Why should a private equity firm or a private or public business hire an interim chief technology officer?
In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, technology leadership is crucial for businesses seeking to innovate, streamline operations and stay ahead of the competition. But finding the right CTO can be a challenge, particularly for private equity firms managing a portfolio of companies, or private and public companies undergoing significant change. This is why outside resources that are intimately connected to the top temporary tech executives can give you a huge advantage.
“For companies with tech products – internal or external – a good CTO can provide necessary leadership to make sure those products are built on time, at budget and with high quality,” says Houston Slatton, BluWave’s head of technology. “They can also play a role in architecture, validating the tech stack and helping determine the right path forward in growing organizations.
Interim CTOs can serve as a stopgap solution to either turn things around or simply keep the business moving forward while a long-term solution is sought.
An interim CTO can provide a quick but comprehensive assessment of your technology operations. They can identify areas for improvement, streamlining processes, upgrading outdated systems and optimizing technology usage to drive operational efficiency and productivity.
Implementing a new IT asset management system, automating manual processes or transitioning to a cloud-based infrastructure could be part of the transformation. These changes not only free up your team for more strategic work but also enhance your disaster recovery capabilities while reducing IT costs.
Interim CTOs, with their vast experience across various industries and companies, can introduce best practices into your organization. They can guide your team in implementing agile development methodologies, which can shorten your product development cycles and accelerate time to market.
Additionally, they can help establish a robust cybersecurity program to safeguard your data from cyber threats and lay out a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, ensuring business continuity in the event of a disaster.
Interim CTOs can craft a strategic technology roadmap that aligns perfectly with your business goals. They can help you identify key technology trends that could impact your industry in the next 5-10 years and develop a plan to adopt these technologies.
This foresight can provide a competitive edge and enable you to prioritize your technology investments effectively based on your business objectives.
Whether it’s a complex digital transformation initiative or a software development project, an interim CTO can provide expert oversight. They can manage the risks associated with these projects, coordinate the efforts of multiple teams and ensure that the project aligns with your business objectives, all while making sure the project is delivered on time and within budget.
Strategic guidance from an interim CTO can be invaluable to your executive team. They can help develop a plan to invest in new technologies that will drive business growth, keep you informed about the latest digital trends and advise you on making technology investments that align with your business strategy.
There are interim CTOs who specialize in specific technology areas, such as cloud computing, cybersecurity or data analytics. For instance, if you’re considering a cloud migration, an interim CTO with cloud computing experience can assess your needs, develop a migration plan and manage the transition. Or, if cybersecurity is a concern, an interim CTO with cybersecurity expertise can help you assess risks, implement security controls and train your employees on cybersecurity best practices.
The strategic advantage of hiring an interim CTO is evident. They can provide the expertise and guidance needed to enhance technology operations, drive strategic initiatives and position your business for success in the digital age.
Hiring the right interim CTO can be challenging, which is why engaging a third-party expert in the selection process can be a huge advantage. At BluWave, we excel in presenting tailor-made candidates who align perfectly with your specific requirements. Our deep network of pre-vetted interim CTOs, curated through rigorous evaluation, ensures that you get access to the best of the best. Even better, we can deliver these top-tier candidates within a single business day, enabling you to act quickly and confidently.
Contact our research and operations team to set up a scoping call and leverage the strategic advantages of a temporary chief technology officer.
An interim CEO is someone who leads a company on a temporary basis during a time of instability.
The interim is hired to provide stability and direction during the transition.
As the most important role in just about any organization, this is a seat that can’t afford to be left open. An experienced, talented individual will be able to come in and have an impact from day one while a long-term solution is identified.
“Every company needs a strong leader – someone to steer the ship and tie all of the business functions together,” says Hannah Welsh, Independent Consultant Manager at BluWave. “Having an Interim CEO alleviates pressure and allows a company to be selective in choosing the right CEO for the company long term.”
Let’s talk in more detail about when and why a company might hire a temporary chief executive, and the benefits of doing so.
There are many reasons why a company might hire an interim CEO. They depend on company size, industry, current challenges, future goals and more.
Whatever the situation, though, this temporary executive’s goal is to be the glue that keeps everything together.
Unexpected resignation: In this situation, an interim is used as a “stopgap.” The company gets them in the seat as soon as possible – usually within days – while it figures out a long-term solution.
Fill a short-term gap: On rare occasions, the full-time CEO will take a leave of absence for an emergency or for personal reasons.
Turnaround: If a company is struggling financially or operationally, an interim CEO can be brought in to help turn the company around. This often happens when PE firms aren’t satisfied with a portco’s performance, or when key stakeholders or shareholders don’t like the way their private or publicly owned company is performing.
Merger or acquisition: If a company is merging with or acquiring another company, it helps to have someone in charge who has been through that process before.
Post-close: There are times when a PE firm purchases a founder-owned business and needs a new executive in the corner office once papers are signed and the company has changed hands.
These are some of the more common situations in which an interim CEO is sought.
“You can bring in someone who has been there and done that multiple times before and knows what best-in-class looks like,” BluWave Co-Head of Research & Operations Scott Bellinger says. “You can rent an A player instead of hiring a C player.”
Sometimes private equity firms aren’t sure if they’re going to need an interim CEO, but they want to have one on standby just in case.
Perhaps the current CEO is running out of steam, or has come up against an unfamiliar situation. Despite their best efforts, they may get tired of the slog and leave the seat vacant on short notice. Or you may have to make the difficult decision to pull the plug to before things get worse.
In this situation, it’s nice to know you an interim CEO on standby who can step in on extremely short notice. Welsh and the R&O team at BluWave are prepared for this exact situation.
If you’re not sure whether you’ll need a new temporary chief executive, but you want to have the security of knowing there’s a perfect fit waiting in the wings, contact our team to fill us in on the situation. If and when you come up against this situation, you’ll be connected with an experienced, industry-specific option in less than 24 hours.
What makes a good interim CEO? There’s no one trait that can answer that question, but there are some that transcend particular situations and are applicable for almost any assignment.
Experience and Expertise
Interim CEOs typically have extensive experience in senior leadership roles. This allows them to get a lay of the land as soon as they start a project, and make difficult but important decisions accordingly.
They shouldn’t just have general executive experience, though. They must also be familiar with the organization’s particular industry, the unique challenges it presents and how to solve them.
Preexisting relationships in that industry can also go a long way to solving key operational challenges.
When things are going wrong at a company and you’re not quite sure why, it’s a huge benefit to get a fresh set of eyes on the situation.
Not only is this interim chief executive officer coming in after the challenges have already arisen – viz a viz they’re not responsible for them – they also won’t be around (in most cases) more than a year maximum.
That gives them the freedom to do what’s best for the company while injecting as little bias as possible during their tenure.
Ability to Make Tough Decisions
That same built-in objectivity with which a temporary executive is equipped allows them to roll up their sleeves and affect change in a way that would be more difficult for someone with a stronger connection to the business.
This may mean optimizing human capital, refining product or service offerings, reevaluating partnerships or a number of many other challenging choices.
No matter the impetus for bringing on a short-term CEO, employees and customers will be comforted by seeing a steady hand at the helm.
An effective communicator can be an especially calming force in these situations, providing a vision for the way forward.
There are exceptions, but most companies that come to BluWave for help hiring an interim CEO are looking for someone who can be in the seat for around 9 months.
Many short-term CEO stints fall within the 6–18-month range, but others can just as easily turn into a permanent hire.
How To Hire an Interim CEO
Hiring the right interim CEO can be an arduous task, especially since time is of the essence. Companies can’t afford to be without a chief executive for an extended period of time.
Word-of-mouth recommendations can also be helpful, but even a group of individuals have limited networks. You might overlook a great candidate by relying on just a few people’s suggestions.
You could also look within the company, but in most cases, that’s less than ideal. You miss out on the opportunity to get an outsider’s perspective on the challenges the company is facing. That same person may also be a part of the problem, giving power to an individual who will only make things worse.
The best option is to consult with a business builders’ network of highly vetted, niche-specific, exact-fit options that are ready to hit the ground running.
When you work with BluWave, for example, we connect you with two or three candidates who are tailored to your particular situation in less than a single business day.
These are PE-grade individuals who have proven success in turnarounds and high-pressure situations. You won’t waste time scouring through generalized, unfamiliar recommendations.
“As you find yourself in an urgent situation, we can provide solutions really quickly,” Bellinger says. “A lot of times, the people we’re recommending could be the full-time CEO as well. It saves you time and money from going to an executive search firm. We’re way faster, and we get you someone with long-term potential.”
If your portco or private or public company needs an experienced interim executive to help an underperforming business, connect with our research and operations team today.
Before we even get on the initial scoping call, we already know the resource you need. We’ll get in touch with the most qualified individuals on standby in our BluWave-grade network and connect you with them as soon as you’re available.
“Our extensive network allows us to connect with PE-grade CEOs looking to support other businesses,” says Welsh, who speaks with these executives on a daily basis. “We meet, vet, and reference reputable CEOs before our clients even need them, so they are prepared to start as soon as possible.”
Interim chief human resources officers are becoming a more and more popular request in the world of private equity.
That’s no surprise, considering how effective an effective interim CHRO can be with crisis management, navigating mergers and acquisitions, setting up a human resources department from scratch and more.
“It’s a functional area that’s been historically overlooked,” BluWave co-head of Research and Operations Keenan Kolinsky says. “Private equity hasn’t viewed it as a critical function to drive value historically. But like we’ve seen over the last two years private equity is increasingly viewing human capital and HR as a value-creation driver.”
We’ll walk you through the benefits of an interim CHRO, what to look for when hiring and how to go through the entire process so you select the right one for your portfolio or private company.
Benefits of Hiring an Interim CHRO
Quarter after quarter, human capital accounts for the lion’s share of private equity activity in the BluWave Insights Report.
With so many important projects tied to talent, most companies can’t afford to be without a head of people for weeks, let alone months on end. That’s why an interim chief human resources officer can be a great option to bridge the gap.
“An interim CHRO is a seasoned executive that can come in, bring best practices to a growing middle-market company and help build a best-in-class HR function,” BluWave Co-Head of Research and Operations Scott Bellinger says. “This can range from talent acquisition, employee retention, benefits, employee handbooks and more.”
An interim CHRO can provide an unbiased view of your company’s HR practices, identify areas for improvement and recommend changes. This can be particularly valuable if your HR department has been struggling to keep up with the demands of a rapidly growing company.
“A lot of CEOs or founders have never known what good looks like as it relates to CHROs,” Bellinger says. “It’s important to make sure you have a great talent pipeline, great employees and that you’re training them properly. This allows the CEO to focus on commercial and operational initiatives and leave the other stuff to the CEO.”
The right person will also help companies that don’t have an existing structure implement a proper HR infrastructure.
“Most traditionally founder-led businesses don’t have PE-grade infrastructure in place for the company to prepare for growth,” BluWave Strategic Account Executive Hannah Welsh says. “In many circumstances, interim CHROs can be brought in to lay the groundwork for the right people processes.”
An interim CHRO should have strong leadership skills and be able to manage and motivate your human resources team.
This means clearly communicating not only within their own group, but also across departments.
When working for a portfolio company, the PE firm may also expect regular reports from the talent lead, almost acting as a second manager along with the CEO.
“To work effectively, they should also be a part of the executive team. They should be a thought partner, because human capital helps the business grow,” Welsh says.
Human capital resources accounted for half of 2022 initiatives – up 2 percent from the previous year – within the Value Creation portion of the BluWave Activity Index.
They should also have a track record of quickly identifying and solving complex HR challenges.
“You’re used to integrating companies. You’re used to hiring quickly. You’re used to speed,” Bellinger says of the ideal candidate.
Some HR-related issues a company may face include:
High employee turnover
Lack of organizational structure
Lack of diversity
Employee health and well-being
The ideal candidate should also fit in well with your company. Whether your team is laid back or more buttoned up, your head of HR needs to be able to relate to them.
“I would want to make sure I was very explicit in making sure I understand exactly what the roles and responsibilities are,” Bellinger says. “Make sure it’s something they can accomplish. If the interim CHRO is not very explicit in exactly what they want to get done, the PE firm is going to have a very short fuse.”
As you might have gathered from the other criteria, this position is anything but predictable. Select someone who can roll with the punches.
This includes the ability to quickly adapt to a company’s culture and management style, as well as handle unexpected situations such as a crisis or change in leadership. They must also be able to pivot their approach when necessary to remain aligned with the organization’s objectives.
Some examples may include leading a downsizing while minimizing negative impact on morale, or being able to shift focus to DEI initiatives in response to social and political changes.
Interim vs Full-Time CHROs
One of the main advantages of hiring an interim CHRO is flexibility. They can be brought in on a short-term basis to address specific needs, and then let go when they have been met.
This can be more cost-effective than hiring a permanent CHRO, or if your company is in flux and the future is uncertain.
You may end up hiring that same interim executive full-time, but by starting them on a temporary basis, you can “try before you buy.”
On the other hand, a permanent CHRO can provide continuity and stability for your company’s HR department. A long-term hire will also have more time to develop a deep understanding of your culture, processes and employees.
How to Find the Right Interim CHRO for Your Company
The “right” interim CHRO is going to be different for each company. It will depend on some of things mentioned above, such as culture, industry and other specific needs.
After identifying the criteria for the role you want to fill, cross-checking candidates with past work experience and references can narrow the field.
Fortunately, BluWave’s highly vetted network has already done that for you. We only admit experienced talent that has passed a rigorous pre-interview process and received positive references from the world’s leading PE firms.
When you contact us for a scoping call, we provide two or three PE-grade interim CHRO candidates, hand-picked for your exact situation, within a single business day. By jumping directly to the interview process, you’ll save weeks, if not months of searching.
“Our vetting process clearly surfaces whether a candidate will be a great resource for a company, and if not, we won’t waste their time with an introduction,” Welsh says.
Once you meet the candidate (or two or three) that’s best suited for your vacancy, it’s time for various members of your team to speak with them. This will give you a 360-degree perspective on their skillset.
You should also have a clear understanding of their availability and expected compensation. If everything lines up, it’s time to draft an engagement letter outlining expectations, pay and timeline. (When you work with BluWave, we take care of all this for you.)
Once you hire the right person, the next step is to onboard them effectively. Due to the selection process, they should already have a clear idea of expectations from day one, as well as the resources at their disposal.
“They’ve got to get up to speed very quickly,” Kolinsky says. “They need to explore what they have. What people, processes and technologies exist in this functional area, and how it can be improved and optimized.”
Hiring an interim CHRO can provide a range of benefits, but it is important to choose someone who fits within your company culture and has the right skills for your situation.
Interim leadership is consistently a top priority for private equity firms within human capital services. With such high demand, BluWave maintains a pool of experienced, vetted professionals – including interim CHROs – in the Business Builders’ Network.
Connect with our research and operations team to walk us through your specific project, and we’ll connect you in less than 24 hours with a short list of tailor-made candidates.
Whether going through an M&A, an internal crisis, a reorg or other situations that require a talent expert, here are some reasons private equity firms should consider temporary HR leaders.
Increase Efficiency and Effectiveness
A human capital leader has the opportunity to improve company operations for the short time they’ll be in their role. (Usually three to nine months.) Here are some ways they can do so.
Streamlining HR Processes
They can evaluate existing HR processes at a portfolio company, identify areas for improvement and implement changes to increase effectiveness. This may include automating repetitive tasks and standardizing processes across the organization.
For example: expediting a labor-intensive employee onboarding process with new software. They could also implement a standardized performance management system so that everyone understands how they’re evaluated.
Exit interviews help managers understand why employees leave and identify what contributes to a high turnover rate. This information can be used to develop retention strategies and improve employee engagement.
Here are some of the questions an interim CHRO might ask a portco employee during an exit interview:
What made you decide to leave the company?
Is there anything you disliked about working here?
Do you have any suggestions for how we can improve?
How was your experience with your manager?
Creating Employee Retention Programs
Retention programs address the specific needs of employees, such as recognition programs, professional development and the ability to work from home, even in a hybrid situation.
Employees may also be more likely to stay if they have access to department-specific job training.
HR leaders can also use engagement surveys and focus groups to identify problems ahead of time.
Identifying Key Drivers of Employee Satisfaction
Speaking of surveys and focus groups, they not only tell HR leaders what’s going wrong but also tell them what employees like about a company. This information can help create targeted retention strategies and improve employee engagement.
Here are some of the top areas of employee satisfaction an interim chief human resources officer will want to pay attention to:
Clear communication and transparency
Opportunities for growth and development
Recognition and rewards
Building a Positive Company Culture
Creating a positive company culture is no easy task, especially in the midst of a transition. That’s why it’s important to work with an interim CHRO experienced with tumultuous situations.
Besides paying attention to employee satisfaction, this person should be able to build consensus across teams.
“In a strong culture, employees feel valued,” according to Great Place To Work. “They enjoy at least some control over their jobs, instead of feeling powerless. Whether it’s by working from home, choosing their projects or trying out a new role, employees that feel valued and can make decisions achieve a higher level of performance.”
Providing Regular Feedback and Recognition
An interim CHRO can help managers to provide regular feedback and recognition to employees.
They can standardize feedback loops through surveys, one-on-one meetings, focus groups and other tactics. They should then be transparent about how they will use that information to improve the company.
It’s important to do this on a regular basis, and not as a one-off exercise.
Since this person will only be in their role for a few months, having monthly, bi-weekly or even weekly evaluations may make sense. Especially if they can develop a system that can be inherited by the person who will take on their role full-time.
An interim CHRO with experience in your industry can hit the ground running. Every business has a unique set of legal challenges, and you don’t want someone in the C-suite who has to learn on the job.
Here are some specific areas where a temporary CHRO can help with legal hurdles.
Reviewing and Updating Company Policies and Procedures
This ensures a company is compliant with all relevant laws and regulations, such as those related to labor, anti-discrimination and data privacy.
This should be done in collaboration with other executive team members as well as the legal team.
Conducting Compliance Audits
Compliance audits help identify areas of legal risk and recommend corrective actions.
The head of people can do this by developing an audit plan with a clear scope. They’ll then determine risks, gather evidence and analyze the information. In the end, they should prepare a report based on their findings.
They’ll also need to implement the plan quickly to minimize risks to the company.
Providing Training and Education
Another way to protect the company as well as equip employees is to educate them on compliance and labor laws.
Here are some resources an HR executive might use for this:
A comprehensive communication strategy informs employees about the transaction and its implications.
The head of HR may do this with a dedicated website, by holding town hall meetings or providing regular updates. They may also work with management to develop a Q&A document and establish an employee hotline.
Managing Cultural Integration
A seasoned executive will improve cross-company integration by addressing differences in culture, values and internal practices.
They do this with shared vision and values, aligning policies and procedures and promoting cross-functional collaboration.
Mary Anne Elliott, CHRO at Marsh, talked with HBR about the importance of working with other top executives on this.
“[These] meetings are a pragmatic activity. When you’re sitting with the CEO and CFO, there’s no place for academic HR,” she says. “It’s all about understanding what the organization needs to do to drive business performance and how to align those key variables.”
Assessing and Managing HR Risks
Some typical risks associated with a merger or acquisition are employee retention, legal compliance and benefits integration.
A capable temporary people leader will know how to do each of these things efficiently.
Coordinating Benefits and Compensation
Coordinating the integration of benefits and compensation packages for employees is also important.
Health insurance, retirement plans and stock options are just a few examples.
Reviewing existing benefits packages can help them identify gaps or redundancies.
Integrating HR Systems and Processes
Finally, an interim chief human resources officer can manage the integration of HR systems and processes such as payroll, performance management and employee data management.
The new, combined organization’s HR processes must be aligned with the needs of the business.
The IT department can help in this area by ensuring a smooth transition of data and systems.
Some roles are more crucial to a company’s success. The interim CHRO should identify these and devise a strategy to make sure the right talent is in place if someone leaves.
They can also identify potential leaders within the company who lack professional development.
Conducting Talent Assessments
Internal assessments help identify high performers. Since these are the people most likely to leave for another opportunity, it’s worth investing time in their development.
By aligning these evaluations with company goals and leadership needs, the employees will be better equipped for a new role.
This will open the door for them to be promoted sooner as they grow within the company.
Creating Development Programs
An interim CHRO can design development programs to help high-potential employees acquire the skills and experience needed to take on leadership roles.
These are some ways they might do that:
Professional development courses
Cross-functional team assignments
Building a Talent Pipeline
While it’s important to foster talent internally, an interim CHRO can also establish an external talent pool. Outside hires often help the company by bringing a fresh perspective to a challenging situation.
At BluWave, we have a highly vetted group of candidates for private equity, portco and privately owned company needs on standby. That way, we can provide you with two or three exact-fit resources within a single business day.
A comprehensive succession plan will not only focus on identifying, developing and retaining key talent, but also contingencies for unexpected departures.
Along with mentoring and coaching programs, regular performance reviews ensure that employees are ready to take on new roles when needed.
If your private equity firm or portco leader needs a human capital expert, BluWave has the world’s best temporary chief human resources officers on standby. And if you’re already in a talent role, we have tailor-made solutions to support you, too.
Everyone in our network has been rigorously evaluated while also receiving multiple recommendations from other leading PE firms.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy, though, means a company is still viable but needs help relieving some of its debt.
While an interim CFO would seldom take on a chapter 7 bankruptcy, it’s common for them to step in and help a company try to avoid chapter 11 bankruptcy. If it’s not avoidable, a temporary chief financial officer can also help navigate the situation.
“A very good interim CFO can be a lot of help because they come in and they look at, ‘What are the things between gross profit and net earnings that are negatively impacting the business?’” BluWave controller Justin Scott says.
Cost-saving measures could include lowering headcount, cutting advertising costs or negotiating with creditors, which we’ll discuss more below.
While most restructuring situations are tied to bankruptcies, there are exceptions. Here are some of the more common ones.
An interim CFO who can adeptly perform carve-out tasks is key for organizations looking to sell off part of their company. That can mean getting their hands dirty setting up general ledger architecture or determining which employees to include in the sale.
“Let’s say 25 percent of the existing team is going with the carve-out, then I’ve got to decide ‘What’s the 25%? How are those processes going to work?’” Scott says. “Where you typically see the carve-out CFO come in is because they don’t want all of those activities to take away from the core business that the existing CFO is already managing.”
An acquisition, of course, is the opposite situation. The finance executive must determine how to integrate multiple teams in the same company.
“You likely have multiple sets of books. You have multiple systems. None of them talk to each other,” Scott says. “Essentially, you’re running parallel systems or parallel processes for everything. And then you have to manually consolidate everything and that’s just no fun.”
Hannah Welsh, who is often the first point of contact for interim CFOs BluWave works with, says lots of clients have been emphasizing M&A skills recently.
“All sides of it, whether it be due diligence, post-merger integration or prep for sale – having M&A experience, especially in private equity, is key,” she says.
A turnaround CFO may be sought when accounts payable get out of control.
If the internal team has become bloated, they’re likely to partner with someone in human resources to reorganize the company more efficiently.
“It’s not typically just finance here. It’s typically that a new technology has been implemented that’s changed the field and headcount needs to be reduced,” Scott says. “How do we eliminate or mitigate the overhead expense of the SG&A of what’s happening today?”
They may also cut marketing costs or improve operations to find savings. This can be done by spending less on advertising, implementing automation tools or canceling automated subscriptions, for example.
Although unusual, there are times when a temporary finance executive is brought in for a hostile takeover.
“It is possible to go to an interim CFO as a stopgap,” Scott says. “But it’s not a likely scenario.”
More often, the company executing the takeover will already have a CFO in place.
What skills does an interim CFO need in a time of crisis? Accounting and finance, of course, are fundamental.
“You have to know the full revenue cycle cradle to grave,” Scott says, adding that strong management is also a key trait.
There are other things, though, that are particularly important for a chief financial officer in financially distressed situations.
When managing a company’s finance team, the interim CFO must be able to communicate their plan of action. Since they’re typically in the role for around six months, they don’t have as much time to win trust and build unity.
Focusing the early days on getting to know the team helps with buy-in for the duration of the project. One component of this is alleviating fears of the unknown.
“The first day, I think, is talking to as many people as possible in the company, on the finance team, and reassuring them that things are going to get better,” says one long-time interim CFO from our network of experts.
A temporary finance executive must also be able to communicate with his or her peers and superiors. Not only do they sit in the C-suite, but they may be a direct line to a private equity firm that has a lot at stake.
“They have to be able to build credibility going both directions quickly if they’re going to get anything done,” Scott says.
Beyond providing clarity for coworkers, a chief financial officer must also be skilled at working with clients, creditors, vendors and other outside entities.
If a company is in danger of filing for bankruptcy, the interim CFO will likely negotiate with creditors to lower their debts.
They may also ask clients to move up their timeline for accounts receivable so the organization can have more cash sooner.
In either case, being able to work well with others is paramount.
“The situations where financial executives most often fail to reach an agreement are when they don’t have any people skills, or they don’t truly want a result,” Scott says. “You have to be able to bend and give a little bit on some of these things just like in any negotiation.”
Before taking a company’s financial reins in the midst of a crisis, an interim CFO should understand if the firm is planning an exit, and if so, what the strategy is. That allows the company to get the maximum benefit out of its new executive resource.
Here are some differences between prepping to sell the entire company vs. just a few assets.
Sell the Entity
If someone is brought on to prep for the sale of an entire company, their job is to get it in the best shape possible for the buyer.
Not only will this make it a more attractive purchase, but the seller will extract more value, too. This process should be planned for months, if not years in advance, when possible.
The interim chief finance officer brought on in this situation should have experience improving operations, cutting costs, increasing accountability and more. They should also be well-versed in evaluating and working with potential buyers and closing the transaction.
Identifying an interim chief financial officer can be tedious, if not expensive. Companies that don’t know what they’re looking for when they begin their search could spend large sums of money on headhunters and recruiting firms.
They can also lose valuable time interviewing unqualified candidates.
When hiring an interim CFO instead of a permanent replacement, key considerations include timeline, need-specific criteria and keeping an eye out for red flags.
As a trusted resource for hundreds of private equity firms and thousands of portfolio and independent companies, BluWave has exclusive insight into what makes a home-run selection vs. someone who will send you back to the drawing board.
When to Think of an Interim CFO
There are several benefits to hiring a CFO temporarily while searching for someone to fill the role permanently.
“What we’ve heard is, you’re either finding a full-time person in less than 30 days in the first slate of candidates or it’s going to take five or six months,” BluWave managing director Houston Slatton says.
Identifying a candidate experienced with the right industry, company size and revenue models, for example, takes time.
“You may get lucky, but you’re probably not going to. And so you need to plan to not have a full-time person in that seat for five or six months,” Slatton adds. “You don’t want a B-minus player because they’re going to be a key member of the executive team.”
One benefit of a short-term hire is that you can “try before you buy.” This makes it easier to transition a strong candidate to full-time if they prove to be a good fit. It also means giving someone an opportunity without immediately making a long-term commitment.
“It is very easy to interview very well and then the person who shows up is not who you interviewed,” BluWave controller Justin Scott says. “That’s very critical in the CFO role because if you get a bad CFO or somebody that can talk the lingo but not deliver the activity, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble real fast.”
Interim-to-full-time transitions often happen after a company’s been recently acquired. What began as a one- or two-quarter stint can easily transition to a permanent role if the person has integrated well, especially with the CEO.
Sometimes, companies need more time before choosing a permanent CFO. But they don’t want to leave such a crucial role vacant for months, either.
This is another opportunity to bring in someone with interim experience to bridge the gap between the prior CFO and your long-term solution.
Some people make a career out of temporary assignments, putting them top-of-mind for recruiters in these situations. One such person in our network talked to us about the benefits of an interim CFO.
“I think the primary purpose is to just stabilize everything,” says the executive, who spent eight years in PE before focusing on temporary assignments. “But then also learn the nature of the operations and the backbone of the company, and how it operates and if changes need to be made.”
At BluWave, we have seen that the end of the year is a popular time to hire an interim CFO.
Historically, about 60 percent of the interim CFO projects we have sourced were in Q3 and Q4.
“The last thing a CEO wants to do is be approaching an end-of-fiscal-year and not have somebody that’s going to drive their financial close right for the year,” Scott says. “That could be a really scary place to be, where earlier in the year you’ve got time to bounce back.”
Interim CFOs also focus on making a company as valuable as possible once it’s been acquired. This is especially important if someone in a lower-level position, such as a controller or an accountant, previously led finances.
Slatton says companies often use large amounts of debt to finance their purchases, opening the door to new accounting situations.
“Now they need somebody to handle all the bank reporting and covenant testing for the lenders and putting in real GAAP,” Slatton says. “As soon as they have a loan like that, they suddenly have to do all this financial reporting. That will be a new process and it hits quickly after they close on the business.”
In addition to what Slatton shares, other key value-creation tasks may include:
A short-term finance executive can also be a great resource when a company is preparing to be sold. After holding a company for 3 to 5 years, PE firms typically look to sell it to a larger PE firm or public company.
When evaluating candidates, use the same measuring stick for each one. BluWave founder and CEO Sean Mooney, who has more than 20 years of PE experience, came up with the PE-grade CFO scorecard for this purpose when evaluating full-time candidates.
Many of the same principles can be applied to the interim CFO search process. Having a baseline allows everyone involved to make more objective evaluations.
“Assign different parts of your scorecard to relevant key team members so you can systematically measure candidates against each of your criteria while getting a range of inputs from across your organization,” Mooney explains on the Karma School of Business podcast.
When sourcing candidates, companies often reach out to someone like BluWave for help. We then present them two or three candidates tailored to their specific needs. One of those candidates typically emerges as the leading choice, at which point they’ll continue interviewing with other executives and, when applicable, the PE firm.
While you can put whatever criteria you like on your scorecard, we have a few recommendations for the interim CFO process.
Experience at a larger company vs. a smaller one isn’t good or bad, it’s just different.
We often see, for example, executives who traditionally spend time at larger organizations struggle to move to smaller ones.
“CFOs that come out of those portfolio companies or come up through the ranks have a very different mindset than one that comes up through the Fortune 500 world,” Scott says. “It’s a little bit more of the rolling up the sleeves type thing, right? The PE-grade CFOs, that’s just expected because you have to be engaged in everything because instead of having 500 people on your finance and accounting team, you might only have two to five.”
Mooney recalls multiple past appointments that didn’t work out for that reason.
“I’ve had so many failures trying to bring in big-name large company CFOs who just couldn’t function at a lower middle market size company,” he says. “It wasn’t that they weren’t great. It was that they just weren’t a good fit for a smaller-company environment.”
Relevant Industry Experience
This is an important factor for companies with unique or complex accounting needs or ones within highly regulated industries.
A strong candidate should be able to articulate relevant industry experience in the interview process. Whether manufacturing, software, healthcare, or another area, the interim CFO should be entering familiar territory from day one.
To evaluate this point, Scott says we ask candidates: “What did you do in that industry to make yourself stand out or to prove that you understand that industry and how it works?”
Mooney says interactions with lenders and investors go more smoothly when someone has experience operating under similar capital structures.
“This is particularly true when we think about having done the balance sheet entering a public company operating environment,” he says.
While uncommon, there are times when the ideal interim CFO is already on your team.
“It’s going to be a more seamless transition with somebody that comes internally,” Slatton says. “If you have somebody really good that you like that’s internal, use them just because it’s going to be easier.”
More often, though, companies bring in someone new.
“Some of those higher-level kind of CFO skills, you’re not going to find on an internal team,” Slatton says. “Bringing in somebody from the outside allows you to have access to a broader set of skills and brings a fresh perspective.”
Welsh agrees, saying it can be easier for interim CFOs to put their emotions aside and get the job done.
“They can just pick out the issues and deal with it,” she says.
A well-vetted interim CFO search process typically takes up to 90 days from the initial call to their first day of work.
There are times, however, when you need a vacancy filled “yesterday.” At BluWave, we provide two or three best-fit candidates within a single business day. This can cut a process that normally takes three months to a few days.
“Of the several hundred PE-grade CFOs in our network, we select the top two or three choices for a company, and once the negotiation is finalized, they can get to work very fast,” Scott says.
Every candidate in the BluWave network has been pre-vetted with multiple references. And before we recommend someone to a company, they are vetted again to provide the most up-to-date evaluation possible.
As we already mentioned, many candidates can talk the talk, but not walk the walk.
Here are some signals that will help you discount the duds from the outset.
If someone is accustomed to making significantly more money than you can pay, you might want to skip them. While they may claim to be interested, they could use the interim opportunity as a stepping stone to a higher-paying role, leaving you looking for another finance executive sooner than expected.
“In my experience, rarely will the candidate take a meaningful discount and not start looking for the best next role sooner than later,” Mooney says. “You don’t want to be a bridge to somewhere else.”
Another important consideration is location. Or in some cases, relocation.
While the pandemic accustomed companies to remote workforces, there’s value in having your financial leader on-site, even for a few days a week.
In high-stress situations like turnarounds, restructurings or building a finance team from scratch, interim CFOs need to earn trust as fast as possible. This is difficult to achieve working remotely.
“Time and time again we’ve seen projects get down to the finish line and at the end of the day, they say, ‘Well I’m not really ready,’ or ‘We’re not going to move our family,’” Mooney added.
If you’re considering someone who’s out-of-market, confirm early on that they’re willing to work from your office for the majority of the assignment if this is important to you.
While less of a concern for temporary assignments, beware of candidates who routinely spent only a year or two in full-time roles.
The exception would be someone like our interim CFO veteran, who spent years in full-time roles before shifting exclusively to short-term stints. Candidates like him understand how to make the most out of a three- to six-month opportunity.
“I think it’s very valuable to have someone who knows all the things that need to get done,” he says. “Getting everything set up, and then making sure that the management team and the private equity owners have a good open line of communication, and aren’t afraid of one another. I think an interim CFO is in the perfect spot to facilitate that communication.”
Mooney says it’s normal for candidates to have “bumps in the road.” No one’s career is a downhill ride on the yellow-brick road. Hiccups should be the exception, though, and not the rule.
“Be aware of large gaps in employment. Look for track records of being recruited to bigger and better next roles versus leaving roles without a bird in hand,” he says.
If a candidate consistently left full-time jobs without having the next one lined up, dig deeper into why that is, or discount them altogether.
Talk to each man and woman you interview about difficult times in their careers.
If they’re quick to pass the blame, you can expect them to act likewise once hired. You want someone who takes responsibility, not assigns it.
“Look for candidates to own the results and ultimately share what they did to take action and improve the situation,” Mooney says. “Be aware of candidates who repeatedly blamed circumstance and fate.”
BluWave runs multiple reference calls before presenting a candidate to a potential client. Welsh says this is a great way to weed out unqualified options.
“It’s a value prop that we have for our clients,” she says. “We always ask for references, and if they’re unwilling to send them, we take that as a red flag and we are unwilling to work with them from there.”
Passive Work Habits
If a candidate doesn’t have a history of getting involved in the day-to-day details, they’re probably not going to accomplish much in a three– to six–month assignment.
“People aren’t looking for an interim executive to come in and bark orders. Anybody can do that,” Scott says. “They’re looking for somebody to come in and really get engaged, understand what’s going on in the business, figure out what’s not working in the finance and accounting department and get that aligned with the business needs as quickly as possible. And you can’t do that sitting back.”
That’s why a candidate needs to express past accomplishments with details.
Bad Cultural Fit
“Every CFO that we’re going to present is qualified,” Slatton says. “It’s more about, can they fit well with the organization and are they going to partner well with the PE firm?”
Welsh agrees, saying there are many qualified finance executives for hire. The more important question, though, is how well they can adapt to a new situation.
“If they can’t earn respect and get people on board with the company mission, they’re not going to be able to move the company in a positive direction,” she says. “You can be the most experienced executive in the world. But ultimately, if you butt heads with the person you’re supposed to be working with, it’s not going to work out.”
Welsh, who onboards interim CFOs to the BluWave network, says lesser-known candidates can embellish their background to land a prized opportunity.
That’s why, she says, we ask probing questions before recommending them to a client: “Who have you worked with? When have you worked with them? And how have you worked with them? I think those are very important.”
When candidates see interim opportunities as a chance to build their skillset, it’s a recipe for disaster.
“An interim CFO job probably isn’t the way to learn new types of business models, because interim CFOs need to jump in and know what they’re doing,” Slatton says. “Don’t try to think of an interim opportunity as a stretch opportunity.”
Selecting the right interim executive can be difficult, but with the right evaluation process and support, you’re more likely to hire the best person much faster.
Mooney recently recommended in CFO Magazine eight ways to optimize the process.
Creating an interim CFO scorecard can be a great way to kick off your search process, but don’t hesitate to contact us for help.
“Don’t overly weigh your assessment on any one criteria,” Mooney adds. “When using a structured scorecard-based approach that includes a comprehensive assessment of a candidate’s competencies, skills, values, intellect, personality and real-life case-study testing, I think you’re going to find that your success rates are going to go way up.”
If you’re interested in receiving a free copy of BluWave’s PE-grade CFO scorecard, email us at email@example.com.
As part of an ongoing series, we’re sharing real-time trending topics we are hearing from our 500+ PE firm clients. In our most recent installment, Wyatt Wiser, a BluWave Strategic Account Executive, shares the importance of interim CFOs and why they are a vital resource all PE firms should be taking advantage of. Learn more by watching the video below.
Interested in connecting with interim CFOs? Contact us here to quickly get connected to the exact-fit interim CFO you need.
The CFO role is one of the most critical seats in a business. The position plays a key role in ensuring that a business is strong and if PE-backed, that the investment is successful. Because this seat is vital to a company’s success, it is important that it is not left open, and is also filled by someone who possesses the right skillset to execute on the demands that come with being a CFO.
To ensure that both of these are always the case, PE firms often turn towards interim CFOs. At BluWave, we equip our private equity firm clients with interim CFOs for various due diligence, value creation, and prep-for-sale needs. Here are some of the most common use cases for bringing in interim CFOs:
Number one, unanticipated departures. When CFOs unexpectedly resign, it can leave a company’s finance function in chaos. We help PE firms combat this by providing them with exact-fit interim CFOs who can quickly step in, fill the shoes of the role, and keep the ship steady while the search for a permanent placement kicks off.
Number two, longer than normal hiring processes. Even when a CFO seat is expected to be vacant within a certain timeframe, sourcing a candidate to step in at the exact time you need them to can be challenging. With hiring processes taking longer than normal, interim CFOs can help bridge the gap, giving you extra time to ensure you hire the best-fit person for the job.
Number three, professionalizing new portcos’ finance functions. We are supporting many PE firms as soon as a deal closes, by supplying them with interim CFOs. These firms are bringing in these individuals to help new portcos’ finance functions understand what it means to be PE-grade, and help them get the right monthly performance packages in place to ensure that the PE firm is getting the info it needs.
And finally, number four, prep for sale processes. Our clients bring in interim CFOs to respond to diligence requests, assess data, and pull reports prior to a sale. By bringing in an extra set of hands to take care of the extra workload that comes with a sale process, FTEs are freed up to maintain focus on keeping the daily routines going, without causing a delay on the sale process. The modern-day M&A process is fast and furious, valuations decline the second you have to hit the pause button, making it crucial to keep the momentum.
Interim CFOs are one of the most versatile and useful resources available to private equity firms. More than 500 leading firms come to us with their interim CFOs because of our ability to know before they need, hone in on individuals that meet their specific, unique criteria, and quickly connect them to the select few that are exact-fit.
An interim CHRO can be a great solution for businesses. If your business is going through a period of transition or an increased workload, a temporary CHRO can be a great way to maintain stability and continuity while bringing a dose of leadership to the team. Some of the most common situations we see these strategic resources deployed include:
The departure of the previous human resources leader.
The business needs have grown and they are looking to make their first executive-level hire in this function.
There is an influx of work. This could be caused by business seasonality, temporary team departures (think, maternity leave), or a project-specific need.
Specific expertise is needed to handle a particular situation. This could include going through a merger/acquisition, workforce reduction, or expansion into a new market.
Interim CHRO responsibilities
An interim CHRO can step in and help with many of the responsibilities that would fall onto a full-time CHRO’s plate. Those responsibilities include:
Talent acquisition: An interim CHRO can help with both the active and passive search for top talent. This includes sourcing, screening, and managing the process of interviewing candidates (we discussed hiring talent at one of our recent Human Capital Forums – check out the recap here).
New hire onboarding: A smooth onboarding experience is a key to retaining top talent. An interim CHRO can help develop an onboarding program that sets new hires up for success.
Talent retention: An interim CHRO can help develop strategies to keep your top talent engaged and reduce turnover. This can include employee training programs and fostering professional development.
Performance management: Performance management is a key part of any CHRO’s role. An interim CHRO can help develop and implement systems and processes to ensure your team is meeting its goals. Having these processes in place will empower your leadership team to objectively measure the performance of the team. Armed with this information, you can reward top performers and coach those that have the most room to grow.
Compensation and benefits: An interim HR leader can review your current compensation and benefits programs and make recommendations for improvements. They can also help with the implementation of new programs.
Management of the human resources team: An interim chief human resource officer can provide leadership and guidance to the HR team. They can help with goal setting, performance management, and career development for HR team members.
What to consider when hiring an interim HR leader
If you’re considering hiring an interim CHRO, it’s important to choose someone with the right skills, past experiences, and are a good cultural fit to be successful in the role. They should have a proven track record in human resources and be able to hit the ground running.
Interim CFOs are a powerful resource that can be used in a wide array of ways.
In this video, BluWave’s Founder & CEO, Sean Mooney, and Managing Director, Houston Slatton, discuss some of the most common uses of interim CFOs and the benefits to both the PE firm and the portfolio company.
Sean Mooney, Founder & CEO: Hi, my name is Sean Mooney. I’m the founder and CEO of BluWave. I’m joined here today by my colleague, Houston Slatton. Today we’re going to discuss one of the most popular use cases in the BluWave toolbox, interim CFOs.
So Houston, how does your team know who’s really good and what’s needed for a private equity grade interim CFO to exceed the standards of a private equity firm?
Houston Slatton, Managing Director: Sure, yeah, it’s a great question, Sean.
First, we’ve got dedicated research teams that are constantly mapping these markets to know who’s really good, know where they’re really good, and know what their specialties are.
SM: I think you guys have done a great job at that. Candidly, I was pretty good at it. I could do it but I was the king of brute force and it was a craft project every single time, and so what I think you guys have done a great job is through seeing it and doing it over and over and over again, developing these tightly owned processes for assessing who’s really, really excellent at things. I think you’ve done a great job. What do you think about next in terms of other things that you do?
HS: One, we vet them specifically for every opportunity. We want them to give us the “heck, yes,” or “no,” which means really we want them to be self-aware and only tell us it’s a good fit if it really is if it’s a 10 out of 10 project. They’re proud to be in our network, so we get that honesty, but then we also hold them accountable as well, by working with our clients to collect that feedback along the way at the end of projects, to hold them accountable and make sure they’re great.
SM: I think that’s a really powerful part of what we do, is this whole circle of trust. People who are invited into this network are proud to be in it, and they do everything they can to be excellent over and over and over again because it supports their success, and our clients’ success, in this symbiotic fashion. That’s great.
Through what you’ve seen in our client base, Houston, what are some of the ways that people are using interim CFOs?
HS: Sure. I guess one of the top ones is just the unanticipated departure. When a CFO may leave for any number of reasons, it’s great to bring somebody in that can keep their hands on the wheel, keep things moving quickly and continue to make sure the company’s producing at an excellent level.
We also see a lot of groups that need somebody to come in once a deal closes to do what we call professionalize the finance function, get the right monthly reporting packages in place, make sure that the PE firm is getting the information it needs, do any conversions, transformations, things like that to make sure that the finance function of the portfolio company is really up to private equity grade.
SM: Yep, and I think that’s a great emerging use of this resource in that they not only can get things done faster with more speed and certainty, but they get to show, particularly newer CEOs and CFOs, what really good looks like at the private equity standard when a new deal kicks off? What about on the other side of the equation?
HS: As PE firms start to think about selling a company, CFOs have a lot on their plates already, and so we’ve had clients who will bring in an interim CEO or an FP&A resource that can help respond to diligence requests, assess data, pull reports, and allow the full-time employees of the company to keep things moving while keeping the sale process moving without delay.
SM: Yep. I think that is one of the other really surging use cases for interim CFOs or FP&A professionals. The modern-day M&A process is fast and furious, and the second you have to hit pause you can see valuations decline. Our best clients right now are using that so they can run at a really fast pace and not lose momentum during a sales process, so I think that’s another great thing to think about for this type of really excellent professional.
SM: I think those are some great insights around a tool that’s been around for a long time in private equity, but is being used in different ways. One of the things that I’ve learned probably most since moving from private equity to BluWave is that experience and velocity and laps around the track really, really matter. When I was in private equity, I would do things episodically and it was hard to become an expert at them.
At BluWave we’re doing things thousands and thousands of time for the very best private equity firms. We have the highest standards in the world and that helps us become increasingly better and better and better every day, and it’s gotten to the point where we’re trusted by more than 500 of the world’s top private equity firms to help connect them with the very best third parties, who we’re very proud to work with as well.
If you’d like to learn more about BluWave and how we can help you, please feel free to reach out to Houston or any member of the team or me, and we’d be happy to do anything we can to help give you just a little more excellence, a little more alpha with ease, in a way that’s supportive of your success. Thank you very much.
Many businesses find themselves in a situation where they need to hire an interim CFO. This can be for a number of reasons, but it is most often due to a sudden change or growth in the company. If you are considering hiring an interim CFO, there are a few things you should know. In this blog post, we will discuss when and why you might need an interim chief financial officer, and we will also provide some tips on how to go about finding the right one for your business.
As your business grows, you will likely find yourself in need of more financial assistance. If your current chief financial officer is not able to keep up with the demands of the job, you may want to consider hiring an interim CFO. An interim CFO can help take some of the pressure off of your current team, and he or she can also provide valuable insights during a time of transition.
There are a few things to keep in mind when hiring an interim CFO. First, you will want to make sure that the individual has experience working with businesses that are similar to yours in size and scope. Additionally, you will want to find someone who is comfortable working on a short-term basis and who is open to being flexible with his or her schedule.
If you are considering hiring an interim CFO, we are here to help. We have a deep pool of interim CFO resources in our invitation-only network. We pride ourselves on our ability to match you with the exact-fit interim chief financial officer you need when you need them. You can learn more about our interim CFOs – including case studies, how-tos, videos, guides, and thought leadership here.
Key things to consider when hiring an interim CFO
Flexibility: When hiring an interim CFO, it is important to remember that this is a short-term solution. As such, you will want to make sure that the individual you hire is someone who is comfortable working on a short-term basis and who is open to being flexible with his or her schedule.
Speed: The head of finance is a mission-critical role for the business and it is a seat you do not want to leave open for any longer than you need. It is imperative that you find someone who can step into the role that aligns with your needs.
Budget: There is a wide range of rates for interim finance executives. Find a resource that fits within your budget.
Similar experience: You will want to find someone who has experience working with businesses that are similar to yours in size and scope.
Cultural fit: Company culture is core to your business. Ensure this is accounted for in your interviewing process.
What about a fractional CFO?
If you are not sure where to start your search for an interim chief financial officer, you may want to consider using a fractional CFO service. Fractional CFO services can provide you with access to experienced professionals on a part-time basis. This can be a great option if you are not ready to commit to hiring a full-time CFO.
We connect you with the third-party resources you need
No matter what route you decide to take, it is important to remember that the goal is to find someone who can help your business during this time of transition. An experienced interim CFO can be a valuable asset to any business.
I get asked a lot of questions about how to build a business, and how to do it with as few headaches as possible. Not that I’ve totally figured it out, but I’ve certainly made my fair share of missteps and gratefully have learned something along the way. From investing, to hiring, to reducing headcount, to managing the ups and downs of an economic recovery period—one thing remains unchanged: leadership matters. And if you’re talking about key leadership positions, the one that companies most often get wrong is the CFO.
Why? Well, the answers are as varied as the reasons they fail, but it generally has to do with asking the right questions from the beginning. In other words, the interview process is often to blame.
I wrote an article for CFO Magazine about “hiring the right interim CFO” and how to ensure you set your company up for success when it comes to hiring one of the most important positions. Whether you are looking for an interim CFO (who can move into a full-time position) or looking for a full-time financial executive, here are some things you should know before you greenlight your new hire:
8 Things To Know Before Hiring An Interim CFO
If you are a PE-owned company and need to bring in a short-term finance chief, find someone who has worked for a PE-backed company before.
The interim executive needs to have a track record of wins. That generally means a significant tenure at multiple companies.
Find someone with industry experience, because it’s much easier to stand at the finance helm of a manufacturing, healthcare, IT, or services company if you’ve done it before.
Similarly, the interim CFO should have experience working for a company of similar size and scale.
It’s not enough to understand the numbers (sales, revenue, overhead) — you need someone who understands what the numbers mean.
For the best results, find a pro who has a high IQ and a high EQ (emotional intelligence), because the interim CFO needs to quickly gain favor from others in the organization to gather information and build a story around the numbers.
Be sure to have conversations with key stakeholders in a candidate’s prior roles. Choose the references; do not use the references the candidate gives.
While enthusiasm is a wonderful aspect of a new leader, a short-term executive should have a stabilizing effect, not a disruptive one.
For more details and to read the full article in CFO Magazine, click here.