Richard Block had been CFO of Avicon Group, a start-up supply-chain management consultancy and software maker, for eight years when it ran out of steam in 2006. His last duty was helping to dissolve the company. Then things really started to get tough.
Despite his long finance career, which included a divisional controller’s post at Digital Equipment Corp. in the 1990s, Block found himself less than ideally suited for finding new employment. “I didn’t think I had the best network, and didn’t know if I was a good networker anyway,” he says. Plus, it was a stretch to maintain the extreme discipline needed to mount a full-time job search from home, where the ability to spontaneously take on home repairs and renovations proved distracting.
Such issues are familiar to many who have been out of work. For Block, the eventual solution came in the form of an opportunity to become a partner at Tatum LLC, which provides interim finance executives for companies in transition. But while individual assignments are temporary, interim management can be a viable career in itself, Block and others say, and not just a stepping stone to a new permanent job.
Not that working for Tatum, which has 1,100 partners and consultants, means that he doesn’t have to do any networking. On the contrary, the firm expects the executives in its stable to help develop new business for the firm when they are between assignments. That involves calling contacts, cold calling, writing papers, and attending meetings with other partners. “Joining a company like Tatum and hoping that assignments will magically pop over the cubicle would be somewhat naive,” says Block. “Often you have to go find them.” But he adds that he’s a better networker now, thanks to training Tatum provides.
Block enjoys the structure of going to an office every day, but there is no compensation for the work done between assignments. The other thing that requires some adjustment, he notes, is the idea of having two bosses at once — one at the client company and one at Tatum.
Otherwise, Block finds a lot to like about interim management. “You get a variety of challenges that make use of the skill set you’ve honed,” he says. “You see different industries and slants, which only allows you to expand your skill set further and makes you a stronger, more employable executive.” The work pays well, he adds, often one-third to half more than a permanent employee would command for that time period.
Diversity is also what Michelle Faustin likes about interim work. It’s a way to defeat boredom, says Faustin, an M&A expert and former Ernst & Young auditor who markets herself for temporary gigs and also works with interim-management firm Interim America. With full-time positions, “after a certain point you’re kind of repeating the same things,” she says.
Faustin has done more consulting than interim management during the five years she’s been out on her own, but is looking to reverse that mix — and there is definitely a difference between the two, she notes. Consulting essentially involves recommending strategies and solutions, while an interim manager will also direct the execution of the tasks. “It’s always tugged at me that with consulting you don’t always get the opportunity to drive [a project] all the way through,” she says.