On-demand executives are being recruited by mid-sized businesses

This article written by Yolanda Redrup was originally featured on the Australian Financial Review website on 18th April 2016. Click here to access the original article.

When you think of flexible workers, a picture of a 35-year-old juggling the responsibilities of working and raising young children generally comes to mind, but increasingly older C-suite workers are also joining the “gig economy”.

About 10 per cent of talent on demand platform Expert360’s clients are now recruiting experienced consultants into C-suite roles for two or three days a week, or for short periods.

Expert360 co-founder Bridget Loudon said companies had become more comfortable with the idea of on-demand workers in the past 12 months.

“We’ve seen the roles get more senior, the stakes get higher and the work get more important for the business,” Ms Loudon said.

Expert360 chief executive Bridget Loudon says mid-sized companies are hiring C-suite executives on a flexible basis.

Expert360 chief executive Bridget Loudon says mid-sized companies are hiring C-suite executives on a flexible basis. Supplied “Businesses are realising they may only need someone for a short time and it doesn’t make sense to hire someone full time. Increasingly it’s about a business’s ability to assemble teams to get work done, rather than taking on the cost of sourcing, on-boarding and training.”

Coined “super temps” by the Harvard Business Review in 2012, interim executives have been common in job markets across the US and Britain over the past 10 years.

But Watermark Search International interim management partner Danny Hodgson said it was a relatively new, but growing, phenomenon in Australia.

“It’s the fastest growing part of our business,” he said.

“We’ve seen a change from executives who would consider doing an interim assignment because they were between gigs, to those who are actually seeing this as an option of choice.

“There’s also been growth in the number of savvy employers using interim executives in the organisation as change agents to bring in specific expertise. The New South Wales government is using it to bring in people with private sector skills – I’ve hired three interim chief information officers for public sector roles this way.”

Watermark Search International’s business has been doubling year-on-year in terms of the number of clients wanting interim workers.

The “sweet spot” for the company is workers in their 50s, who have experience, but more flexibility because their kids are in university.

The company finds that C-suite gig economy workers are present across all industries, but predominantly as chief information officers, chief executives, chief finance officers and HR directors.

Watermark Search International managing partner Graham Wills said the global financial crisis had been a catalyst for this trend.

“The GFC knocked some people later in their career,” he said.

“In terms of their retirement savings plans, this way they can spend time in the workforce, but not full-time.

“The government is here saying you’ll have to work until you’re 70, but this is another option to full-time work. For a business it also means you don’t have to add a fixed cost. It’s easier and there is less risk for a business to get someone who is probably over experienced for the job.”

Ms Loudon said Expert360’s clients looking for short-term C-suite workers were usually mid-sized companies with revenue between $20 million and $250 million.

“These companies need to refresh their vision and their skills faster than they ever have,” she said.

“It takes on average up to six months to hire a C-suite executive for a recruiter in an executive search firm, but we can do it in less than 10 days. Each month that goes by the bigger the appetite is for people leaving their jobs and being comfortable doing freelance work.”

OPEN TO THE IDEA

Interior design firm Unispace hired a part-time chief financial officer last year, before deciding to take the person on full-time.

Jon Blackburn, who took on the CFO job at Unispace, had been the CFO of Lloyds International, a subsidiary of UK bank Lloyds, but when it was acquired by Westpac there was no longer a role for him.

“I’d spent 30 years in professional services and banking, so I had to think about what I wanted to do,” he said.

“There were not a lot of jobs in offshore banks here, so I had to try and find a role in one of the majors, but that led me to actually wanting to do a bit of work with some smaller companies.

“I was open to the idea of doing more than one job and at the time [Expert360] came to me with the Unispace role, I had been doing some jobs for the NRL [National Rugby League]; I managed to negotiate with them to do a three-day-a-week project, which let me do the CFO role part time.”

Taking on a part-time CFO was a stepping stone for Unispace, which had grown by more than 50 per cent year-on-year and was getting to a point where it needed to take someone on full time.

“The larger companies have succession planning in place and the budget for it. But the fast growing companies need to be more agile and adaptive,” Mr Blackburn said.

On average, Expert360’s business customers come back six times a year to hire new consultants.

Ms Loudon said in 10 years’ time people will look back and think today’s working arrangements and 60-70 hour-a-week jobs were “archaic”.

“I don’t think the whole world will move to on-demand, but there will be a portion of the workforce constantly working in an on-demand capacity and we’ll see the infrastructure around it morphing to manage the new workforce,” she said.