Exploring a New Career Role

With good senior executives continuing to be in great demand, many leaders are widening their lens and considering new and different opportunities. In a new report, Odgers Berndtson looks at permanent, interim, consulting, and non-executive director careers, breaking down which is more appropriate, depending on one’s goals, outlook, and circumstances.

February 2, 2023 – Spurred on by the desire for purposeful careers, companies which align to personal values, and readjusting work-life balance, the Great Resignation has led to a surge of job opportunities. Since the middle of the pandemic, companies of all sizes, across all sectors, and in most countries, have been subject to record turnover levels. The senior leadership jobs market has an additional element at play – retirement and choice. Either looking for a well-earned break after managing businesses during the height of a crisis or seeking new and different challenges, many leaders opted to depart the workforce entirely, creating even more demand for senior leadership roles.

Despite the economic downturn, the senior leadership jobs market remains exceptionally strong. With an increasing number of roles to choose from, leaders at the peak of their careers are taking the opportunity to weigh up the type of career they want to pursue. In a new report, Odgers Berndtson experts Jes Ladva, Adam Gates, and Susanne Thorning-Lund explore permanent, interim, consulting, and non-executive director careers, explaining which is more appropriate, depending on an individual’s goals, outlook, and circumstances:

Permanent Executive

A permanent leadership position provides the opportunity to build something over the course of a business cycle, says Odgers Berndtson. Enabling you to focus on the mid to long-term, a permanent position means developing and executing business strategy, as well as adapting and steering it through disruption.

A demanding role, leaders now need to build profitable and purposeful organizations while mitigating the impact of an economic downturn, says the report. At the same time, they need to adapt to an increasing occurrence of crises, align profitability with purpose, and lead on social issues like diversity, inclusion, and sustainability.

Jes Ladva is a managing partner whose specialist remit spans the U.K. in leading the government practice for Odgers Interim and Odgers Connect. He also has oversight for the private sector interim management practices in financial services, digital and technology. Mr. Ladva has over 20 years experience in the government sector. Initially working in government he then went on to establish a number of interim, search and consultancy firms.

“Much more than simply generating revenue, leaders must be attuned to employee well-being, be capable of guiding customers, and meeting the needs of different stakeholders,” said Odgers Berndtson. “It requires agility, entrepreneurship, high emotional intelligence, authenticity, and resilience.”

Although highly demanding, permanent roles are highly rewarding. “If you’re someone who wants to affect culture, move the needle on aspects of ESG, enjoy developing and mentoring others, and want to see the impact of your work, then a permanent executive position is likely to meet your needs,” said the report. “What’s more, permanent positions offer stability, invested development and training, and a clear career path.”

Interim Executive

While equally as demanding as a permanent position, the pressure for interim executives stems from the need to deliver positive results within a reduced timeframe as well as preparing the organization for its longer-term phase.

Driven by a real business need that requires immediate leadership, interim executives are hired to turn around failing functions, fill critical leadership gaps, or conduct M&A activity, says the search firm. Interims can also be hired to scope out a new role before helping to hire the permanent replacement.

“An interim career is highly varied,” said the report. “It offers the opportunity to work across the public and private sectors, exposure to different sizes and structures of organization, and cross-over with different functions.”

Usually across a six to 12-month cycle, an interim will lead or guide a new team in a new organization, delivering on a new objective.

“If you’re someone who becomes restless after achieving short-term organizational goals, enjoys high-pressure environments and a constant stream of new challenges, then you may suit an interim career,” said Odgers Berndtson. “Although developing and executing strategy is part and parcel of an interim’s role, the ability to hand over to a team or permanent replacement is a key skill. It means interims are rarely able to directly experience the long-term fruits of their labors.”

Adam Gates is a partner in Odgers Connect in London. He supports clients across a range of public and commercial sectors and with a specific focus on the retail and consumer industries. Prior to joining Odgers in 2016, Mr. Gates was a director at the executive search and market intelligence firm eg.1, where he helped grow and latterly led the professional services practice, working with clients including a Big 4 advisory firm and a tier one strategy firm.

What’s more, a highly diverse career comes with trade-offs. “Organizations don’t invest in the training and development of their non-permanent workforce and as an interim, there’s no clear career progression,” said the study. “There is also little room for error. Organizations hire interims to achieve a specific goal and expect that goal to be achieved within the contracted period.”

Independent Consultant

Independent consulting shares many similarities with interim positions. It offers the diversity of roles and the opportunity to work across different sectors. Less of a “gap-filler,” independent consultants take on more of a strategic and/or advisory role, although they will also help to execute strategic and operational change in the same way as an interim would.

Related: Retaining Your Employees During the Great Resignation

“All of the independent consultants we work with have experience working for large institutional consulting firms, which typically serve medium to large client organizations,” said Odgers Berndtson. “The motivation for seeking independent work often comes from the desire to work more independently with smaller, potentially more purpose-oriented companies, where they can have more impact.”

“Variety is also a factor, as is the opportunity to be entrepreneurial; many ICs we place have their own business ventures and supplement these with part-time and full-time consulting projects, often working concurrently,” said the report. “The mix provides a cerebral balance preferable to working solely in one area for long periods of time.”

Many ICs also take the opportunity to offer pro bono work for not-for-profits and charities or become involved in mentoring and coaching– something that isn’t always possible in large corporate consultancies.

The career trade-offs for independent consultants are similar to those for interim executives. “There’s no linear progression, it can be difficult, although not impossible, to transition back into a permanent consulting role, and so the path has no ‘end,’” said Odgers Berndtson. “However, unlike a traditional interim career, there’s less opportunity to be a function head or run a P&L. This means if you see yourself becoming a CEO, then an independent consulting career might not be for you.”

Non-Executive Director

Taking a non-executive director role brings the opportunity to apply your experience, insights, and expertise to a different environment. Many executive leaders see it as a great career development path when the role sits alongside your executive job. It can also provide a platform for senior executives to remain involved, engaged, and active when they are no longer in full-time employment.

Susanne Thorning-Lund is a senior member of Odger’s chair and board practice, specializing in non-executive appointments as well as CEO searches in her areas of focus. Based in London, she has supported boards in the U.K. and internationally on board evolution and on the appointment of chairs and independent non-executive directors since 2003. Having advised FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 large corporations, ambitious start-ups, multi-generational family-businesses and PE-based companies, across sectors and cultures, in the process, Ms. Thorning-Lund has gained expertise in guiding entrepreneurial and family-owned companies through sustainable board succession planning, on which she leads for the firm.

Companies of all sizes and make-up will look for non-executive directors who have experience working in comparable environments, where their skills and expertise can translate across, said the report. The right non-executive director role is one to which you can bring something to the table and learn something new.

“A non-executive role requires time and attention, so make sure you know what is required to ensure you keep up to speed with business developments and the fiduciary requirements of the role,” said Odgers Berndtson.

At a time of heightened activity or crisis, being accessible and available becomes critical. “Often, smaller companies are more resource-constrained and their non-executives become more involved in business issues,” said the report. “Larger companies can be complex and macro-economics and macro-politics influence operations, which brings with it a greater focus on risk and governance.”

Non-executive director appointments should be treated as a six-year commitment, as they are generally expected to last between two to three terms of three years. They are not easy to take up, only to resign a year later.

Income should not be the main reason that you choose a non-executive role. “The key tenants of the role are independence and objectivity, which do not sit well alongside financial dependency,” said the report. “In a similar vein, it is worth bearing in mind that non-executive director roles can carry some personal liability, financially (if directors’ liabilities are uncapped) or reputationally (if the company has a high-profile crisis). Make sure, therefore, that you do your due diligence of the company carefully, its competitors, the board, the executive leadership, and the shareholders.”

Non-executives are there to look after the need of shareholders and wider stakeholders. “It can be stimulating, challenging, enjoyable and fun, but also frustrating and exasperating,” said Odgers Berndtson. “On each occasion ask yourself what you can bring and what you will learn.”

Related: Hiring Top Talent in Unprecedented Times

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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