Babysitting or nurturing? The role of the Interim Financial Executive

Babysitting or nurturing? The role of the Interim Financial Executive

Last weekend, friends of ours attended a wedding. True to South African tradition, it went on for longer than a work day! Our friends have a one-year old child who needed to be babysat. They decided to share the load between two sets of relatives. The first relatives would do a shorter stint, taking the baby from 2pm to about 5pm. The second set of relatives would do the long haul, taking the child from 5pm until when my friends returned home late that night.

The next day was full of very contradictory feedback. The first set of relatives had had a wonderful time with the child. They had fed her sweets and cake and enjoyed an afternoon with her at the park. The second set of relatives were much more somber. Their evening started out okay until the baby came off her sugar high. Thereafter, there was non-stop screaming. Eventually they had phoned the baby’s parents and told them they needed to come home early from the wedding because the child was inconsolable. The babysitting experience had started well with her interim caretakers, but after the transition to her “long-term” caretakers, things went downhill and quickly became unbearable.

Unexpectedly enough, my friend’s anecdote about babysitting can teach us a thing or two about the importance and role of the interim financial executive.

Babysitter or interim financial executive?
One could say that the first set of babysitters played the role of the interim financial executive. Their job was to take care of the baby (read: the company) until it was appropriate for the longer-term babysitters to take over. The second set of babysitters played the role of the more permanent leader, or long-term financial manager.

Even though the interim caretakers only looked after the baby for a few hours, their actions had a definite impact on the well-being of the baby and also the type of job that the following managers would inherit.

So the interim babysitters decided to stuff the baby full of candy. It was a short-term solution, making the baby happy and cheerful for a few hours, but later translated into chaos all-round. Ironically, by this time the interim babysitters had taken leave of the situation and were not there to see the epic meltdown or pick up the pieces in the aftermath.

In the same way, an interim financial executive will only have responsibility for the finances of a company for a short period of time. Whether they’re called in as a project accountant, an interim CFO or financial manager, their task is to manage the company finances for a limited period and then pass on the baton to someone else. Bearing this in mind, your task as a hiring manager is to find a professional who is not going to ‘stuff the baby full of candy’, so to speak.

Being willing to forego the candy
Like in the babysitting example, the effects of the management of an interim financial executive will often only be felt after he or she is gone. And, as in the baby analogy, an undiscerning business owner might not even recognise the harmful effects of bad interim management for what they are. At first glance, the interim babysitters did a fantastic job: the baby was happy and their period of management was concluded peacefully. Only later did one realise that their ‘management style’ had actually been harmful to the baby.

Likewise, watch out for interim financial executives who take the ‘band aid’ approach. Some interim leaders see their job as merely to stay the tide while they are in the role. Instead, look out for an interim financial executive who is willing to take the time and effort to make good, strategic decisions for the long-term welfare of the company.

Instead of hiring an interim financial executive who will try to fit in with the old status quo, look for one who is willing to respect the way things are done while simultaneously being confident enough to give new suggestions. Look for someone who is motivated not to keep the peace, but to do what’s best for the company in the long-term. In short, you’re looking for a person who would be willing to forego the candy and feed your company brussel sprouts instead.

If this advice sounds credible, but you’re not sure where to find such a person, contact The Finance Team. We have a team of highly skilled and trained interim financial executives who are motivated to make the best decisions for your company long-term.


Image credit : © Stephen Denness |


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