The parachute regiment comes to the rescue

IF all the talk of bottoming out and green shoots is to be taken seriously, one career sector looking to benefit is interim management, the arena of senior executive trouble-shooters. A development from the older American model of turnaround specialists, interim management &ndash; in which executive-level experts are parachuted into companies to address specific operational issues and oversee the process of solving them &ndash; has seen a sharp rise over the past few years, and is reckoned to be worth &pound;750m a year. While the sector has been hit by the economic downturn, with companies unwilling to shell out for their services, experts say that interim managers&rsquo; usefulness in both the downscaling and upscaling of organisations makes it one of the last sectors to be hit and among the first to recover.<br /><br />&ldquo;When you come out of the recession, companies don&rsquo;t immediately add people to the permanent headcount, they bring in interims instead,&rdquo; says Charles Russam of Russam GMS, one of the longest-standing agencies in the interim management sector. &ldquo;The astute business never expands too quickly, and they want to remain nimble even as they&rsquo;re expanding, so anything that can be turned into a project is, managed by interims.&rdquo;<br /><br />Interim managers are not used as replacements for permanent staff, says Russam, but do the work companies don&rsquo;t want to dedicate internal resources to. For those at senior level who have been made redundant in the credit crunch, the idea of taking on short-term consultancies and project work as a way to bring in income while hunting for a permanent position will seem tempting. Sure enough, the ranks of those describing themselves as interim managers have been swelled in the past few months &ndash; but sector insiders warn against executives assuming this is an instantly viable solution to their situation.<br /><br />&ldquo;Many people send their CVs out to agencies and to their network, and sit and wait for the phone to ring because they think they&rsquo;re God&rsquo;s gift to employment, but it doesn&rsquo;t happen,&rdquo; says David Harries, director of the Interim Management Association (IMA) Institute, the professional body representing interims. He says that people hoping to become interims as a stopover are likely to get sniffed out by clients, who won&rsquo;t want to employ a person who is likely to disappear as soon as a permanent position becomes available.<br /><br />In London, workshops are run by the Interim Management Association (IMA) for those thinking of becoming an interim, and less than half of those who participate end up pursuing it. For those that do, however, there are clear attractions in a flexible lifestyle free from the hierarchies and strictures of large organisations, and with daily rates ranging from the mid-hundreds to &pound;1,000 plus, the rewards can be alluring.<br /><br /><strong>WIDE-RANGING SKILLS</strong><br />Interims are keen to spell out what separates them from turnaround managers &ndash; they help companies in difficulties, but interims can have much more wide-ranging skills and uses &ndash; and management consultants, who identify problems and solutions, but don&rsquo;t implement them.<br /><br />&ldquo;You come into a company, deliver a solution and hopefully leave a legacy for the permanent team,&rdquo; says Celia Adams, a finance director who worked for several big corporates and SMEs before turning to interim management for a more flexible lifestyle. Adams sits on the committee of, a support group set up to reflect the growing number of women turning to the career.<br /><br />&ldquo;As a woman, it&rsquo;s good to have that flexibility and not be tied down with all the strings that come with being an employee,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;You&rsquo;ve got to be prepared for a bit of feast and famine, as you&rsquo;ll have downtime between jobs, but if you can stand that, it&rsquo;s very satisfying.&rdquo;