The Unknown Interim

Interims and crises go hand in hand – ushering in a temporary team or individual to try and bring order to chaos. With such an important job it is odd that an interim seldom gets noticed; they are often the overseer of a transference stage from old management to new. It is normally much more likely you will hear what the old management did badly and what the new management are trying to improve, without much mention of what the interim did in the transition. That being said, recent world events and a few notable cases in previous years have thrown the role of the interim onto centre stage.

The word ‘interim’ has never been in the news as much as it has been in recent weeks. The announcement that Egypt’s interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi resigned on Monday brings to an end a very short and turbulent interim period of strikes and revolution which the world has been watching closely. This interim period will probably go down as a poor one, with criticism of indecisiveness by the interim government to take charge of critical issues as well as its inability to repair Egypt’s fractured economy.

Whilst one interim resigns another takes on the same challenge in a different part of the world. Oleksandr Turchynov has been named the acting President of Ukraine. Turchynov now has the seemingly impossible task of winding down the revolution movement in Ukraine to avoid any more bloodshed, whilst also being the rope in a tug of war between the EU and Russia as to who Ukraine will answer to in future. The situations above are world changing and whilst it is unlikely that these interims will go down in the history books, it will be the permanent party that takes over after the interim period whose name will be remembered and policies will be scrutinised.

Interims do not only handle crisis, they are routinely brought in to deal with turnaround assignments in large organisations. One of the maybe lesser known (in the UK at least) examples of an economy changing interim success story is that of Mitt Romney. Whilst most of the world knows Mitt Romney as the man who ran against Barack Obama at the last US presidential election, not many people know of his turnaround assignment for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Four years prior to the opening ceremony at Salt Lake City, a number of International Olympic Committee (IOC) members had resigned after a bribery scandal had emerged and the games were plagued with a $370 million budget deficit. Mitt Romney was bought in to turn this deficit around. After a 3 year period Romney had turned this deficit into a $100 million surplus by reducing budgets and increasing fundraising. This is an example of taking a person with no previous involvement in the industry but with the skills, learnt at private equity firm Bain Capital, to implement a massively successful turnaround that insiders couldn’t achieve.

Another interim who breaks the mould of the unknown interim and will probably go down as one of the greatest minds in the business world, famous for one of the most successful turnarounds in history, is Steve Jobs. At the beginning of 1997 Apple announced a quarterly loss of $708 million, their market share had dropped to just above 5% and they had failed to deliver their next upgrade to the Macintosh operating system. Then the man they had previously fired came back on an interim CEO basis for a legendary turnaround. Jobs was soon an intimidating figure to see in the office - he scrapped many projects Apple had been working on for years, spent extra money equipping Apple products with market leading technology and cut employee numbers. After spearheading the new iMac system, Jobs quickly took Apple out of loss and made them one of the most profitable and iconic companies of our generation. Without the effective use of an interim, Apple may never have made it into the new millennium.

Interim managers often deal with the most stressful, transformative and decisive periods in government and business. Many of their decisions made during short term assignments will go on to shape longer term legacies even though their contribution may never be truly recognised. However, recent events suggest that interims may be more widely and openly acknowledged in the future and it will be very interesting to see the continuing impact on the functions of an interim management role.