Dominique Langlois, Senior Advisor of Emerton Leadership, is the founder of EIM, a pioneer in transition management in Europe, which he created and developed for 25 years from 1991 to 2016, and of which he was Managing Partner from 1991 to 2005. Previously, he was CEO of industrial and service companies and consultant at McKinsey&Co. He is a graduate of ESTP, IEP and holds an MBA from Wharton. He sheds light on the evolution of the interim manager’s profession and the sector.
What changes have you noticed in Executive interim management over the past 20 years?
A significant development has been the emergence of a large number of younger candidates, i.e. between 40 and 50 years of age, while the traditional population over 50 years of age has remained stable. It is generally a deliberate choice of life on their part, resulting from their taste for working in project mode, disconnected from the usual hierarchical relationships and political aspects in companies, with the sole objective of creating value. It is also a desire to discover new horizons, new contexts and to take up different challenges every 12 to 18 months.
In absolute terms, it is a very positive development that enriches the pool of interim managers and brings a new vision in terms of tools, behaviors and values. But this nevertheless raises questions, particularly about the depth and variety of experience required to deal with complex situations, high stakes and time pressure, which is the daily reality of transitional management missions.
After 10 to 15 years of managing Supply Chain or Human Resources, can we say that we are equipped to face all the challenges in these fields? It is certain that missions that require strong technical skills in a specific field will be more naturally accessible to younger managers who will also have been trained to the most recent tools in certain fields (IT, social, lean…). Moreover, they will be better equipped if they have spent the first 15 years of their career in leading companies recognized for their high standards and excellence in a given function. After 15 years of Comp&Ben at Saint Gobain or Supply Chain and Management Control at Valeo, they are probably able to meet new challenges in these areas as interim manager.
However, it will be difficult to replace the asset of a long experience for more general management missions where the key to success lies essentially in the intelligence of situations, the ability to understand and synthesize varied and complex information, to perceive and decode weak behaviors and “weak” signals, and on these bases to take decisions and “lead” teams in their implementation.
How do you see the evolution of the Executive Interim management sector in France?
It is commonplace to say that the sector is currently experiencing strong growth, after a very modest start, and that this growth attracts new players every year. In this context, everyone is more or less successful and in any case everyone is doing ok.
But, as has been the case in other sectors – consulting and headhunting for example – interim management will not escape a consolidation of players and a segmentation of the offer. There will then remain 2 or 3 large companies integrated at the global level and smaller firms with strong specificities, which may be regional, sectoral, or highly differentiated by a business model or professional values. The pool of managers and the profiles of the partners of these firms must be in line with the positioning chosen to establish their legitimacy.
This consolidation will certainly take place, but at a time that is still unknown at this stage. The triggering event may be the initiative of one or more global players from neighboring service activities seeking development opportunities. The possible slowdown in the growth of the transition management sector could be an accelerator of this evolution.
It is difficult to say at this stage who could be the architects of this consolidation in 2-, 5- or 10-year time. What can be said now is that in 2019, the actors who seem best placed to initiate and carry out this transformation are leaders in related professions, such as consulting for example. They have several fundamental advantages:
Of course, in this case, the consulting and transition management activities will have to be carried out by teams of professionals dedicated to each, the profiles required being very different.
So you see a complementarity between the consulting and Executive Inteirim management professions?
It is total and complete. Implementation is a natural extension of consulting missions. Leaders in consulting generally iwork on issues with very high stakes. The resulting recommendations often involve major transformations, for example to substantially improve operational or financial performance, make acquisitions and carve outs or develop in new markets… Their implementation not only creates a significant additional workload, but also often requires highly experienced skills and resources that the company does not always have. The use of interim managers then allows the company to carry out the necessary projects with the greatest efficiency and to minimize risks.
There are also advantages to having consultants and interim managers work in a coordinated way. Therefore the fact that the two activities coexist within the same structure is positive for the client in terms of efficiency and risk control. Of course, the consulting and implementation phases must be carried out by separate teams of professionals, the profiles required being very different, as mentioned above. But belonging to the same structure creates mutual trust, transparency, the absence of “ego fights” and above all guarantees that the work is carried out with the same professional values, which is fundamental.
What do you think of the phenomenon, albeit of limited scope, of the creation within Groups of internal interim management structures, whose pool is made up of executives who belong or have belonged to these Groups?
This is really a “false good idea”, often in the context of a more or less hidden restructuring. One of the essential keys to the success of a mission is really the independence of judgment, decision and action of the interim manager, who has neither past nor future in the company where he works. This makes it possible to minimize emotional aspects, eliminate all political games, the interim manager being insensitive to any “lobbying” action, having as sole objective to carry out the mission and deliver the expected results. The future of the interim manager is thus exclusively linked to the success of the mission, which he can use as a reference, and not dependent on the friendships or personal frustrations that his action would have generated in the company. It is really this independence that is the essential prerequisite for success.