opportunities
might lie," he stresses. Buckley cites the example of his interim
appointment with consultancy e21, whose start-up he read about in the financial
press.  

This
group also uses different networks to find new work. "Networking is
central to keeping your career on track: it keeps you up to date with what is
happening and gets you new appointments," says Buckley.  

"In
some of my jobs – such as my assignment at the Stock Exchange – I’ve set up
external networks, with the aim of creating a forum to exchange ideas about
organisational, management development and other HR issues. And I’ve kept in
touch with them ever since. Suppliers also have networking events, and it’s
important to keep up your links with them."

Reputable,
well-established consultancies have an important role to play, particularly for
IMs with less experience in marketing themselves, says Buckley.  "There are a number of top
consultancies which are very critical in terms of getting known in the
industry," he says.  "Agencies
like BIE, Odgers, Impact Executives, Interim Leaders, Ashton Penney and
Brooklands Executive fill large strategic roles, and will often pick just one
person from their database, because they know they are the right fit for the
job."

It’s
also important to use assignments to develop your experience, and fill existing
skills gaps. "I pick assignments which I know will be good for my CV –
companies in the FTSE 100, or public sector mergers, or high-profile financial
institutions, for instance.

"Then
appointments add to your professional reputation and development, and at the
same time increase your skills and raise your profile."

Being
professional and organised may help put you in the super-interim league, but
Buckley stresses that to stay there, you need to maintain your energy and
enthusiasm levels by taking regular breaks and holidays. "I plan my time
very carefully at the beginning of each assignment: currently I have booked my
holiday right through until next April," he says. "And I rarely work
between mid December to mid January. You can take the initiative – although it
does take time to have the confidence to do this."

Confidence
is also needed when it comes to choosing an assignment – Buckley points out
that there are some jobs that no one in their right mind would take. "I
have been offered assignments which were a poisoned chalice, and the best thing
is to turn these down, even if you have no other work on the horizon," he
says. "You can be labelled for life if your name gets attached to a
disastrous assignment – often, this can be a lack of clarity or clear
objectives at the outset."

Saying
no does get easier, Buckley believes. "The key thing is to be clear about
what is required from the beginning," he says. "And you do need to
know where the line of authority is." He also turns down work which
involves a long commute. "I won’t do assignments which involve me
travelling three or four hours a day. I left permanent employment because there
was too much travel." So his current assignment in the City is ideal – he
walks there from his home in Wapping in just 20 minutes.  

Does
this mean he has found the perfect way of working, which is stimulating, lucrative
and even allows him a decent work-life balance? Buckley thinks he still has
some way to go. "My aim is to work less – to use my experience to a point
where I can work with organisations on a non-executive or consultancy
basis," he says.  

But
he is more than satisfied with what he has achieved so far. "I like being
outside the political perspective – and the fact there is an end-date means you
never get bored," he says. "There is a particular piece of work you
have to get done, it’s challenging – and you move it forward."

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