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Demand for interim executives is shifting

This article originally appeared in Shortlist on Thursday 11th July 2019 and features Watermark Search International's Annual Interim Report. To download a copy of the 2019 Annual Interim Report click here.

Five market changes are affecting demand for interim executives, new research by Watermark Search International shows.

As in previous years, Watermark's survey has found that change and transformation are the key drivers for engaging executives on an interim basis.

But the cause of the disruption has shifted, it says, and the five driving factors are:

  1. Enhanced competition from new entrants is driving business turnaround and restructuring, with chief financial officers, chief executive officers and chief operating officers highly sought to "parachute in and fix this";
  2. Digital disruption is causing a knock-on in the rise of chief technology and information specialists, and executives with digital transformation experience;
  3. The power of social conscience disrupting business has increased demand for chief customer/experience officers, and marketing and crisis communication specialists;
  4. The emergence of data and analytics to obtain a competitive advantage has prompted the rise of the chief data officer; and
  5. Greater regulatory scrutiny in key markets such as financial services, aged care, and the energy sector has heightened the need for risk, legal and governance executives.

Market movements

"We are seeing the trend continue where organisations are accessing talent in a more fluid and agile manner," says Watermark managing partner David Evans.

The emphasis is on 'borrowing' talent rather than always 'buying' it for two key reasons, he says: to deliver on projects; and when there is a gap in a business-critical role.

Key findings to emerge from this year's research, the ninth in Watermark's series, include:

  • The profile of interim executives is shifting – 'portfolio working' is a legitimate career choice, with 43% of respondents saying they are "very committed" to this as their 'plan A' career choice, and 29% describing it as their preference;
  • More women are engaging in a portfolio career – this year saw an uplift from 25% to 30% in females choosing this as their preferred career option;
  • More organisations are engaging interim executive talent at the general management and head of department level (more than 70% of assignments). Often this is to backfill roles where internal succession planning mechanisms have redirected internal talent to other parts of the business; and
  • Existing networks are the primary source of new jobs – within this space, prior job contacts are used by 71% of interim executives to source new work, followed by face-to-face networking (58%, up by 4%), online networking (29%), job boards (25%), networking events (23%, up by 4%) and friends and family (20%).

The survey, involving some 500 respondents, also shows a day rate of $1,000–1,300 is the largest singular category of remuneration, with 31% of interim executives commanding rates in this bracket. This is followed by $1,500–1,800 (26%) and $1,300–1,500 (24%). Some 17% of interim executives are receiving more than $1,800 a day, while just 2% are paid below $1,000 per day.

The largest functional demand area for interims is chief transformation/change director (55%) followed by COO (40%) and CEO & CFO (both 31%).