The young pretenders

IMs
are getting younger by the minute – proving that in today’s fast-paced business
world, it’s not so much length of experience, but relevance of experience that
counts. By Nic Paton

Those
who prefer their interim managers to be grizzled Sir John Harvey Jones types,
who descend on an organisation and turn it around by the scruff of its neck,
look away now.

Joanna
Crawford has been an interim for the past year, since arriving from New Zealand
– and she’s 26.

Crawford
is one of a new breed of IMs in their 40s, 30s or even younger, who are
becoming increasingly common in the workplace. Indeed, according to a snapshot
poll carried out by interim management agency Russum GMS earlier this year,
interims under the age of 45 are getting significantly more work than their
older counterparts.

The
survey of IMs on assignment at the end of June, found that the majority – 65
per cent – were aged under 35, with those in the 36 to 40 age range commanding
the highest daily rate, of £550.

For
the past four months Crawford has been working for alcohol and drug abuse
charity Addaction, helping to develop a competency framework for managers, a
training needs analysis and other learning and development initiatives.

HR
manager Karen Edwards says that when the charity held a competition to hire an
IM, through agency Interim Performers, she was surprised to find the majority
of applicants were in the 23 to 24 age bracket, rising to the grand old age of
32.

"Karen’s
age was not a conscious decision. It was the work she had done before that
mattered," she says. "We were looking for someone with recent
experience and with information and research that was up to date. If someone
older had presented themselves for the job and had been able to demonstrate
that, they would have been considered too."

Ten
years ago, most IMs would have been 55-plus and predominantly male, argues Ian
Daniel, chairman of the Interim Management Association and managing director of
The Executive Support Group. Typically they were senior executives keeping
things ticking over in the final years before retirement. But that’s all
changed, he says. "There’s an acceptance that there is no longer a job for
life, if indeed there ever was. People in their 30s may have worked for three
or four employers – now they want to take control of their lives," he
suggests.

"There’s
also been a changing perception among clients who use IMs. They no longer see
IM as a means to fill a gap, but as a means of meeting a strategic need or fulfilling
specific skills’ requirements."

Younger,
more dynamic industries – the internet, e-commerce, media, marketing, internet
banking, telecommunications and technology – are more likely to prefer younger
IMs simply because they are more likely to fit in, argues Daniel. But what is
important is not so much the age profile as the skills they can bring to the
company.

"You’d
never put a 50-year-old into a dotcom because they would never have the
personality, approach or the culture to work in the dotcom world," adds
Chris Behan, managing director of OdgersInterim. "But I have never been
asked the age of an interim manager by a client. It is irrelevant if they have
got the experience. It’s what they’ve done in the past five years that is
relevant. The age factor is being driven by market conditions."

Patrique
Habboo, managing director of Praxis Interim Management, agrees: "If you
have 1,500 people in a call centre in Plymouth, you need a manager who
understands the issues and has worked in that environment. It is better to have
people who have grown up with it."

Marvin
Smith, for instance, turned 30 in June and has been an interim manager since
April, after being made redundant from his job as IT manager for a computer
games distribution company.

Smith
has worked in a variety of marketing and IT roles, and now works for government
agency the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) which maintains and
develops the school curriculum and monitors qualifications in schools, colleges
and the workplace.

"My
remit is day-to-day project management, overseeing various trials, electronic
marketing, new ways of marking and testing exams, and so on," he says.

"The
majority of IM jobs, I’d imagine, are still director or senior manager level,
but what I’m doing is largely IT-based and so it’s as much about the skills I
have as the number of years I have under my belt."

Take
Janet Morris, 37, an interim manager for the past two-and-a-half years,
specialising in marketing, Morris, who is currently placed with a law firm, has
had eight assignments since going into IM. A former head of business
development at Stansted Airport, she has notched up 11 years of hard business
experience.

"Even
when I was in a career post, I was always working on short-term projects,"
she says. "I am a believer in continual learning, I make sure I know the
latest in marketing. You can’t generalise, but older people sometimes think
they know it all."

From
the HR directors’ perspective, IM is viewed as a service that can be brought in
and then turned off when it’s not needed. "It is now seen as a business
service and is regarded less as a recruitment function," says Daniel.

The
current state of the economy, with redundancies and insecurity rife, has been
another key factor, agrees Paul Vousden, chairman of the Institute of Interim
Management. Redundancies among the big five consultancy firms have led to an
increase in younger managers coming on to the market, many of whom have turned
to IM instead of looking to get back into the mainstream, believes Malcolm
Brown, head of Penna Interim North.

But
that does not mean all younger IMs are simply using IM as a stop-gap to a
permanent job. Some do, but most find that its flexibility and challenges are
so attractive that they stick with it as a career in its own right, believes
Vousden.

"They
are all fairly high achievers anyway. Most of them come to it, and stay in it,
because they like the lifestyle," he says.

Research
by HR consultancy Chiumento last year found that 53 per cent of interims polled
were over 50, 28 per cent were in the 45 to 49 age bracket, 11 per cent were
between 40 and 44, and 8 per cent aged 30 to 39.

Now,
says Vousden, the figures split into 47 per cent over 50, 25 per cent aged 45
to 49, 16 per cent 40 to 44 and 12 per cent aged 30 to 39.

"We
are beginning to see a definite move, but you obviously still need a lot of
experience. If you have a few grey hairs people tend to listen to you – you
have better credibility," he explains. "If you are younger, you just
have a different energy level and will have fresher skills. It is not so much
the age [clients] are looking for, it’s whether they have the right experience
and that they can handle things and are not fazed by problems," he adds.

Some
venture capitalists are using interims in teams, with a mix of older and
younger IMs, in a fashion more akin to long-term consultants, Vousden suggests.

IM
fits nicely with the trend for flexible work, portfolio careers and
self-employment that has gathered pace over the past three to four years, and
so is becoming attractive to a wider mix of people, agrees Julia Meighan,
managing director of Interim Performers.

Any
sector that lends itself to project management will now find itself supporting
project-based interim assignments. "It’s about specific projects rather
than hand-holding. You can buy in a person to do a specific project and then
let them go. They’ll bring lots of energy and dynamism with them," she
says.

A
CV showing 10 years with a single company is now often less attractive than a
wide breadth of experience across a variety of organisations, Meighan adds.

"The
change is that there is a new breed of dynamic people who are in the ascendancy
of their careers rather than the descendancy. Once it was a nice way to retire,
now organisations are looking for people who are still on their way up,"
she explains. "Younger people are often more commercially switched on too
– it is about motivation. If they have been at the top and are working their
way down, are they going to be motivated in the same way as someone on the way
up?"

More
younger women are entering IM too. Many IM agencies point to anecdotal evidence
that the vast majority of the younger IMs coming into the market are female,
although the reasons for this – whether a glass ceiling, parental
responsibilities or simply an unwillingness to stay on the corporate treadmill
– are not clear.

But
the trend for younger IMs can only go so far, believes Praxis’s Habboo.
"Anyone much below 35 is not going to have the requisite skills in terms
of managing people. Very few people under that age will have the ability to
drop into a scenario that is maybe hostile and win over people within three to
four months."

Salary
levels will inevitably vary, with younger IMs commanding a figure in the region
of £65,000 to £70,000, rising to £150,000 to £200,000 for more senior, older,
IMs, Habboo estimates.

Another
difficulty for younger IMs is the problem of cashflow. Financial continuity may
be less of a problem for an older manager with savings built up from a long
career and fewer dependants or mortgage commitments to worry about, but might
be more of an issue for someone younger, suggests Penna’s Brown.

The
influx of young people into the IM market is also changing the nature of
interim management permanently, argues Chloe Watts, manager of HR consultancy
Courtenay’s interim practice. Younger IMs are leading to the creation of
different strata of interims, all doing different jobs. "Maybe these
younger interims should’nt be called interims, perhaps they need to be called
something else," she suggests.

While
the conventional, older interim is certainly not going away, with a clear need
for the sort of guidance and skills they can bring to organisations, the
younger IMs coming into the market sit somewhere between traditional IM and
contractor status.

"There
is also an incredibly large market at head or senior HR level. Organisations
want people who can work at a tactical and strategic level on areas such as
helping with redundancies and so on. They are people who have responsibility
but are not used to fighting boardroom battles," Watts says.

Addaction’s
Crawford, for one, originally a psychologist, but with experience in
manufacturing, consulting and the private sector, admits what she is doing is
more project management than conventional IM, but stresses that is what
organisations increasingly want these days.

"Younger
people are coming out better educated, more highly qualified and starting at a
higher level. For me, it just suits my own working style," she adds.

Pros
and cons of using young interims

Pros
For the user:


More freshness, flexibility, lateral thinking, energy and ambition


More up-to-date skills and knowledge of the market


Fit better with a young sector in terms of culture, environment and work habits


Cheaper

For
the interim:


More control and flexibility over work-life balance


Opportunity to work with a wide variety of organisations and projects

Cons
For the user:


Less experienced in dealing with serious turnaround situations


Less rounded in people management, particularly in a hostile situation


Less able to remain focused on the project, not be a corporate animal and not
get waylaid by office politics

For
the interim:


More insecurity – you never know where the next contract is going to come from


Less financial permanence, which may be an issue if you have substantial family
or mortgage commitments


You have to sell yourself to a market – it’s not for the faint hearted

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