My lunch appointment arrives, a bit damp and apologetic, at the terrace bistro Toscano on a rainy, blustery afternoon in Bangalore. A senior finance professional with around 25 years of corporate experience, he has recently transitioned out of a leadership role at a multinational firm and is now exploring non-traditional roles. What next? I ask. Surprise me, says he. Well, the opportunity at hand is certainly interesting—a European multinational firm with a knotty joint venture in India has suddenly found itself in a bit of a finance snarl, and has asked us to look at a transition chief finance officer, or CFO, to help it manage the crisis.
While the concept of interim or “transition managers” is well entrenched in the West, in India it is still viewed as “senior management temping”. However, it provides an opportunity for experienced managers to add value, as an in-house consultant and implementer, I explain, as we attack the goat cheese salad.
More than a temporary filling of shoes when a senior manager resigns or gets hit by a bus, companies use transition managers as a way to manage a period of intense transformation or crisis when they require a heavyweight, experienced management resource, usually at short notice. Often, a permanent hire with the specific skill sets required in the transition may be difficult to find internally or indeed, may not even be required when the transition is over. Transition managers themselves are usually either functional specialists or experienced business leaders who bring experience and credibility to the consulting projects they manage.
To navigate their current accounting crisis, my client has identified the need for a person who can operate at the (top) C-level, who is qualified, competent and credible. Someone who has successfully untangled integration-related finance and accounting challenges before. Most importantly, they need an accountable line manager on board as of yesterday, to hit the ground running and immediately take charge, assess, analyse, define an action plan and start resolving issues. Subsequently, once the objective has been achieved, a handover and exit needs to be implemented. It’s envisaged as a full-time engagement lasting six-nine months, with clear deliverables and a clear exit and handover plan. In the meanwhile, we are also running the search for a conventional CFO who would take over the reins, and independently manage the CFO role once the situation stabilizes. For my client, accessing a skilled and “suitably overqualified resource” for this critical project meant that they were willing to pay a premium for his availability.
Navigating crisis: Experienced interim managers can add value to the job at hand.
Now fortified with thin-crust margherita pizza, we tackle the questions he puts on the table. What were his motivations for exiting the traditional corporate career ladder? Would becoming a transition consultant address the need to tackle new challenges? Was he willing to operate as an independent professional consultant, selling his expertise? Would he be prepared to occasionally work a “level down” and ignore corporate titles? Was he driven mainly by the challenge of tackling complex, urgent projects rather than the more structured build-and-maintain corporate role? Was he able to quickly and credibly assess situations, build teams and facilitate change? Was he perceived as an expert to get enough engagements? Was there enough work of this kind to sustain him financially and professionally? Was he able and willing to take on intensive engagements at short notice? Did this address a longer-term need for flexibility to take on work that he wanted to, and spend the summer with his children in the US if he wanted to?
We agreed that the need for interim and transition managers in India was slowly picking up, and that this was potentially a challenging and financially viable model. We walked through the mechanics of setting up—he would need to set up a consulting company, work out a base consulting contract, sort out hygiene factors such as insurances, etc. For future engagements, he would need to reach out to search firms and network with the professional adviser network of lawyers and accountants. He could also sign up with an interim or transition management firm to have access to more opportunities, both in India and offshore. As always, the answers lie within. Tiramisu, espresso, and much food for thought.
Sonal Agrawal is chief executive, Accord Group, an executive search firm.
Write to Sonal at email@example.com