Great Business Ideas: Hire an Interim Executive

Great Ideas for your Small Business: Hire an Interim Executive

Big and small businesses are turning to temporary executives more and more to fill important positions. While the number of traditional clerical temps is declining, the professional and technical segment of the temporary staffing industry is growing by about 5 percent a year, industry experts say. In 1999 professionals represented about 25 percent of the total interim workforce.

“With temporary staffing, you get a level of executive you may not be able to afford long-term,” said a spokesman for the Alexandria, Virginia–based National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services (NATSS). Temporary staffing companies provide small businesses with skilled executives they probably couldn’t attract, screen, or hire on their own.

Another benefit: The staffing company handles all the employee-related paperwork, benefits, and payroll taxes.

With thousands of skilled executives tossed into the labor pool by downsizing, executive temps often have between fifteen and thirty years’ experience in their industry to offer your firm. “Small businesses may want a professional with very specific skills or experience—a financial strategist, a marketing consultant, or someone who has taken a company public,” said Marilou Myrick, president and CEO of ProResource Inc., a staffing company in Cleveland, Ohio. Myrick said her clients are usually billed between $1,500 and $2,500 for a week’s worth of service by one of her temporary executives or professionals.

Jean Ban, executive vice president at Chicago-based Paladin Inc., said, “our temps are highly focused, flexible people who can hit the ground running.” Paladin Inc. sets itself apart by placing high-level creative temps, specialists in public relations, marketing, and communications. After intense interviews and reference checks, the company has built a pool of 5,000 “flex execs.” When a client puts in a request, Paladin sends along two or three candidates who fit the bill. Then the client chooses the best person for the job and often pays up to $200 an hour for the executive’s expertise.

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Finding the right short-term help isn’t cheap. Executive staffing companies take a significant cut for themselves— as much as 30 percent of billings go to the matchmaking service. They are the employers of record; they pay the employer’s contribution to FICA and Medicare and provide state and federal unemployment insurance coverage.

When the home health care agency director at Mindy Jacobsen’s Idaho hospital said she’d be taking a six-month leave of absence, Jacobsen needed someone with special skills to supervise the agency’s forty employees on a short-term basis.

Jacobsen, chief operating and chief clinical officer at Columbia West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell, Idaho, called Healthcare Concepts in Memphis, Tennessee, a company specializing in short-term, high-level temps. Within a few months, Jacobsen had located an interim director who filled in for the missing director until she returned.

It’s very important to prepare your permanent staff before the arrival of a new temporary manager or director. Jacobsen met with her employees to fill them in. “I told them she would provide them with support and guidance, and I assured them it was a temporary arrangement.” There are quite a few challenges to stepping into a company at a top level. Janet Sodaro, a Paladin associate with expertise as a marketing manager, was hired to help an insurance company launch a new product. A three-month stint turned into two years, during which she orchestrated a four million-piece direct mail program. “Because I’m not really staff but I’m not a consultant, either, I have to know when to let go of certain issues and when to press on others,” said Sodaro. Her presence in the company freed up permanent employees to think about long-term strategy while she managed the marketing campaign.

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Is an interim executive right for you?

INTERIM EXECUTIVES work best for companies in transition. If your business is growing or shrinking, relocating or launching a new product line, you may want to hire a high-level executive on a short-term basis.

Here are some things to consider:

  • What duties and responsibilities can I turn over to a hired gun?
  • Will hiring a temporary executive make my life easier and free me to do more important work?
  • What specific skills should the interim executive have?
  • Can I find an agency that specializes in finding interim executives for my industry?
  • What is my budget for hiring an interim executive?
  • Will I be able to check the candidate’s references?
  • Does the work I need have a beginning, middle, and end?
  • What kind of a contract will I have to sign to hire this person?