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Temping finance managers Back  
With the demand for experienced managers exceeding supply in the major growth areas of the Irish economy, there is an urgent need to examine all of the options available to fill the emerging skills gap writes Ken McElwaine
One of the most innovative ideas to have emerged so far is that of appointing an interim manager to manage a new business project, or guide a firm through a period of change.

The concept of interim management is only just beginning to catch on in Ireland, but it has been implemented successfully in a whole range of UK business sectors in recent years. Interim managers are highly experienced, professional executives who fulfil specific roles or tasks within organisations where management skills are missing, or need supplementing.

The first situation can arise when a senior manager departs suddenly, or the executive in charge of a particular area is suddenly taken ill. However, given the rapid pace of economic growth in Ireland, interim managers are most likely to be hired precisely because they have the skills and experience needed to successfully exploit a new opportunity. As often as not, the management skills that are either missing, or need supplementing, arise in the financial management area.

However, the principals behind a new interim management company that is just now putting down roots in Ireland believe they have a partial solution. The company, Executives on Assignment, is the first firm dedicated exclusively to the task of placing experienced executives, on temporary assignment, in all types of businesses. Established originally in the UK, one of EoA's most successful growth areas to date has been in sourcing and placing interim financial managers.

Senior financial executives have been provided for assignments lasting between three and six months to a large number of firms in Britain. In one case, a biotechnology product development company had assembled a high-level technical team to investigate the potential for a new joint business venture with a European partner. What the team lacked, however, were the commercial skills needed to drive the development of the business plan itself. Executives on Assignment supplied a finance director who had a strong background in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and in-depth experience of business planning. In the three months that were available to complete the assignment, the interim executive prepared the business plan that led eventually to a successful joint venture.

Specialist financial expertise may also be required when companies find themselves in severe managerial difficulty. Another UK firm, operating in the information technology area, provides an example of how beneficial an immediate injection of skill, experience and objectivity can be. The firm had moved away from supplying computer hardware and towards the supply of professional services, but its accounting processes had not changed to suit the new environment. The firm's auditors submitted a report calling for urgent action to remedy the state of the accounting system. Executives on Assignment provided an experienced public company interim finance manager to replace the financial director. In a six-month assignment, he led the specification of new finance systems and recruited new staff into key roles, before handing over to a new permanent Finance Director.

The system has helped many British companies to develop new opportunities and solve managerial crises. It could prove particularly beneficial for Irish firms that are being stretched by the current economic boom. Until now, the idea of appointing someone with up to 20 years experience of senior management for a three-month or six-month assignment is not one that many Irish firms would have considered doing. Companies will always try to fill the top positions by taking on a permanent employee who, given the right package, can be expected to stay for a couple of years at least.

If only the business world was as predictable as that. But it's not. There are very few firms that could afford to wait the three, four or more months that it normally takes to fill the most crucial positions in the management structure. Or shunt a critical project to one side because there isn't someone with enough experience to keep it moving. By appointing an experienced interim manager, firms can avoid these problems.

Interim managers are sourced quickly, usually with ten to fourteen days of a request first being made. With up to 20 years experience at senior management level, they have the skill and experience to make an immediate impact. Given that they work only on specific projects, the settling-in period is very short and they can get on quickly with the task at hand. Executives on Assignment selects, interviews and recommends interim managers on the basis of their skills, ability, experience and 'fit' to the client's requirements. Commitment is assured in the sense that the interim manager's next assignment depends on their current reputation, while confidentiality is assured in the same way as if the executive was a lawyer or tax adviser. Confidentiality at senior management level in particular is a vital concern in every industry.

Executives on Assignment has released figures which show that the current high growth areas in Ireland are the sectors where the company has already built a strong presence in the UK. In the five years that have elapsed since the firm's launch there, 46% of assignments have been in manufacturing, with 41% in financial services, information technology and telecommunications.

Just as significant are the figures for the number of assignments by functional area. Production and operations are the leading areas, followed by the financial sector (24%), human resources (14%), sales and marketing (12%) and information technology (6.5%). The general management area, which includes chief executives and managing directors, generates 11% of assignments.

Given that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find suitable senior managers quickly in today's scarce-skills environment, it looks as though interim managers could play a vital part in short-term corporate development. By opting for sensibly over-qualified, temporary executives, many of whom have been involved in strategic decision-making for much of their careers, companies can take full advantage of an untapped reservoir of management talent whose cultural legacy may endure long after the assignment is completed, or the permanent manager has finally taken up their new position.

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