Interim Executives: Filling Critical Gaps When It’s Most Necessary (Part 1)
Lessons learnt from companies that brought in interim executives as experts rather than risking the business’s future.
Part-Time CFO and Interim CIO: Sometimes One Is Not Enough
Georgia, the COO/CFO of a $30 million family-owned engineering services company in the energy sector, was driven. She had accomplished quite a bit already to put a solid infrastructure in place to support the business’ growth. She was highly capable and able to manage it all—until the company needed to renew its line of credit. She found herself being asked for a great deal of information they had not previously needed to gather or package within their business. Unbeknownst to her, interim executives were just what she was looking for.
Georgia felt as though the bank was asking her to look into a crystal ball to forecast balance sheets and profitability twelve months out. She was pulling her hair out; they really hadn’t done that before. She relied heavily on the firm’s CPA until finally, the CPA threw up his hands and suggested another solution—a CFO-for-hire.
Including the line-of-credit, they were struggling with putting together a budget as they entered their busy season with no reporting or processes in place for leadership to rely on for better decision-making.
The part-time CFO worked with the company for one to two days a week over the next couple of years. He created an interactive cash flow model for easier budgeting; determined the monthly and annual break-even for sales volume allowing for more immediate information; created job costing; and brought in a risk manager and insurance broker to resolve some insurance loss issues favorably for the company.
The company also needed more assistance with its accounting functions on an everyday basis. The part-time CFO helped the company hire a full-time Controller, then on-boarded and helped train the new hire.
Throughout the engagement, the part-time CFO kept the end game in mind: the owner’s intention to sell. The part-time CFO helped maximize cash flow at exit to the owner due to his projections and planning. His early work helped realize significant insurance and IT savings and establish a successful banking relationship throughout, including an increased line of credit.
Throughout the CFO’s engagement, Georgia remained a very busy and engaged leader with several additional projects in progress. Among these was an office move, which offered a good opportunity to clean the slate. She had wanted to hire a corporate IT manager for a long time, so she brought in an interim CIO. The interim CIO helped with the move, planning the logistics and getting the new network setup. She also created a job description for a new IT manager and helped with the recruiting, hiring, and onboarding, making sure his goals were aligned with the company’s goals. The new hire ended up working out great, extending what the interim CIO had helped accomplish.
What was next for Georgia? Hiring more people. She wanted to elevate the company’s human resources program, which involved improving the compensation structure, retention strategy, updating the handbook, hiring processes, and so on. There was no question: bringing in an HR executive on a project basis would be the best solution to get it all accomplished.
The company was ultimately successfully sold with credible finances.
You don’t need to be an expert in all things to run a dynamic, complex organization that leans on you for leadership in many different areas of expertise. All the competencies, experience, skills and expertise you need are available on an as-needed basis. Georgia brought in experts as hired guns rather than risking the business’s future trying to figure it out herself.
Interim Executives President: A Hail-Mary to Keep the Lights on Wins the Game
Samira’s business was thirteen years old and had enjoyed a lot of success. She had grown the manufacturing business to over thirty-five employees. Looking back at what she had created frustrated her more and more each day, however, as she saw declining sales and margins and hadn’t been able to fix them.
Her CFO was telling Samira they were about six months away from closing the doors. She couldn’t seem to get a handle on the source of the issues but knew the answer was out there. The obvious answer was to hire someone who could fix it. The problem was, there wasn’t enough cash to either replace herself as CEO or to bring in a president at a minimum of $200,000+ per year. And not only was there not enough cash, but she would be betting it all—the future of the company—on one person.
She wasn’t willing to risk it.
Samira took a less perilous route and brought in an interim president, Matthew, who worked two to three days per week. He quickly established a strategic plan with goals, metrics, dashboards, and daily quotas to rapidly create accountability. To help the team adjust, he held daily meetings with follow- through and quickly identified training gaps. One of the major issues was contention between engineering and sales. Matthew prioritized quotas and engineering’s workload and quickly saw the need to begin charging for much of the work engineering was doing.
Within two months, Matthew had the company back at break- even. By the third month, it was profitable. Some key components that contributed to Matthew’s success were a 90 percent reduction in returns, 16 percent reduction in inventory, and reorganizing the workforce, achieving a 20 percent reduction by removing the C-players and elevating other employees.
After six months, Matthew was able to step away, and Samira was much happier to continue managing the business with all of the tools he had put in place. One year later, the company was thriving. They had reduced COGS by 13 percent and had achieved a 25-percent increase in product shipments. The company’s profitability had also improved over 6.5× what the original loss was when Matthew first came to the company.
Interim Executives Lesson Learned
Not all Hail-Mary passes make it to the end zone, but in this case, it was the pass that won the game. Samira’s willingness to take a calculated but reasonable risk, paired with Matthew’s proven skill set in leading an organization through tough decisions and some painful, quick turnaround decisions, helped to save this company.