Short-term contracts. Pressure to produce results within weeks rather than months or years. Hot- desking in unfamiliar offices. Nights spent holed up in hotels. Who would choose the life of an interim finance director?
Well, quite a lot of people actually. For those who relish challenge and the opportunity to work on goal-oriented projects across a broad range of companies and situations, the role of interim finance chief offers a chance to cast off from the safe waters of a permanent position and carve out a stimulating and well-paid freelance career.
The interim FD is very much a hired gun. Typically, he or she will be contracted for short periods of time to sort out specific problems or address issues that the client’s existing finance people are unable to deal with. That might be anything from putting in information systems and controls for a fast growth company through to conducting due diligence on an acquisition or undertaking an urgent restructuring project.
Unlike a part time FD – working a few days a month for a single company on a long-term basis - the onus is on the FD to go in, get the job done quickly and then move on to the next project, pocketing both a fee and (very possibly) a success-related bonus.
But if life as a freelance trouble shooter has an appeal, it’s not necessarily a role that is high on the list of finance professionals when they start their careers. Business advisory firm James Cowper places interim and part time FDs. As partner Robert Holland observes those who set themselves up as ‘interim FDs’ can look forward to broad ranging careers, but the flipside to that is the uncertainly associated with leaving behind permanent position.
Given the natural caution of many finance chiefs the trajectory from ‘permanent’ to ‘interim’ is often dictated by circumstances rather than choice. “What you often see is that FDs take on an interim role as a result of redundancy. Initially the plan is to do it until something more permanent comes along,” he says.
But as Colin Moir’s experience illustrates one thing can lead to another. Having been made redundant from a full time position at diary company St Ivel, he found a temporary role at another consumer goods company carrying out due diligence on a takeover bid while the existing CFO focused on negotiations.
Once the deal had been signed the management team asked Moir to work on another project, raising money. Further interim postings followed - secured through VCs placement agencies and his own network. Since 1999 he has worked across a range of sectors including telecoms, defence, transport and housing.
“There was no one point at which I decided to become an interim director,” he recalls. “But after the first appointment I realised there was a career there."
Life as an interim
It’s a career that is very different from that of a permanent finance chief. “You are taken on a short contract and you really have to start delivering straight away,” says Moir. “Equally important, your employer has to see that you are adding value."