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More than an interim measure

More than an interim measure


There’s a phrase being mentioned in pharmaceutical circles more and more. Sometimes with a puzzled air, other times delivered reverentially as the silver bullet that will resolve all ills: interim management.
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010

There’s a phrase being mentioned in pharmaceutical circles more and more. Sometimes with a puzzled air, other times delivered reverentially as the silver bullet that will resolve all ills: interim management.

The dictionary definition of an interim (an intervening time, provisional, temporary, etc) is easier to find than one for an interim manager, but the Interim Management Association is a good place to start. It defines interim management as:

“The rapid provision of senior executives to manage change or transition commissioned on an assignment basis, who act for a third party in the capacity of senior managers.”

Still woolly, but you get the picture. Interims are brought into senior positions, often at board level, to handle projects. They are not consultants who advise and report to their consulting firms. They are professionals who manage and report directly to the senior management of the company.

Interim managers get things done. They are brought in with clear objectives, a defined target, and a set time-frame. When the clock stops, the project will have been concluded successfully and they will move on to the next company, the next mission.

No wonder, then, that conservative estimates put the current annual UK spend on interim managers at more than £400 million, and that they can demand anything from £500 a day for a middle management role to £2,000+ a day for a board level role.

Yet, while interim management sounds positive from a textbook point of view, can it be applied to the hard-edged, competitive and rapidly changing pharmaceutical business?

Filling gaps, effecting change, getting things done

Like any business, the pharma and biotech arena faces challenges every day. Things happen, the business changes, people move on – there are a variety of instances that cause a break in business continuity that may prompt the need for an interim to be brought in.

Gap management is the first, either temporarily replacing senior executives who are absent from work because of, say, maternity leave, or covering a position until it is permanently filled. In the pharma sector where some positions like those in the regulatory area are hard to recruit for, this can be essential.

Change management is the second, whether leading a reorganisation or restructure, or handling a merger, flotation, acquisition or disposal. Once again, with the major changes the pharma and biotech sectors have been experiencing and will probably continue to experience for the next few years, interim managers bring in seldom-used but essential skills that are often missing from the company.

Project management is the third, running a short term or one-off project such as the introduction of a CRM system, an IT or e-commerce programme, or the implementation of a new HR strategy. Like any industry sector, there is an ongoing need among pharma and biotech companies for such skills.

In terms of the positions that are suitable for interim managers within the pharmaceutical industry, they vary from board management to R&D, finance to IT, HR to sales & marketing, business development to manufacturing & distribution, medical information to quality control, clinical research to regulatory affairs.

Asking the right questions

Even when a vacant role exists and needs to be filled temporarily, or when a change programme or project is imminent, the temptation to call in an interim manager should be clearly thought through. Firstly some key questions need to be asked:

  • Is the need urgent?
  • Does the requirement have a finite timescale?
  • Are the skills definitely not available in-house?
  • Can the role be clearly defined?
  • Is this a tactical ‘do’ task rather than a strategic ‘analysis’ task?
  • Are the task and position, together with performance goals, clearly defined?
  • Can the interim manager be briefed in full, with all of the details necessary to pick up the task and run with it?
  • Is there a budget to pay for it and who owns it?
  • Is an exit review in place to measure the assignment outcome against the original requirement?
  • How will the skills and knowledge gained during the project be retained within the business, and effectively handed over, thus ensuring continuity?

If the answer to every question is yes, the case for considering an interim manager becomes compelling.

Finding the right person

When a need for an interim manager has been positively identified, any company considering the option then has to find the right person.

Interim managers, remember, become part of the company for a length of time. However short that timescale, they are expected to have an impact – and their influence will often be far-reaching, particularly in merger and acquisition roles. They should therefore have years of experience and a solid track record, with skills that allow them to hit the ground running.

Because interim management is a relatively new concept to the , the number of truly professional interims is estimated at around 2,000. For the pharma and biotech industries, where specialist skills can be crucial, this number falls further. All of which means that finding them is like looking for the proverbial needle.

This is where the role of professional recruitment companies comes in. They can ensure that a choice of potential candidates is offered for most positions, any of whom can start immediately (beware, however, that in positions calling for particular skills, there may only be one candidate available). They will also have interviewed, vetted and reference-checked every candidate to ensure their suitability. Once assigned, they will then track the progress of the interim to ensure the project is completed successfully.

Choose the recruitment company carefully, however. It should be a specialist in the pharmaceutical industry with a dedicated interim management function in constant contact with a pool of dedicated professionals.

That said, if you do identify a need, ask the right questions and find the right person, you won’t just have an interim measure. Instead, you’ll have a skilled and experienced professional who can measure up to any project.


For media enquiries: please contact Carolyn Douthwaite or on +44 (0)1480 493344.  Website –