- The baton must always be passed on
Vegard Rooth is a competitive person "to the bone". The previous Norwegian relay record, which stood until last year, testifies of his background as an elite athlete. Now the track has been replaced by the boardroom but his views of management being a team sport remain unchanged.
"We all run one lap here on earth and I believe in building something that will live on after we have gone. In theory, each and every one of us carries out interim work. There is always someone who will take over from us. The baton must always be passed on and if we remember this then I think we will do a more professional job and leave a more positive mark on the world," says Vegard Rooth.
Experienced interim manager
As an experienced interim manager, the former relay runner from Nordstrand has been faced with difficult situations before. From taking over the wheel when faced with the sudden death of a senior manager to turning the ship around after new owners have failed. He has built bridges between cultural opposites in international companies and has proven results to back up up what he says. He is currently a board member of InterimLeder AS and is more than happy to share his experiences of management.
From athlete to senior management in SAS
His entrance to senior management in the private sector all began with a telephone call from an old student, from his time as a lecturer at Wang College of Elite Sports. At the time he was providing management consultancy services together with Johann Olav Koss and had previously been the Marketing Manager of Olympiatoppen.
"The caller was Eirik Bache-Wiig. He was working as a headhunter for Heidrick & Struggles at the time. They needed a director for SAS and he said that "it was time I grew up and got myself a proper job'", an amused Vegard Rooth explains over the telephone from Nordstrand.
Efficiency increased by 30 percent
It was in 1999 that Rooth, as Director of Airside Operations, became responsible for 700 SAS employees at Oslo Airport. The transition from the sporting environment, which thrives on performance, to the major business culture of SAS was quite frankly a great contrast.
"There was a deep-seated culture at SAS in which performance was not valued when I started. I brought in a number of people from sports to SAS and we pushed a few boundaries and gained incredible amounts of knowledge. Among other things, we increased the efficiency on the ground at Gardermoen by 30 percent. This resulted in the profits from this unit becoming so large that we should have lowered the prices, but that would have meant that the same would have had to be done at Arland and Kastrup. So whilst the improvement was welcome it also resulted in resistance from other departments."
On board as a senior manager of a new company with two days' notice
In 2007 Vegard Rooth was enjoying a lazy summer's day at Hvaler together with his daughters and his father when he received an offer he would not regret accepting:
"The telephone rang and it was Sverre Holen from InterimLeder AS. We got to know each other during the Gardermoen period and he was now calling to see if I fancied coming on board as the Senior Vice President of Altia Norge. "When?" I asked. "In two days" he responded. Two days later I was in the seat," Rooth explains with a smile.
Since then, Rooth has run several laps as an interim senior manager in companies such as Scanmar, Rimi, Swisslog, VRS, Advania and Abax.
Think team rather than individuals
As an old relay runner with a 4x200 metre indoor record which stood until last year (set in 1992 together with Aham Okeke, Geir Moen and Stig Morten Løken) Vegard Rooth has a management philosophy which is very much characterised by thinking about the team rather than individuals.
"As a relay runner you are running for the team first and foremost. Not for yourself. When you accept the baton you give what you can before passing the baton to the next person. But that's not the end You cheer for your team until the last runner crosses the finish line.
As an interim manager I have run several challenging laps in which I have made a difference to both employees and owners. I still remain in regular contract with the majority of the clients I have worked for, both as an advisor and as a board member.
Managers should become better at being on the sidelines
With broad experience from a number of industries, Rooth has great respect for the special features of different disciplines and industries. But he does not agree with the idea that any industry is so unique that you need to have experience of it to succeed.
"I disagree with this. On the contrary I believe that you become a better manager by not being too familiar with your industry or discipline as this means you will be more reliant upon your employees. The purpose of management is to get the work done through others. Many forget this and try to do the work themselves. But as a coach, you're the one on the sidelines whilst the competitors do their work on the circuit," Rooth reflects.
Management is management
"I have managed doctoral engineers conducting research in hydro-acoustics and I can manage the processes even if I know nothing about the discipline. When a crane operator picks up a light bulb using the crane and carefully places it on a shelf without breaking it I realise that I know nothing about the subject. I have a great deal of respect for the work performed by the crane operator but I can still manage them," Rooth explains.
- Oh no, here comes the butcher!
According to Rooth one of the greatest benefits of being an interim manager is that you are always meeting new people. But also that you're not in the same role you would be as a permanent employee:
"As an interim manager you are there to do a good job. You don't need to win a popularity contest and you do not need to position yourself in the same way you would as a permanent employee. There is a reason for you being there. You will often be welcomed with positive, curious and expectant eyes. Other times, when business is challenging, you may receive a look that says: "Oh no, here comes the butcher!" Yes, sometimes there have to be cutbacks. For me it is important that this is done in a professional and humane way. You must be able to look everyone in the eyes afterwards. There is rarely anything wrong with the individuals in such situations. Cutbacks are more likely a symptom of failed management," Rooth says.
- We are not playing shop
As a manager responsible for getting results it is also important to remind employees of why the company exists.
"An employee runs in with a broad grin having just sealed a contract. When I ask what we will make from the contract it goes so quiet you could hear a pin drop and the employee's mouth falls open. You have quickly set the agenda. It is easy for people to forget that some of the point is to make money. What do we make money on? It might sound banal, but it is often forgotten," Rooth explains.
Rooth also believes that interim management should be used more in the public sector, which suffers somewhat from having an unequal focus on activities over results:
"I am slightly surprised by the hospitals. Does management actually focus on what is the real point of the organisation, making people healthy? Is that what they discuss at their meetings? I am not entirely convinced. I think they might talk about how many people they have given treatment to. An interim manager would focus on activities and results and would be able to contribute to achieving the correct, balanced focus in the organisation," Rooth says.
Advise for founders: - Try to make yourself superfluous
Vegard Rooth has some clear advice for founders of companies that started off small but have grown to have a turnover of between NOK 20-50 million:
"This part of the growth phase is demanding. Don't be afraid to let others in and try to make yourself superfluous. It is often the case that the importance of the founder only becomes apparent when they are no longer there. But if you can manage to let go of yourself you will have more time for development work and to focus on new growth areas.
One piece of advice for the interim manager on their first day at work
"Begin by tackling the hardest and most crucial task first. If you start with the easiest task, people are likely to say: "Oh right, he is doing the simple stuff now but he will hit a brick wall when he gets to the hard stuff." Grab the bull by the horns and demonstrate that you are the right person for the job, this ensures that you leave a strong first impression and establish trust for the rest of the process," Roth concludes.