The view from the other side: From Transforming Businesses to Business Transformation

After a twenty-year career on the ‘other side’ operating as a senior change practitioner and programme lead, Stephen Hunt joined Eton Bridge Partners’ Business Transformation team earlier this year just as the business regained its top spot as Number 1 Interim Provider in the Institute of Interim Management (IIM) Annual Survey.

With a proven delivery of change, Stephen previously led business operations, finance, risk, regulatory compliance, IT, and Financial Crime initiatives. Here he shares his thoughts on stepping into the interim provider market and responds to some of the themes which came out in the 2021 IIM survey.

Moving from client to provider

Having originally worked in traditional finance functions and then cross-industry in Finance and Transformation with Accenture, and then again client-side in FS with UBS and HSBC, I feel my background gives me strong credibility with clients. While I am some years behind my colleagues’ experience in recruitment, it’s been an interesting learning experience and they have been gracious with their support and responding to my many questions!

What surprised me about Eton Bridge Partners was the extent to which it is a real people and relationship-led business. From my experience, many organisations claim to be “a people business” and yet invariably are not! From the start, I received an enthusiastic welcome from the other partners and consultants, with generous offers of their time and advice. I was impressed by the long-term and authentic approach; with my colleagues encouraging me to get to know everyone in the business to begin with, given it is such a collaborative organisation.

Eton Bridge Partners has a fantastic culture and working environment; as well as being energetic and fun, the people are very knowledgeable and extremely supportive. Everyone has a desire to help their colleagues regardless of which practice area they operate in. Similarly, much time is spent supporting our clients and candidates with formal and informal advice.

Functional expertise with a wealth of knowledge

What I had not envisaged on the client-side was the high demand for our interim managers. Most firms I have worked with tended to have significant internal change functions, and resources within the business to allocate to change initiatives. I had not appreciated that many of our clients, while large (FTSE100/250, private companies) do not have this internal capability, and often, the level of change and fixed costs does not warrant it. Many utilise EBP, like a business partner providing high-quality talent to ensure the relevant change is executed with the experience and point expertise required. Additionally, with our associates ‘having been there and done it multiple times’, clients regard them as an effective way to de-risk delivery.

I have been extremely impressed with the calibre of our interims and their level of experience; our associates’ age range reflects that of the recent IIM survey – where interims “were mostly in their 40s-60s…with an average age of 54”*. This initially came as a surprise compared to the Financial Services sector, where the term ‘it’s a young man’s game’ is not unjustified. Our interims’ age profile comes with a significant uptick in skills and experience. It also reflects that many interims have made a firm decision to become career interims, after having a career at C-suite/ senior level for many years.

*graph taken from the 2021 IIM Survey report page 6

Interestingly the IIM survey results show the majority (58%) of interims work in ‘Business Change and Business Support’, and in terms of role profiles, most interims (67%) are C-suite and programme/project managers*, which aligns to our own associate network. The proportion of Board level roles (15%) shown in the IIM survey is also reflected in our own growing Board practice.

*graph taken from the 2021 IIM Survey report page 9

*graph taken from the 2021 IIM Survey report page 10

People in the business of people

Having understood the ‘EBP Way’, with a focus on client and candidate relationships and, now spoken with many of our associates, I am not surprised by the success of winning first place. While the model is simple, it is extremely effective.

Whether in good times or bad, whether our associates are in roles through EBP or others, our consultants remain in touch regularly with our network to ensure they are up to date with their experience, roles, and personal lives. The latter has taken on perhaps a different meaning in the last year with the challenges of Covid and the impact on the interim market. Many interim roles were the first to go as firms delayed programmes and went into survival/ cash conservation mode, so the relationship took on a new mode of support and well-being.

The impact of IR35 alongside the pandemic

IR35 has certainly been a hot topic for the interim market and discussed at length in the IIM survey*(pg 28 – 39). The regulations came into effect at the beginning of April 2021, but businesses have had a long time to plan and consider their approach.

Unfortunately, IR35 has also brought several myths to the market. Working with legal advisors, Brookson Legal and the IIM, Eton Bridge Partners have spent a lot of time and resources on educating and supporting our associate network and our clients with these changes.

As a business, it’s a conversation we have from the start with our clients regarding any opportunity. Given how clients utilise our interims for specific skills and the considerations (substitution, control, mutuality of obligation, integration, and financial risk) means the majority of Business Transformation assignments are outside IR35 and our clients are comfortable completing a Status Determination Statement (SDS). There are circumstances, where this is not the case, such as where an interim is an officer of the company. In summary, our clients are being increasingly practical in their approach to determination, and where necessary looking to us for advice and guidance in this area.

The future is bright

I believe the tailwinds of the pandemic and Covid will be around for many years with mini-waves occurring, but I do expect rapid growth in the market overall. Although we should recognise some sectors will continue to benefit, others will see lack lustre growth. Specifically, from a Business Transformation perspective, I envisage growth for several reasons:

  • Pent-up demand from transformation projects and programmes being delayed
    We are already seeing an upswing in growth since the last quarter, and I expect this to continue as the need to realise operational efficiencies and growth strategies return to the boardroom. Alongside this is a transition from cash conservation mode, as businesses increasingly become more confident.
  • The pandemic is no longer being afforded as a rationale for delayed programmes and benefits
    While elements of the pandemic will be with us for a long time, key stakeholders will no longer accept ‘the pandemic’ as a blanket rationale for delays in deliverables and benefits.
  • Growth in mega projects for the major consultancies and lack of experience in the market provides increased opportunities
    Increasingly, ever-larger global transformation initiatives such as GBS, combined with mega government C-19 projects, awarded to big 4 consultancies, have seen their resources oversold and thinly spread. Consequently, there is increased demand from clients in these areas where incumbent consultancies cannot so easily provide the depth of experience which is in turn offering significant opportunities to the interim market.
  • Hybrid and home working is the new normal
    While the pandemic brought about a seismic shift in working practices, the rapid adoption of technology as an enabler and new norms of WFH have shown how adaptable firms are. There is increasing acceptance that programmes can operate under the new norm. In addition, interims are increasingly fully set up to support WFH both mentally and logistically; the technology works, they invariably enjoy it, and the lack of commute/ travel provides for a greater balance and often increased productivity. On a healthy note, the ‘days of presenteeism’ are well and truly over with a more trusting operating environment replacing it, at least at the senior level.

It’s been quite a change moving across to ‘the other side’ to join EBP. The challenge of knowing our associates, understanding client needs and matching them with interim managers who have the most relevant experience, is something I look forward to.

Despite concerns in recent years, I believe the executive interim market is very much alive and kicking. The pandemic will be the catalyst for growth and change. More businesses will be driving large scale transformation projects and will need expertise and flexibility quickly. This combined with the hybrid working model creating opportunities for interims, make it an incredibly exciting time to have joined Eton Bridge Partners.

To speak to Stephen about Interim Management within Business Transformation, you can contact him here:

Stephen Hunt

Partner
Interim Management
Business Transformation


Stephen demonstrates a strong commercial awareness and focus on delivering business benefits, reflecting a strong blend of consulting and execution experience