We sat down with Jacinta Whelan and Caroline McAuliffe, recipients of the prestigious Award of Excellence from the global AESC, to hear insights into their journey as pioneers in the Interim Executive industry. From the joy of solving clients' problems to the challenges of establishing the concept in new markets, Jac and Caro discuss their hopes for the industry's future, emphasising the importance of choice, flexibility, and meaningful work. Their significant contributions, including a groundbreaking book and the Annual Interim Executive Survey, showcase their passion for educating the market on the transformative potential of the interim way of working. Jac and Caro also open up about maintaining work-life balance, highlighting the value of kindness and awareness in a demanding industry. Please read the full interview below:
1. Can you tell us about the award you have won and what it means to you?
Jacinta Whelan (Jac) –
To be recognised by our industry feels extra special. The industry association is the global governing body so has a deep understanding of our craft and to be chosen from our peers for this award makes me feel extremely proud.
Caroline McAuliffe (Caro) –
I am deeply honoured to be recognised by our industry association and peers. The AESC is the global association for our industry and the Award of Excellence recognises commitment to our profession and in our case, Jacinta and myself, being pioneers and a driving force in the growth of Interim Executive in Australia.
2. What inspired you to enter the Interim Executive industry?
My enjoyment from meeting people and hearing about their career journeys was a driving force to enter the industry. I really, really like hearing when people are happy in their work – I find those people are more content across other areas of their life. If I can play a very small role in finding people fulfilling work then that makes me happy and turn up each day. In relation to interim in particular, I do love the pace required in interim as opposed to search and still get a thrill of solving a client’s problem.
I didn't set out to enter the Interim Executive industry - it kind of found me! I had come out of an executive career in the media and entertainment industry, had an interest in and had undertaken a qualification in People and Culture, and found myself undertaking a consulting gig with a boutique search firm who were curious about the interim sector. They asked me to assist a Partner set the practice up and within a month I realised what an amazing growth opportunity Interim Executive could be for the Australian market and for executives wanting to work more flexibly, post their permanent careers.
3. You are pioneers of the Interim Executive market in Australia, what hopes do you have for the industry in the future?
Jac and Caro –
We see the interim way of working as an area that will continue to grow. The movement of people wanting more control over their careers, wanting balance and wanting to work longer has meant new models of engaging talent needed to emerge. We predict this way of working will make up 40 – 50% of an organisation’s talent within 7 years. Our hope is that people have choice – they get to choose work that is meaningful for them, they get to build in flexibility that enables a balanced life and they can do this while still being fairly rewarded to suit their lifestyle.
4. What do you find most fulfilling about your work in this industry, and what keeps you motivated to excel year after year?
Jac and Caro –
We love hearing people’s career journeys and particularly enjoy when people have found work that they are passionate about and find meaningful. The flow on effects of enjoying your job across all areas of one’s life is profound. On the client side, we so enjoy helping clients solve a problem. We know fabulous people and when we hear a client’s challenge and know we have great candidates to be able to help them, it gives us a buzz. We also like the pace at which we work and the trusted partnerships we build over time with candidates and clients.
5. Can you describe notable success stories or challenges you have encountered in your career and the lessons learned from those experiences?
Jac and Caro –
We have been specialising in the interim side of executive search for over 20 years and much of that time it was essentially the poor cousin to our esteemed search colleagues. The decision and commitment to work with candidates and clients on the interim side of search long before it was ‘a thing’ and the educating of the market of this way of working has been a long journey. The lesson we have learned is that hard work at ground level is the only path to success. One challenge that we particularly enjoyed across our journeys is the greenfield opportunity of the whole concept within a company and then often in a new country.
For instance, I started the interim side of the business for a global recruitment company in Hong Kong where overcoming cultural barriers to working as an interim and not in a permanent capacity were deeply embedded. I then moved to replicate that start up from HK to New York City – that was a wild ride.
6. How do your personal values and principles align with the way you conduct business and interact with clients, candidates, and colleagues?
I like what I do and I think that is my secret sauce – I like the problem solving and matching / connecting side of the role.
A core value of mine is freedom and of course this is so aligned with the opportunity that we present to executives. The Interim Executive way of working provides freedom of choice for people - they can decide where, when, for who and what work they do.
7. In a constantly evolving business landscape and the fast pace of Interim Executive, how do you stay ahead and adapt to the changing demands?
Jac and Caro –
We are fortunate to have conversations with multiple people throughout the course of our work. It is the distilling of that real time data across various channels that allows us to stay up to date. We are also very customer centric and it can be because the work we are doing is already on the innovative side of our client’s comfort zone (we are finding them solutions that either could not be solved other ways or need such a quick turnaround) that usual conventions are allowed to be tested. By responding to what our clients want and with the ability to be flexible, we believe we have stayed toward the front of the wave. We are also tapped into a global network of others working this way so we can disseminate global trends, integrate them or introduce them if we think our market and clients will value from them. The interim industry in Australia, while growing rapidly, is still small and nimble which we think has also allowed us to test and try different options of engagement.
8. In your opinion, what is the most significant contribution you have made to the Interim Executive industry in Australia?
Jac and Caro –
We think the more obvious contribution is our book: The Rise of the Interim Executive, A Guide to Navigating Your Success. While the concept of interim is not brand new, we have since been told by many people that ours is the first book written globally for candidates wanting to work this way. Another contribution to the business community is the annual survey of Interim Executives. Now in its thirteenth year, this longitudinal data has been instrumental for organisation’s workforce planning and is also a real time case study of the evolution of interim. We personally think our biggest contribution might be our passion for this way of working and educating the market on how it works. This includes the thousands of conversations with clients looking to understand how they can access this talent and the people thinking about working this way and how they can make it work for them. We see the combination of these three aspects as our contribution to the Interim Executive industry in Australia.
9. How do you manage work life balance and maintain a sense of wellbeing while leading in a demanding industry like Interim Executive?
Jac and Caro –
We have to prioritise wellbeing and balance in order to be able to keep to the pace that is needed in our quick turnaround environment. We have processes in place to enable our workflow to be as seamless as possible, but we are always looking for way to improve. For example, we have just moved to a new system which has a level of sophistication that we are looking forward to maximising. We also have times when we need to pull out all stops to deliver a solution. We are a wonderful team who cover for each other to allow holidays or family time without disruption and we check in with each other to see where we can help if we can see someone needs it. We have no magic tricks to managing the elusive work life balance but we believe that kindness and awareness to ourselves and others are so important.
10. What books, resources or habits have played a crucial role in your personal and professional growth?
Jac and Caro –
We love absorbing literature on the world of work, leadership and improvement. We mostly rely on the more immediate medium of online articles from HBR, the consulting houses and universities. Over the years, we have read the works of the modern gurus; Jim Collins, Lynda Gratton, Simon Sinek and Dave Ulrich - which form the basis of so much of today’s thinking. We are drawn to this topic, so will read commentary on this anywhere we find it.
I have a file at home of articles that have resonated with me and I only looked at it the other day. I pulled out the seminal article by Jody Greenstone Miller and Matt Miller from HBR in May 2012 titled: The Rise of the Supertemp. That is now over 10 years old and much of what they wrote about has now eventuated … that fascinates me.