An Interim Life For Me!

I am often asked what it is like to be an interim executive. Honestly, it’s great! I wish I had possessed the courage to try it earlier in my career. It is often the domain of senior managers who seek a rewarding tail end to their careers. It should be considered by younger aspirating managers as a real life MBA. It is an unsurpassed opportunity to gain challenging opportunities to test one`s self and to quickly build credible credentials.

After a long career as a partner in one of the dominant international accounting firms, as an executive with a major Canadian bank, and as the GM/CFO for a premier law firm, I decided to try something to use my experience and skills honed over the years and to truly challenge myself. I became an interim executive.

Based on my past experience and contacts, I developed a marketing plan. What surprised me was that leads for work would come from totally unexpected sources and that the assignments would involve entities and roles I had not considered. For instance, my first major contract came through my brother-in-law and was for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. When asked by the President if I liked classical music, I had to admit that I was at the other end of the spectrum – country music. Nevertheless, it was exciting to work with a team so devoted to symphony music. On another occasion, I was asked to become the Interim Executive Director of Shouldice Hospital. I am not comfortable amongst sick people in hospitals and can only wonder about how hospital staff can be so caring with patients. Again, a great experience learning how a hospital can build a world-renowned approach to patient care.

Another interim assignment, but done as an employee, was for the Toronto French School. Ugh! School! I hated school and was always in danger of failing. But this was a rewarding experience to work with dedicated teachers and see students develop, particularly as it wasn`t me who had to write exams.

A more recent mandate was to serve as the interim CFO for Landmark Global Financial Corporation, a TSX listed company, and as the interim CEO for its major subsidiary, Salumatics Inc. A challenging opportunity to work with the Board to turn around a financially distressed company and find a permanent CEO that could lead it forward.

Appreciate that an interim executive is never invited into an organization because everything is functioning smoothly and they just need someone to keep it rolling along. You always walk into problem situations. The client is expecting you to keep the place running while quickly solving the problems. You are the expert and clients will ask you to assume responsibility for functions and projects that would not likely come your way as an employee. Most certainly, you are have the opportunity to seize initiatives that you just don`t get as an employee.

The rewards of interim work I think was best stated by a woman I networked with recently. She has started a firm on her own offering HR and administrative support on an interim basis for small businesses. She asked me in a bit of a shock, ‘why are my clients asking me to do more and seeking my advice more than anyone ever asked of me as an employee’? My response was ‘Bingo’!  In the eyes of your clients you are maturing into a ‘trusted advisor’, the goal of every professional. And one of the most satisfying rewards of serving as an interim executive. To my delight, she asked if I could be her mentor and guide her in developing her practice.

My story is just a small sample of the challenges and opportunities through which interim executives gain rewarding experiences and grow exponentially as professionals.

To borrow a phrase, there`s no life like it. An interim life for me!

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