There is a tendency among the leadership ranks of most organizations to espouse the virtues of disruption, but only when that disruption is focused on somebody else. When incumbent leadership is unable or unwilling to drive necessary change, creditors and other stakeholders are showing an increasing willingness to press for interim managers to supplement the senior management team and drive the change necessary to save what is often a faltering organization.
Recent news regarding two troubled organizations highlights the value interim managers can bring, especially in periods of distress:
- RadioShack. The struggling electronics retailer announced recently that CFO John Feray would resign, after only seven months on the job. Mr. Ferary will be replaced by Holly Etlin of Alixpartners, would will assume the CFO role on an interim basis. According to Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities, Ms. Etlin’s appointment is a negative to shareholders, as she will “represent the creditors”. Mr. Pachter’s comment is actually a strong endorsement: given the fiduciary duty of officers of a company operating in the zone of insolvency, Holly Etlin should be working for the benefit of creditors, not the shareholders who are almost certainly out of the money.
- Detroit. In his nearly 18 months as emergency manager of Detroit, Kevyn Orr has presided over the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history ($18 billion) and pushed that contentious process toward what looks to be a remarkably successful resolution. The Michigan law which allows for emergency managers dictates a term of 18 months, but in light of his successes many in Detroit are arguing for Orr’s continued involvement, if only to provide continuity throughout the bankruptcy and immediate post-bankruptcy period.
Experienced interim managers, such as Ms. Etlin and Mr. Orr, are professional change agents, responsible for both catalyzing and driving the change necessary for organizations to raise their level of performance. In periods of turmoil, these change agents can be the difference between success or failure for struggling organizations.
About the Author
David Johnson (@TurnaroundDavid) is Founder and Managing Partner of Abraxas Group, a boutique advisory firm focused on providing transformational leadership to middle market companies in transition. Over the course of his career David has served as financial advisor and interim executive to dozens of middle market companies. David is also a recognized thought leader on the topics of business transformation, change management, interim leadership, restructuring, turnaround, and value creation. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.