Interview with an FD – Interim Specialist
November 13th 2013 | Posted by phil scott
Graham Hill. Interim Finance Director
How did you get where you are today?
I have been an interim finance director since 1999, when I launched Gralhill Ltd. Before that, I had roles including UK Head of Finance for Quaker Oats and Divisional Finance Director for GEC-Marconi’s guided missile division.
I established myself as somebody who could take over failing projects and turn them around and, in a way, I was already acting as an interim manager in my permanent roles.
I have had around 20 roles over the last 15 years, across a broad range of sectors, including oil & gas support services, manufacturing, specialist engineering, construction, food, not-for-profit and utilities, working in the UK, Europe and the US. My client list includes Phoenix Equity Partners, Alstom Group and Macmillan Cancer Relief.
What does your job entail?
I step in when your project goes belly up. If your previous CFO left abruptly and you haven’t got a succession plan ready or the situation isn’t yet right for a new permanent recruit, I come in and steady the ship.
I’m good at negotiating steep learning curves, and quickly absorbing myself in new company cultures, markets and sectors. My main role is to decide what needs to be done immediately, then getting it done, and deciding what would fall under the domain of the following, permanent CFO, and leaving that to them.
I don’t subscribe to the theory that interim managers are superheroes who know everything, but the best ones are experienced in handling uncertain circumstances, quickly understanding issues and turning a project into a success.
What makes a great interim FD?
You obviously need a platform of functional competence, but the role of an interim FD is different from that of a permanent FD. Our role is often less defined at the outset, part of our remit is to work out what needs doing before we do it.
In many cases, we will replace an executive who has been ousted and they may have been putting a lot of gloss on the truth to try and save themselves. We have to be able to be honest and tell the owners the truth about the situation.
But as well as being frank, we also have to be able to fit immediately into a team and become ‘one of them’. You’re going to be leading a team and you need buy-in from them right away.
An interim FD also needs to be able to leave a project. Our role is a short one and we are there to smooth the way for the next permanent appointment. You’ve got to accept when your time is up and leave with no baggage.
What do you enjoy outside of work?
I enjoy the theatre, opera and cinema. We are well served for the arts in Leeds, especially as Opera North is based here. I’ll see anything that comes through town.
I’m also very fortunate to live very close to the moors as walking is my other passion.
Who or what inspires you?
I admire what Clement Attlee achieved as prime minister after WWII. He formed the NHS, built one million homes, nationalised coal, public parks and the railways and so on – all such in a short space of time.
Attlee inherited a completely broken country and his sheer rate of delivery helped shape the world we live in today.
There are other jobs I could do if I was mainly motivated by money, and if I was hungry for power I’d stay in a permanent role and work further up the ladder. But what I really enjoy doing, on a micro scale and in my own way, is making a positive difference to the companies that hire me.
For more information on Graham’s career history visit www.gralhill.co.uk