Executives offered new lease of life

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WHEN Britannia Life took over its rival Crusader, one of the biggest problems was integrating the two insurers' computer systems. Since there was insufficient expertise within the operation, Peter Burdon, Britannia's managing director, was left with two choices - to call in the consultants or to lease an executive.

He chose the latter and he is not alone. The concept of executive leasing, or interim management, is becoming increasingly popular. Adherents say that, although the recession is throwing up lots of unemployed managers who feel they might be suitable, the driving force is coming from the changes that all agree managers are going to face continuously for the foreseeable future. 'Interim managers can be put into any type of company, to manage change,' says Martin Wood, executive leasing director at PA Consultants, who was responsible for the Britannia Life assignment.

He points out that, since these executives do not receive 'golden hellos' or 'golden goodbyes' or share-option deals, using them - even at a high daily rate - can be much more cost-effective than recruiting somebody full-time. They can also be used as a 'stop-gap' to handle a particular crisis or to fill in when an incumbent becomes seriously ill or dies.

Nigel Corby, who runs the temporary executive service at P-E International, believes the concept is going to become an increasingly important part of the overall human resources market. 'It's going to be more widely used as a first option rather than a last resort,' he says.

With growing popularity come quality problems. Mr Corby agrees with Mr Wood's view that redundant executives do not necessarily make good interim managers, just as they do not always make good consultants. 'The great danger in the market place at the moment is that a great many people are jumping on the bandwagon.'

Although interim managers may be got rid of more quickly and easily than their permanent counterparts, companies are still anxious not to waste their time. As a result, the consultancies, such as PA and P-E, are keen to stress that they take some of the risk out of the operation, by vetting candidates before the interview.

P-E has also co-operated with the Confederation of British Industry to produce a register. Such people do not always endear themselves to subordinates. In some circles, they are apparently known as seagulls. 'They fly in, make a lot of noise, eat your food, crap on you, then fly off to somewhere more interesting.'

But the combination of experience and flexibility could prove irresistible to companies grappling with fundamental change in an increasingly competitive environment. Mr Wood points to the advantages, particularly at board level, of introducing somebody with a fresh outlook 'which is non-political, short-term and non-threatening'.

Britannia's Mr Burdon is so pleased with the experience that he would do the same again if the situation arose. Although appointing a new executive was not the intention at the outset, 'it worked so well that the person has now become a permanent member of staff'.

But to most, says Mr Corby, a big attraction is the 'no-fuss' finish. 'An interim manager does not want to take away lots of shares when he leaves.'

(Photograph omitted)