Stepping into the breach

Once the preserve of male managers craving a challenge before retirement, interim management is now attracting more women as a chosen career path.

Once the preserve of male managers craving a challenge before retirement, interim management is now attracting more women as a chosen career path.

Despite its obvious advantages, such as flexibility, variety, and handsome financial rewards, interim management (IM) has not been a popular career choice for many female executives who have preferred to stick to the corporate grindstone.

But a sea change is about to occur, predicts sector pioneer Charles Russam, chairman of the agency that bears his name, Russam GMS, and founder of the Interim Management Association, the industry‘s representative body.

He calculates that fewer than 20 per cent of IM assignments go to women partly because they account for so few managers.

“That seems to me to be wrong,” he says, pointing out that a new website that goes live next month will help redress the imbalance. will provide a source of information for women already established as IM professionals, or considering a foray into the field.

Interim HR expertise

Of course, IM shouldn’t be viewed as an easy option – just one that is more flexible and interesting. Practitioners often alternate IM placements, commonly of 6-12 months, with consultancy work that helps to keep their skills relevant and sharp.

One such is Jacquie Findlay, an HR professional who now operates as HR4U and has found herself in demand in the past applying her expertise in the aftermath of a business merger.

“Once a merger or acquisition has been completed for all the right business reasons, it can become obvious that the managers already in situ aren’t the right people to take the business forward,” she explains.

Seamless change is required of the interim manager stepping into the breach, with sensibilities to be considered and frequently ticklish HR problems to address.

“I have been involved in mergers where a lot of my work has been ensuring a smooth transition,” says Findlay. In these circumstances, the interim manager might have as little as three or four days to master the controls of the business and get it on an even keel, and must have the necessary skills in place.

“An interim manager needs to bring a lot of expertise to the party. IM is not a tool for developing your skills – you have to have them already,” she adds.

“You keep up to date with the latest developments, and with what is happening in the business world at large, in between assignments.”

Work-life balance

Before launching herself as an interim manager, Rachel Youngman was deputy executive director of the International Bar Association. Rachel Youngman Consulting was established in 2003 and specialises in providing the skills of a CEO to the not-for-profit charity and public sectors.

“I felt I had gone as far as I could in my job, which required a big time commitment and involved a lot of international travel,“ she explains. “It was my life choice to set up on my own.”

Youngman adds: “Interim management is not a stop gap for me, it’s my career. I am running my own business, which gives me the flexibility I want. I can choose when to put my foot on the accelerator, and when to brake.

“The rewards are good, but the work is hard and there is a lot of networking required to ensure the next assignment is always in sight.”

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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