The world of interim management has long been characterised by 50-something executives whose vast experience is what makes them so employable. They are the business elders who trade on long service rather than youthful looks. However, a new breed of interim is invading their territory. These high-flyers in their 30s are ripping up the rule book on who can succeed in the land of the assignment.
Recession provided opportunity
The young professionals who thrived during the last recession were exposed to skills and experiences that made them better managers, more resourceful employees able to manage and navigate through both calm and choppy waters. They developed skills in areas such as divestiture and divestment strategy. They got to lead teams involved with retrenchment strategy, negotiating the sale of assets and divisions, closing-down spin-offs and divisions, gaining experience and the confidence to make tough decisions. These young managers have been through 360 degrees of the economic cycle and got through it intact, gaining a wealth of experience in the process.
This new breed, who are now moving into the Interim Management space, gain confidence from their experience of the last recession. With widespread job losses and the push for businesses to become leaner, it became the norm for young professionals to operate in flat management structures where they were given additional responsibilities at a young age and would either sink or swim. For those who kept their chin above water it was great experience, particularly if you contrast this experience to their slightly older cohort, who enjoyed the previous 10 years working in a climate of relative growth and stability.
From 2015-2018 many of these young professionals grasped the nettle and thrived with their additional responsibilities and as the economy started growing again, they gained new skills and experience in the challenges of growing businesses and managing change. These young-gun interims understand feast and famine, being old enough to have been around in permanent roles from 2008-2012, successfully navigating one of the deepest recessions in living memory, before bouncing back to lead organisations through the relatively good times from 2015-2018.
More responsibility earlier
In permanent jobs over the past 10 years, young professionals were handed additional responsibility but were not necessarily remunerated correctly to reflect this. With wage inflation at record lows and the last recession still a recent memory, employers were able to argue the case for keeping pay rises to a minimum. These young guns accepted this reality with gritted teeth whilst sucking up experience and knowledge which they knew they could cash in on, at a later-date.
Also, the much-vaunted ‘skills shortages’ has resulted in bright staff being promoted with less experience which has enabled younger professionals to gain experience they wouldn’t have otherwise got. This is generally marketable in-demand experience, enabling these individuals to offer their knowledge and experience on an interim basis. And whereas employers would have recruited someone into a permanent role, the scarcity of people being available has forced employers to consider using interim managers instead.
These young professionals knew that once the economy picked up and their experience grew, they would have more career options. They began to understand their worth and the perceived value they could bring. Since 2016 these young interims have left permanent employment in high-numbers and have been able to command high day rates on the interim market, free from the shackles of permanent employment and pay-caps.
Perception of Young Interims
To get to the point we are at today barriers and perceptions have had to be broken. It was generally felt that younger interim managers would enter the market from either one of the large Consultancy practices or perhaps from one of the large Accountancy firms, as traditionally these were the type of client-facing enterprises that exposed staff to a number of different businesses (customers) quickly and at an early age. This has changed however as other sectors are seeing the benefits of having their staff from multiple disciplines work closely with customers.
Also, a lot of young executives previously saw interim management as the preserve of the older executive or the IT professional. Once they realised you don't have to be a seasoned veteran to be an interim manager younger professionals’ saw opportunities to apply their skills to pretty much all disciplines, creating opportunities in Finance, HR, Marketing, Sales, Project Management, Digital, Media. Younger professionals’ perception of interim management changed, and with the scarcity of skills in numerous disciplines, both younger professionals and companies looking to engage interims realised that it's not necessarily age, but knowledge and the ability to deliver that really matters.
The old perception was that two things had to happen before someone can become a career interim. Firstly, a person needs to get the experience other people are prepared to pay for, and secondly, they must have the confidence to sell that experience. It was traditionally thought that someone under the age of 40 is unlikely to tick both boxes. However, this perceived wisdom is being challenged as young professionals are getting more opportunities at a younger age and in the knowledge economy, companies are prepared to pay for knowledge as much as experience.
Challenges for Young Interims
For all it's new found appeal, not all young interim managers can make the grade. Experience and gravitas can't be bought and those without the know-how and skill to effectively complete an assignment will soon to found out, much to their detriment, as an interim manager lives and dies by their reputation.
Younger interims may find it tough on each assignment, particularly in the initial stages, as they may be viewed as inexperienced and lacking a track-record. This may mean in the early stages of an assignment they don't have that instant credibility that a more experienced interim manager may have. However, the beauty of interim management is that interims are expected to hit the ground running, there's no settling in period or learning curve, so young interim managers will quickly be judged on what they do, not what they look like. So, if they approach the assignment correctly, do the right things, say the right things, they will quickly gain full credibility with the client.
Cynics might argue that younger interims are simply a cheaper alternative to their older counterparts and, to management consultants. However, rates for younger interim managers are about the same or sometimes higher because they tend to be more focused on finance and more likely to know their worth as they talk openly about day rates with their network and peers. Also, older interims may not have mortgages to pay, whilst younger interims are likely to have substantial mortgages, so the day rate may become more of a focus for the younger interim.
Future for Young Interims
Prior to the last recession in 2008, only those in their late 40s, 50s and 60s would have been in senior management roles during the deep recession of the early 1990s. Thankfully, if a downturn happens in the next couple of years, there is an available band of young-gun interim managers in their 30's, who have experienced a hardcore recession and understand what it takes to come out the other end.
Although some grey hair may be comforting to certain clients in more traditional industries, during tough times, newer and more dynamic sectors will focus on the importance of recruiting an interim with relevant and up-to-date skills to assist their company get through a difficult time. With the current political uncertainty, this resource of younger interims could prove invaluable.
Younger professionals are likely to continue to join the ranks of interim management. They enjoy the contact with C-Suite executives which they ordinarily wouldn’t get in permanent roles, they enjoy the fast-paced nature of the work and the ability to learn from new people on each-and-every assignment.
Young interims who have previously worked in permanent roles for large corporations enjoy the results orientated nature of interim work, seeing the result and the value they have added. Younger interims often comment that they didn’t get to see the fruits of their labour whilst working for large corporates.
This growing band of young career-interims see themselves as being the upper-echelon of the gig economy, with a ‘have laptop will travel’ attitude and willingness to accept an assignment in any location, embracing the concept of the digital nomad. It’s this flexibility that makes them popular with clients and a welcome addition to the interim market.
rtion of these will be established Interim managers. The ‘professional, scientific, and technical’ sector has the fourth highest levels of self-employment by industry, and again, a high proportion of those working under this classification will be interim managers.
With the report concluding that the fastest growth and largest sector of self-employment is ‘managers, directors, and senior officials’, with 800,000 people, this looks would indicate that the Interim management market is buoyant, growing and should underpin a good year for the sector in 2019.
Friday Dec 7, 2018