The Diary of the Secret Interim, Part 4

The Secret Interim’s Diary, Day 84: Even when you’re “only” an interim, you can achieve real and lasting change on a company’s culture.

It is three months since Eton Bridge Partners found a role for our man as a Divisional CFO. In the latest of his series of blogs, he discusses how even someone on an interim assignment can implement long-term upgrades.

Please note: This is ‘The Secret Interim’s Diary, Part 4’.

– Click here to read Part 3

– Click here to read Part 2

Click here to read Part 1

Day Eighty-Four

You can’t turn around a business, especially one transforming into a global matrix organisation, in a couple of weeks or months. It takes time and more than a little bit of trust.

However, I can see some green shoots of recovery here. Even though we all want mighty oak trees and we want them yesterday!

This is not just in terms of performance, but in culture too. For instance, after a couple of months here I said to a few people that we should say thank you every so often. I think it goes a long way when you show your appreciation.

As a result, I have noticed more people are saying thank you, and you can now see colleagues going the extra mile due to positive recognition.

For example, we had to put in a lot of extra work to provide granular detail on some month-end figures. It was a tough task, but a lot of people were very grateful that we put in the hours. Even I got thank you notes from two members of the Board which represents a significantly positive cultural shift.

A couple of months in I had the chance to impress who I call the ‘global gods’ – the senior figures in the parent company.

You may remember, I made the quarterly management meeting a monthly affair. I also managed to rebrand it as a ‘leadership meeting’.

Word came down that the ‘global gods’ would like to come along to the next gathering. They said they just wanted to observe, make it a fly-on-the-wall visit, but of course, once they were in the room it turned into a full business review lasting 12 hours.

The company chairman, who had been in the business a whole year, wanted an update on how we were performing. Bear in mind that the last time they’d taken the temperature like this was six months before I started. In fact, it was one of the reasons they hired me in the first place.

I was very conscious that I wanted to deliver a lot of essential information and insight. I burned the midnight oil for a week in advance, and it was cobbled together with elastic band and a piece of string – but it went really well.

I felt there was a breakthrough moment with the global CFO. He said to me after the meeting: “I really appreciate your support and effort to make this place work properly from a finance point of view.” This really resonated with me.

I believe it’s better to take a little too much responsibility in life than not enough. However, the culture here has been to pass the buck a little too often.

“It’s not your fault” they’ll tell me. Well, I think some people are taking a lot less responsibility than they should…

Yes, there’s a blame culture here. But none of that is my fault(!)

In this remodelled, global organisation, there are a lot of people looking to earn their stripes. They have ideas and they’re keen to make things land really quickly.

I could say: “On you go,” and be a hero for that moment – but it would be pretty villainous if that team then fell over.

I seem to find myself saying No – or Not Yet – an awful lot. People have good ideas but they don’t always consider the damage they could be doing. I’m trying to protect them from themselves.

For instance, the procurement department wanted to put in place a whole new travel and expenses policy, but it meant an awful lot of upheaval and investment for a very limited benefit. So we said no – and that was a tough message for them to take.

It’s important to have the trust of the Board and the people around you when new decisions are challenged as you need their support.

I’m now halfway through my initial six-month contract and I’ve been told already that the company wants me to continue on a permanent basis – obviously, that’s a really good sign!

However, right now things are interesting because I’m in a target-rich environment. After a year or 18 months, once the infrastructure is in place and everything becomes productionised, will they still need me?

As an alternate option, they might extend my spell as an interim…watch this space…

Marcus Shah

Partner
Interim Management
CFO & Finance


Marcus is responsible for senior finance interim management assignments across UK and internationally. Typical assignments include: CFO, Divisional Finance Director, Group/ Divisional Financial Controller, FP&A and M&A/ Corporate Development operating within daily rates of £500 to £2,000 per day. Supporting clients at varying life cycles in their development across multiple ownership structures – private equity, plc and private.