For many executives, becoming an interim manager is an option worthy of consideration. From a distance, it is enticing – interesting short-term challenges with excellent remuneration – but is it something that would work for the typical executive? We sat down with GatedTalent member and Interim CEO Patrick Burns to find out more. 

(1) Patrick, thanks for agreeing to share your experience with our members. Can you talk us through your background? 

Patrick: It’s fair to say it’s been diverse! My early career was spent with a series of global businesses – Maersk, Ford, Bechtel, Xerox and DHL. More recently, I’ve been working as a CEO in both Permanent and Interim roles.

(2) How and why did you decide to become an Interim Executive?

Patrick: The short answer is that I was approached with offers I could not refuse! I wanted to use my experience and skills for good causes, not just to accumulate wealth, but it’s certainly a side benefit. I have been blessed with an unusual breadth of experience across many domains and continents. I’ve been involved in a number of situations where Private Equity Investors contacted me asking them to help salvage portfolio companies, or to “hold the fort” while they hire a permanent CEO. I’ve been exposed to recapitalization, divestitures, merger and so forth. In that my nature is more of a hunter than a farmer, the variety and the level of challenge has always been very appealing. So, I began accepting assignments.

(3) What type of projects might you get involved with? 

Patrick: Really diverse. From supporting rapid growth, through to crisis management. Scaling. Dealing with SEC issues. But these are the headlines - in each case I was brought in by boards to solve underachieving issues: poor management, failure to preform, ineffective or no strategy, a shortage of finance, lack of management structure, and so on. Often the organizations lacked the expertise or experience needed to cross the rubicon they faced even with good to excellent products, perhaps heavy competition, and so on or lacking in ability to develop appropriate strategies for specific situations. I have been location and duration agnostic. The pacing items have always been worthiness of the assignment. The blessing of continual learning and humility enforcement.

(4) What impact does this have on your lifestyle?

Patrick: It’s a huge amount of variety. I’ve worked globally, and face an extreme commuting burden… I currently have over 3 million miles logged in air travel, with more than half of those as an Interim. My projects have always been global. Assignments have been global. This translates to long periods away from home. Living in hotels or executive housing rentals for sustained periods. Adjusting to many cultural changes. It offers a good income, but it is hard.

(5) What does an interim executive need to be successful?

Patrick: Experience, emotional intelligence, joy in enabling people, the ability to deal with crisis, agility, patience (hurry but do not rush), focus, trustworthiness, integrity and authenticity, fairness and transparency. An interim needs skill at building and sustaining a highly functioning and focused team(s). You won’t be there for ever, so you need a commitment to listening to and empowering the people you will leave behind. It is about the company not you. It is about being a leader, not a boss. It is about facilitating, quickly identifying barriers and removing them. It is about working yourself out of a job and moving to the next challenge.

(6) Would you recommend becoming an Interim as an option for a senior executive? Under what circumstances?

Patrick: This is both subjective and objective in nature. And yes, it is an option I would recommend this for consideration. At the core of the matter is: does the executive want to teach, repair, ‘fix’, build teams, save investment, do the things that must be done in the best interest of the company, stakeholders, employees and the rest, or does the executive simply need a job? The latter won’t work. If it’s about seizing an opportunity with the hope of a permanent position, you are setting yourself up to fail. The best interim executives are not wanting anyone’s job. They are hunters, not farmers…. Period.

I would like to thank Patrick for sharing his experiences and knowledge with me today on this topic. I hope our members and anyone looking for their next interim senior management opportunity will find this useful!