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Watermark in the Media - Interim Executive Survey 2023

Download Now - 2023 Interim Executive Survey

This marks the thirteenth year Watermark dives into the Interim Executive market in Australia incorporating the demographics and motivators of people choosing to work this way, the type of work Interim Executives undertake, and the broader macro environment in which they operate as well as the micro drivers of the sectors.

Watermark's 2023 Interim Executive Survey revealed five trends that will shape the future success of leaders, employees, and customers:

The media is already taking notice of these trends uncovered by our survey, showcasing real-world examples that underscore its value and significance. Please read the below article by The Australian which focuses on our trends of Longevity and Meaningful Work.

​Interim Executives fill skills gap for companies.
Permanent might not be perfect.

Story by Glenda Korporaal
Published in The Australian on Saturday 12 August 2023.

The past few years have seen the rise of the "interim executive", with more companies looking for short-term hires and more experienced executives opting to work longer in a portfolio career, according to the managing partner of recruitment firm Watermark Search International, David Evans.

Mr Evans' company has some 7000 experienced executives on its books who are potential candidates for "interim executive" jobs, filling short- term assignments or overseeing transformational projects.

"This is a growing trend," he said. "Australia is catching up with other markets around the world. More companies are using interim executives and more people are choosing to work this way.

He said "interim executives" were typically hired for assignments of between six and nine months, though the term often extended, and were often in areas such as Chief Financial Officer, IT or human resources. There was a particularly strong demand for executives who had experience with major transformational projects.

"Companies going through a significant transformation need someone who had experience in doing this. They may not have those skills in-house and want to hire an interim executive to help them design it and partially implement it. Or they may just want someone who can design the strategy and leave the company to do it themselves."

He said companies hiring interim executives ranged from top ASX companies and large private organisations to government departments and smaller organisations.

"Gone are the days when a company would write a job description and hire someone for a permanent job," he said. "If a company wants to be successful, one of the options for moving fast is to hire in the skills they need for six months. They don't have to write a job description and conduct an advertising campaign and hire someone on a permanent basis.

He said Watermark had identified this sector as a market to target some 12 years ago and was able to source executives at short notice, sometimes within days, for assignments. He said placing "interim executives" was the fastest-growing part of the executive search market, expanding globally by more than 8 per cent a year.

But he said Watermark's business in this area was growing at more than 20 per cent a year. Companies that were growing fast were turning to interim executives to fill key roles "where they don't have the executive bandwidth in house, and they need to recruit some external experience to get them to the next level."

One example was experienced accountant and former banker Geoff Buchanan, who took on a temporary role as Interim Chief Executive of Perth-based ASX-listed naval shipping company, Austal, during Covid.

He took a call from Watermark in late 2021 asking him if he would go to Perth for a six month assignment as Interim CFO.

Within two weeks of getting the initial phone call, he was in Perth, doing quarantine in his hotel room, working on his new role.

Buchanan ended up being asked to stay on in the role much longer than six months, pending the appointment of someone in a permanent role.

In April this year, Austal Chief Executive Paddy Gregg paid tribute to Buchanan "for his commitment to the company and maintaining focus for the hard-working finance team throughout the recruitment period." "Geoff has been instrumental in keeping us on track to deliver comprehensive, compliant and effective financial reporting over the past 15 months," he said.

He said Buchanan would remain with the company until September, to allow a smooth transition for the permanent CFO, Christian Johnstone, who took over in April.

Mr Evans said many executives were now working longer but did not want to continue working within the confines of a traditional nine to five job. They wanted more flexibility in their work and more challenging projects.

"Most people's careers are now unlikely to end at the retirement age of 67," he said.

"More people want or need to work longer to pay for a longer life or add to their savings. They are planning a portfolio of work which may include being an interim executive, having a few board positions and doing some consulting or advisory work as well as some volunteering," he said.

Mr Evans said Covid had changed things: workers were increasingly looking for work with a sense of purpose or achievement.

"We have people saying that they don’t mind working on an interim basis, but they want to work on something which is meaningful and connects with my values and where they can make a difference."

Mr Evans said the very tight job market was another reason companies were turning to interim executives.

"If you are only looking for employees, you are only looking at 60 to 70 per cent of the market," he said. "When skills are in demand, using interim executives is one way to complement your existing leadership team."

Mr Evans said the reputational damage suffered by the big four accounting firms, in the wake of the PwC scandal over its dealings with the Australian Tax Office, was prompting companies to rethink their approach to using consultants, being prepared to look beyond the big four. "Organisations are now reviewing their brand loyalty and they are more open to looking at other ideas on how they solve challenges," he said. "Rather than hiring a brand, maybe they want to think about hiring the skills they need to achieve the outcomes they want.”