Confessions of an interim manager

It was a beautiful spring day in 2011 when Gisle Bakken received an exciting telephone call from a large Chinese telecommunications company that required his help. This would turn out to be the start of an interim management existence which gave him a taste for more.

Published 8/6/2013

But let's rewind a bit ... Gisle Bakken's management career began back in 1987. The year when Dagens Næringsliv (Norway's largest business newspaper) was still called Norges Handels og Sjøfartstidende and Black Monday sent international stock markets into freefall during the worst stock market collapse in history.

"At the time I was employed as Country Manager for Firkløveren AS, a company which to this day still sells porcelain dinner sets," Bakken explains.

The first assignment

He would go on to spend nearly 20 years in management positions within sales, marketing, business development and HR for the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, followed by two years as the CEO of Apoteket Norge AS. Until one beautiful spring day in 2011 when he was contacted by the Chinese company Huawei.

"They wanted to hire me to establish HR procedures in Norway. I said yes and it became my first interim management assignment. One I completed in 14 months," Bakken says.

From green tea to café au lait

When the Huawei assignment was complete, Bakken had enjoyed the interim management role so much that he got in touch with InterimLeder AS to join their database. Shortly after this, his next assignment commenced:

"The large French industrial group Alstom had experienced an urgent situation in which two employees in the HR department suddenly resigned, including the director. My task was to take over the management of the department to allow the senior management team time to reflect in order to make decisions and find new employees."

Bakken is grateful for the cooperation with InterimLeder and the benefits it provides:

"It is hard to sell yourself for the next assignment if you are currently on an assignment. InterimLeder works on my behalf to obtain assignments, which provides some security," Bakken reflects.

Starting a new role as an interim manager

"Entering a new company as an interim manager is reminiscent of the feeling of your first day at school. A mixture of "here is an expert who will solve all our problems" versus "a know-it-all who is here to criticise us". It is therefore crucial to make a good first impression and establish trust.

Three pieces of advice he would like to share are:
- Be humble with respect to the company culture and the things that have been done before 
- Utilise the expertise held by people in the company 
- Be aware that everyone has their eye on you and be quick to deliver results!

Bakken highlights the importance of having a clearly formulated assignment and explains how he went about clarifying issues as much as possible before starting:

"I attended a couple of meetings with management before starting and had the opportunity to have a quick briefing with some of the key departmental managers in advance, in order to make sure that the challenge I had described matched the one that existed in reality," Bakken explains.

Better equipped as an outside interim manager

Gisle Bakken has been working in HR for a number of years and finds that it is very beneficial for interim managers in this role not to have any existing links with the company.

"In one department I identified a deadlock situation between the manager and employees which had been escalating over time. The manager picked up their briefcase and walked. I appointed a new manager and rebuilt the department again with people who were better equipped to work together. It was a great help that I came from the outside and did not have any existing history with the company. The previous HR manager would probably have taken the side of the manager. Interim managers are well equipped for such situations," Bakken reflects.

The best thing about being an interim manager

As an interim manager Gisle Bakken has had the chance to get to know a lot of new people and cultures and has become intimately familiar with new industries. He also feels that companies that make use of interim management actually get more experience than they pay for.

"As an interim manager I have been asked about issues that were outside the scope of the assignment and that is exactly how I like to work. As interim managers we have gained experience of a number of disciplines and are able to contribute broadly, not only in-depth on single area," he explains.

"As a permanent employee it is easy to get set in your ways and get stuck in a role. As an interim manager you are faced with an urgent situation and have a problem to solve within a limited period of time. This results in a diverse and exciting everyday life which allows you to reward yourself with a long, enjoyable holiday after the assignment has been completed. If you like the sound of this, then this might be a career path you would gain a lot from. Why not take this opportunity and get in touch with InterimLeder," Gisle Bakken concludes. 

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