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Interim management from the perspective of a former corporate. Or: Why an interim manager is not a mercenary

When I decided in 2008 to give up my corporate career, after 13 years of intense activity in multiple geographic areas and diverse cultures, various industries and different corporations, in “full glory” as they say, and with professional maturity, I said that I will never return to the “system” and that for me the exaggerated career was a mistake.

Strict, cold and too hasty statement, at a time when all life seemed to gravitate around the career, and the corporation seemed to have actually been the first family with great pretensions to become the only one!

Much later, after more than a year from the painful divorce to the corporate environment, I learned that the system I hated was actually the environment in which I felt good, in which I felt fulfilled from a professional point of view. The arrogance of the previous statements was easily surpassed by evidences: the corporation was actually the challenge, it was adrenaline, it was the professional motivation I was trying to compensate with the new career of consultant. And I have to admit that it took me a while to find the right balance between “suggesting” solutions and “making things happen”, between “being neutral” and “emotionally getting involved in a team”, switching constantly between corporate status and consultant status.

The hardest thing was to balance the profession with that private life that my friends still lovingly suggested to me, making me forget that “overtime work is my right”!

I recently read an article written by Mircea Dinescu, who blames the career women who have worked for centuries to become equal to men and now do not know how to escape this terrible privilege. “They work like stupid, thanking the employer for giving them the extraordinary chance to work during weekends, to affirm themselves and to keep up with the deadline. Career is the ill-formed forgery of some imbecile Hollywood movies that insinuates a woman can do anything if she wants: she immediately gets executive director, she gives birth to living chicks she feeds with milk powder, her husband loves her faintly, though he sees her about six hours a week …” I read and I hardly hide a smile. What if there is a middle way, and there is an antidote for the corporation sauce that we voluntarily have injected for so long, without paradoxically regretting anything from everything we lived professionally? And what if we can spare the sacrifice and be happy in a complete system in which the profession is part of our lives and remains important and possible? After all, the basic lesson I learned is that there are flexible solutions, that you can if you wish, and that after all, nobody serves on a tray the balance coming from yourself.

After this sentimental approach, I feel that it is appropriate to point out a fact increasingly present, which facilitated my positioning somewhere between the corporate and consultant, where the balance seems easier.

So, what did I lack in 2008? Dynamic environment, multi-disciplinary teams, the ongoing challenge, the “crisis” in which to intervene and to solve, the use of my long experience, working with people, “hands on” and the possibility of doing things urgently.

What did I not lack? The title, the function and the seat, the designed business card and… long term professional and emotional attachment.

My dilemmas? Who would need me with my “do’s” and “dont’s”? Is consulting the answer? It depends on the company, project, and how you understand the consultancy.

Many people have concluded for me: “so what you wish for you is mercenary – you offer a service and then cash out, then you go ahead?!” Mercenary? My availability should sound lifeless, just as for special troops – “elite manager, specializing in supply chain, looking for challenge or crisis situation, overqualified to acquire a permanent post, available immediately in rapid interventions and effective role, already integrated from a corporate environment perspective, eager to get involved, more than just a caretaker, because this working style defines my professional life”?

All right, what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with being a “business firefighter” or a “guerrilla manager”? Why advice could not be complemented by an effective interim manager in which the consultant briefly becomes an integral part of the team? Of course it is possible! And I quickly demonstrated this in my first consultancy draft, continued with an interim management for a retail company in Romania, for 6 months. I admit, in 2009, when this project was taking place, I had no idea that interim management was becoming an industry, a way of working, a business philosophy more and more used even by companies in Romania, eager to get a more rapid specialization. I once met the team of a company specialized in interim management and I realized something for which I turned to my friends and I admitted: “I think you are right. It seems I really am a potential mercenary”. I had found out that I could be paid for my services up to 2-3 times more than working in the market.

Of course there are advantages and disadvantages for the interim manager role. This cannot be squeezed between two permanent jobs. Substantial gain, maximum flexibility, freedom to decide what project looks more interesting, and especially the challenge of working in various sectors of activity, in different companies. Most importantly, you have a clear feeling of satisfaction that you’ve fulfilled your mission, that you’ve done things others would have worked much more.  The role of interim manager means high speed responsiveness, objectivity in approach, increased operational efficiency, cost reductions. However, it also means the watercolors of stress, maximum pressure and intense effort.

The difference between a consultant and interim manager on the one hand, and a mercenary on the other hand is in fact just a question of perception. Some see the gain, some see the benefits of achieving a profession for which you have prepared for years, the feeling that you can show what you can actually do, you can help in so many ways, so many companies. I must admit, from my totally non-mercenary perspective, that I stay in the category of those for which interim management can become a way of living, with advantages and disadvantages. However, this is also a role for which you need to take as much responsibility, to play with as much passion, to make as much effort. And you have the freedom to believe that you can decide more easily and you have multiple options. And sometimes, I have to admit it is a challenge to not bind to people, to not want to stay, to not become a corporate person.

Certainly, interim management is not a substitute for those with corporate blood, for those who still consider that they need to have a long time job, or for those who temporarily find in an interim management a way to compensate for the financial loss of the job. It is certainly more beneficial to assume an interim manager career for one’s professional and personal balance, than an individual’s status as a “temporary interim manager”.
However, it can certainly be a nice complement to the career of a former corporate person, who decided to drop the “junkie’s inept thought of a perpetual motion”, as also Mircea Dinescu said in the article.

One more thing. Interim management is not a substitute for personal life. Unfortunately, this is not the magical recipe for equilibrium. It is only a means to do what you know best and win more flexibility, assuming collateral risks of this flexibility (others than those related to revenue inconsistency).

One need to keep searching for one’s equilibrium, as the only person to accept the change, to stop and to start all over again.

This article is not intended to be a manifesto for the status of interim manager as a market trend, nor an invitation to accept it. This is not an article of clothing to wear because it’s fashionable, however preached and communicated as in “trend”. It cannot be bought anywhere and not everybody selling it really understand its usefulness. The status of interim manager should be the first solution for a state of mind to work and only after that it should be a job. As a matter of fact, the whole “life is a state of mind” (author’s note: Jerzy Kosinski, “Being There”).

Before I become sentimental, I end here the line of my personal opinions on interim management, wishing you all easy rediscovery and wise choices!