The Myth of Exporting Interim Management

Written by EO Executives on Jun 28, 2014

International ambitions feature high among interim managers and the UK providers that supply them. A recent survey by the UK Interim Management Association (IMA) found that almost nine out of ten (89%) of the UK’s interim management provider community believe that the number of international assignments will increase this year.

Perhaps these are promising statistics, a sign that providers truly see today’s interim community as “a great British export". The optimism echoes findings from the latest Quarterly Economic Survey from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) showing that exports in the services sector (sales and orders) rose to an all-time high.

So far, though, not much exporting of interim management is actually happening.

Demand exists internationally, surely. Business challenges are universal, particularly in the wake of the global economic crisis, and organisations on the Continent, the Americas and Asia are equally likely to benefit from interim management – to help deliver transformation, grow new lines of revenue, or even just bridge gaps in management teams – as within the UK. The supply exists and is very capable: British interim managers have a lot to offer their clients, wherever they’re based.

But for the majority of providers, interim management being a great British export is the stuff of hopes and dreams rather than reality.

Other IMA statistics confirm this. The IMA’s quarterly audit by Ipsos MORI reports on the hundreds of interim assignments its members transact each quarter and asks a question about location of the assignment. (Executives Online’s UK business is a member of the IMA and contributes its figures like all members.) The last audit shows that of 280 interim assignments via member firms, only four (1.4%) were outside the UK. Two of these were in Europe, one in the Middle East, and one on the Asian subcontinent. These figures have been quite constant over time; the portion of international assignments has never risen above 6% since the IMA began asking this question in 2011. The good news: There’s plenty of headroom for growth; the only direction is upwards. The bad news: That growth, for most providers, must come from virtually a standing start.

So why are clients outside the UK so slow to take up the services of British interim managers?

Part of the reason, no doubt, is to do with market education and maturity. Understanding and adoption of interim management as a business solution vary tremendously by country. In North America, independent executives tend to operate in more of a “consultancy” paradigm, advising their clients and venturing less into the nuts and bolts of hands-on implementation or day-to-day management. The same is true in Australia, although senior-level “contracting” is well-understood and thrives, particularly in the IT function. In Southern Europe, the concept is still much less well understood than in Northern European countries like The Netherlands (the birthplace of interim), Belgium and the UK.

Even among clients who “get” interim management, the idea of working with a recruitment provider outside their home country may not be their first choice. Language and cultural considerations, regulatory requirements, and understanding of the country’s business norms likely mean a local or national provider and the in-country interim managers they supply are a more obvious choice.

One exception to this is when an interim manager from elsewhere actually has unique skills relevant to the particular situation, that can’t be found locally – “talent arbitrage”, if you will. A few years ago, Executives Online was contacted by Interstate Resources, a Virginia-based manufacturer of corrugated cardboard products. The industry there was poised for a shake-out, with over-capacity and falling demand, and they needed to make changes to improve performance and profitability for the future. The UK corrugated packaging industry had already been through a difficult period of consolidation and change a few years earlier, with companies emerging from it leaner and stronger – or out of business. Interstate wanted an interim manager who had been through the process before, helping a company like theirs survive and thrive, and that meant looking outside the US, in this case to the UK. That interim placement is the subject of acase study on this website.

Another case for international interim is when a company based in once place needs to do something complex in a country it’s never operated in. They can try to find an interim provider they trust based in the new territory, but may find this difficult due to the language, cultural and other reasons cited above – or they can work with a local provider with international capabilities. International coatings company Ronseal, based in Sheffield, recently approached Executives Online to find an interim operations manager to integrate multiple acquired entities in Poland. The profile required hands-on manufacturing leadership, factory relocation experience, and fluency in Polish and English, which we found within our Global Talent Bank. That placement is also the subject of a case study.

In fact, 44% of Executives Online’s current interim assignments are outside the UK. Sixty percent (60%) of our Global Talent Bank of registered candidates seeking interim or permanent roles are located outside the UK, and using this great resource, we’ve been delivering international interim management since the early 2000s. We’ve placed interims for assignments in places as diverse as Kazakhstan, Iceland, Mexico, the Caribbean, China, Nigeria, Vancouver, Virginia, Georgia and Hong Kong, as well as consistently providing interim managers throughout the UK, Europe and South Africa.

What separates Executives Online from other UK interim providers is that when we want to work internationally, we actually set up shop there, rather than trying to sell interim from here, or doing it through loose alliances and affiliates.

Executives Online’s model for international expansion is via franchise. Independent business owners work in partnership with Executives Online to build interim management and executive recruitment businesses under the Executives Online system, using the entire Executives Online Global Talent Bank, recruitment project management system, websites, marketing and brand. Executives Online international franchisees currently operate in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa and The Netherlands.

The franchise contract binds our partners and Executives Online as the franchisor in a relationship that is as tight as – even tighter than – the one most providers have with their employees. We export the know-how and resources that let our franchise partners deliver interim management, rather than expecting we can sit home in the UK and just export the interim managers themselves. Executives Online’s first international franchise began trading in 2005, and international revenues now comprise a significant portion of group revenues.

When your company needs an interim manager, wherever in the world you need them to work, Executives Online can find just the right person, taking into consideration in-country track record, language skills and culture, as well as whatever other profile elements are required for the task at hand. You can work with your local Executives Online office, whatever “local” means to you, and know that you’ll be able to draw on the entirety of our Global Talent Bank and ongoing global talent attraction methods to satisfy your brief.

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