Hiring: Temporary theory

Hiring an interim manager might be the solution for time-strapped execs.

Pat Loduca found himself so caught up in running the day-to-day operations of Upper Lakes Group earlier this year that the CEO realized he wasn’t thinking about growing his Toronto-based business. And his 10-member management team was just as swamped. But something had to be done to keep the marine shipping company competitive. “We really needed to step back and focus on where we wanted to take the company,” Loduca says. Hiring another full-time executive would have been a lengthy process, so Loduca turned to the Osborne Group, an interim executive management agency headquartered in Toronto, and essentially rented one.

Using temporary management can be ideal for cash-strapped companies that need to tap into the expertise of a seasoned executive but can’t justify hiring one full-time. In Loduca’s case, he hired a vice-president of strategic planning to restructure the company’s various business groups and identify long-term opportunities for each, a process that four months later is still ongoing.

Interim managers are more typically called upon for smaller projects. That was the case for Jamie Cuthbert, president of graphic design firm and sign manufacturer Saitech International, when he landed an order in July to build touch-screen kiosks for 2,000 auto repair shops across the U.S. The task was too much for his small company to deal with, so Cuthbert hired an executive from Atticus Interim Management in Toronto to lead Saitech through the assignment’s technical and quality control aspects. Once completed, Cuthbert says his company will be better equipped to tackle larger projects. “It’s been very good at providing us with skills we can use over and over,” he says.

The concept of interim management flourished during the 1980s in the U.K., when then–prime minister Margaret Thatcher privatized government-owned companies, creating a need for experienced managers, but it isn’t as common here in Canada. “Many times we’ll go into a business and they ask us, ‘Where were you three years ago? We could have used you,’” says Jane Matthews, an executive at the Osborne Group. She expects the popularity of interim managers to grow, given the number of small to mid-sized businesses in Canada and the high demand for skilled leaders.

Such services don’t come cheap, however. Corporate clients should expect to pay between $1,200 and $2,000 per day for an executive. At that price, clients should be sure to assess the quality of potential managers. Greg Petkovich, president of Atticus, also stresses that temporary executives are not meant to replace consultants.

Still, Cuthbert, for one, says an interim manager is a better solution for his money. “Consultants are of little help to entrepreneurial companies that are running flat out,” he says. “We don’t need more people telling us what to do.”