1994 - Profile of an interim manager
How hard do you need to work
at getting a job? Most people have heard of aspirants
firing off scores of applications and of advertisements
attracting hundreds of inquiries, even for quite
There is nothing unusual about
the committed job seeker, but the trend towards
more flexible workforces and slimmer companies
is influencing individual approaches to employment.
Richard McKeown has gone one
step further than chasing every vacancy, turning
his skills as a chartered secretary into an aggressively
marketed business service aimed at short-term
employment opportunities. McKeown, 46, who lives
in Uxbridge, west London, was made redundant in
1987 after the company he worked for moved to
south Wales and he decided not to go with it.
He invested £7,000 with
an outplacement agency which did not find him
a job but which gave him valuable advice about
interviews and how to write a CV.
Since 1988 he has had a series
of temporary contracts in the company secretarial
role and is now completing a short stint as a
temporary assistant company secretary at Kingfisher.
McKeown's name is registered
with three recruitment agencies but he has gone
beyond being merely a hopeful job applicant. He
spends £5,000 a year on marketing himself.
This includes employing a public relations expert.
He produces a glossy brochure
advertising his skills, experience, previous employers,
selected references and the work he is capable
of doing. He is, in his own words, 'the all singing,
all dancing one-man band'.
McKeown may be the manager of
the future; the sort of individual whom management
philosopher Charles Handy, writes about in his
new book, The Empty Raincoat.
Handy talks about a portfolio
approach to life where you decide how much you
want to work, how you want to work and where you
want to work. Newly restructured organisations,
he has observed, are moving increasingly towards
the employment of fee-charging professionals.
A whole new employment industry
has sprung up over the past 10-15 years to provide
temporary - or 'interim' - managers.
Many do not see themselves as
temporary workers in the long term but are prepared
to fulfil such roles until a permanent post comes
along. McKeown claims to have 'crossed the Rubicon'
in this respect and now sees himself as a permanent
He says he does not feel insecure,
has never been despairing and is relaxed about
his prospects. His experience as an itinerant
employee is growing. His former clients include
BTR, Lautro and Mercury Communications.
The use of temporary staff started
in Silicon Valley in the US among start-up companies.
They employed a core of essential staff on a permanent
basis and made up the rest of their workforce
with temporary contractors.
Now the strategy is spreading
to individual managers.
McKeown argues that it can be
good for professionals because they can command
higher fees than they would get on a salaried
basis. It can be good for the company because
it is buying a short-term and often essential
stop gap at a fixed price. The downside for the
employer would seem to be cost and, to some extent,
uncertainty about quality, although the temporary
nature of the employment lessens the potential
damage of recruiting a dud.
Jeff Grout, managing director
of Robert Half, which has about 500 temporary
accountants on its books, says: 'As companies
have come out of the recession they are not rushing
to recruit staff back on a permanent basis.
'The traditional temp has changed
dramatically. It used to be in low-level grades
but there are now some very senior people doing
Charles Russam, managing director
of the GMS consultancy and secretary of the Association
of Temporary and Interim Executive Services, says
his company database lists 3,500 executives to
supply companies that need senior business managers
at director level or one level below.
He estimates the executive leasing
or interim management sector is worth between
£70m and £100m in the UK and that
it is growing at about 20 per cent a year as it
is increasingly viewed as a serious alternative
to long-term employees. He says: 'Interim management
is no longer being seen as the recycling of clapped
out executives but as a credible option for business.
'Businesses are saying to themselves
why do I need to keep such people on my payroll
when I can go into the market and get someone
in to do a specific job.'
But how do you avoid getting
a useless manager attempting to revive a washed-up
career? Russam admits that such people have found
their way on to agency books. His own company,
he says, will no longer list anyone for whom it
does not have three satisfactory references.
As registered employment agencies,
such companies take their fees from employers.
'It means that we owe a duty of care to our clients
so it is in our interests to ensure that the people
we are supplying are of a good calibre,' says
Interest in temporary managers
is growing, he says, among expanding small businesses
which need hands-on management help, often on
a part-time basis.
Use of the temporary professional
has expanded markedly in the field of information
technology. About 20,000 to 30,000 freelance employees
are working in this area in the UK, with about
20 agencies marketing their services. The biggest
operator, CSS-Comac, has about 1,100 people working.
Tony Coombes, professional services director of
Systems Resources of Coventry, which has about
500 contract staff working for employers such
as IBM, says quality control is becoming increasingly
important as customer companies are demanding
good people and consistency from suppliers.
'Everyone we place is an ambassador
of the company. If they don't do well, manufacturers
will blame us,' he says.
The company has become rigorous
with its contractors. All conversations with freelances
discussing their abilities are recorded afterwards
and kept on file. 'It may appear big brotherish
but it's not. It is really a way of making a quality
selection against the requirement the client gives
us,' Coombes says.
Contracts tend to be for three
months. Employees do not have the holiday arrangements
that their full-time colleagues enjoy but the
trade-off in job security tends to be higher salaries.
Computer operators in the £15,000 to £20,000
salary range may find themselves earning the equivalent
of between £20,000 and £28,000 a week
for the duration of the contract. Experienced
programmers will be earning the equivalent of
£30,000 to £45,000 a year compared
with £20,000 to £30,000 in a full-time
Richard McKeown agrees that the
fees commanded by temporary professionals are
higher than full-time salaries. The fee, he says,
has to account for personal overheads, self-provision
of pensions, holidays and car. He also feels justified
in including an additional element to reflect
his availability at short notice.
One of the biggest problems for
individuals, he argues, is adopting the frame
of mind that accepts temporary contract working
as the norm. To do this, he believes it is necessary
to build up capital that can be used as a buffer
for the times when demand is quiet.
He says: 'There is a vast pool
of highly qualified people out there. They might
have come to to it through redundancy, but so
what? I think I'm better at my job now than I
was 10 years ago. It has been a positive experience.'
© 1994 Financial Times Ltd.
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