Dr. Jacques Reijniers, a veteran of the European interim management scene, leaves the European Business School EBS, where he spent 14 years developing and supporting the university training program for interim managers, which is unique in the German-speaking world. Now he hands over the management of the study to the well-known interim manager Siegfried Lettmann. An interview.

JA: Dr. Reijniers, for 14 years now you have been the head of the “Interim Executives Programme” at the European Business School (EBS) in addition to other teaching activities. This is still the only provider of a certified university programme for interim managers in the entire German-speaking region. What role does EBS play in the interim management market?

Dr. Reijniers: In this respect, EBS assumes three main areas of responsibility. Firstly, the further training of interim managers, then the improvement of the quality of this service and the third area concerns the added value of the interim management service for the contractors.

Our main objective is to communicate a holistic approach: What is interim management about? What are its key elements, its success factors? There are also workshops elsewhere on similar questions and topics. They are sometimes quite interesting, but usually remain very narrow answers. EBS or the corresponding course at EBS, on the other hand, deals with all the different levels through which the real mandates develop. We go back to the very beginning and deal with acquisition topics, for example, and follow the complete arc of an assignment right through to the conclusion of the mandate. Knowledge of the interrelationships is of enormous importance. All stages of the interim management process are brought together – with a focus on the final results, the goals, at and for the client. An interim management assignment should ultimately serve to permanently solve complex corporate challenges.

At the end of the program, I hear from the participants again and again: “If I had known earlier what the topic was, I would have completed this course years ago”. This is a compliment for us and also shows that we are doing something right. At the last DDIM Congress in Düsseldorf, around 30 of our alumni were on site and explained that EBS would continue to be first-class, which I see as confirmation that we are achieving our resolutions.

But when I look to the future, I see the greatest goal as being to further increase the professionalisation of the entire field. Interim management does not exist in a vacuum: clients also have to understand what is at stake and what is possible with this instrument. And they have to understand how to buy interim management, i.e. which success criteria are related to the person.

JA: How has EBS succeeded in setting a transparent quality standard?

Dr. Reijniers: I personally find it difficult to say whether we actually succeeded. The butcher can’t judge his own meat, that’s what the customers do – they must like the offer, not the supplier. As already mentioned, we try to describe the entire process a mandate goes through in depth. That is the quality principle of EBS. We trace the essence, the essence of the field.

Explanation: Interim Management continues to be a free professional title. Anyone who feels a vocation to do so may call himself an interim manager. This leads, for example, to many former managing directors calling themselves interim managers.

A small excursus to clarify: A while ago I was invited by a German consulting firm to hold a workshop. The background to this was that many former board members, directors and so on came to this consulting firm in advance and explained that they had become interim managers from yesterday to today, so to speak, after leaving the permanent position. I was called in to help them gain a better understanding of the subject. However, I soon realised that perhaps three quarters of those present, despite their previously high corporate positions, did not have the skills to be good interim managers. Interim management is something completely different from a permanent position and requires different approaches and skills. I have observed this in several countries. These people are experts in their field – but as interim managers they also need to know how to sell well, present themselves quickly and ultimately on a very pragmatic level: they also need to make quick decisions at the client companies and immediately develop attractive solutions for a wide range of challenges. You need to know exactly who you are, what your offer is, and how that offer relates to the problems in your clients.

Many of these people have the necessary qualifications, but very many do not. At this point we try to bring in what is the essence of good interim management. But as in my previous example with the butcher: It is not important what we say, but what those involved say to the industry. Take, for example, the national umbrella organisations. In German-speaking countries there are the DDIM (Dachgesellschaft Deutsches Interim Management), the DÖIM (Dachorganisation Österreichisches Interim Management) and the DSIM (Dachverband Schweizer Interim Manager). If these umbrella organisations were to say that the EBS Interim Executives Programme is the standard, then one could act accordingly – and assume that the principles are correct for all providers who have completed this course. This would be a very practical tool for potential clients to assess an interim manager who introduces himself to them. In this way, a basis of trust could be created in advance on the basis of the candidate’s qualifications, i.e. his skills and abilities. But there is still a long way to go.

Interim management is also becoming an increasingly popular solution instrument for challenges at the management level. The need is undeniable, but customers also need to know how best to meet it and how to buy the right suppliers on time. Especially in recent years, this question has become more and more important: How can we support the customer companies in purchasing the optimal providers for their specific situations?

I have already indicated that speed plays an important role in this service. An interim manager must be productive from day 1. At the beginning, this also includes the difficult task of analysing for yourself how the contracting company should develop – and how this element relates to the concrete demand of the client.

Another focus of recent years has clearly been change. Many mandates are either specifically aimed at change, or at least it plays a role for other tasks. For interim managers this means that they have to learn how to deal with all organisational forces in the companies. You can imagine that this is not easy. In addition, in all contexts, but especially with change assignments, a temporary manager has to solve problems not only in the short term, but sustainably. Interim managers are often only on board for a few months. In order to implement sustainable, lasting changes, it is therefore indispensable to take the management of the client company with you. This is a very challenging task. And – as I said – the interim managers only have a short period of time for all this. The fact that I am summarizing these topics here does not mean to conceal the actual, sometimes very complex events. Being an interim manager is a highly complex and difficult task. That’s why interim managers should always be much better qualified on paper than permanent employees for the same positions. There are many differences – but it is precisely this that makes the department so exciting for those who face these challenges.

JA: As you explain, topics such as change and change currently play an important role for many clients. How does the certificate course “Interim Executives Programme (EBS)” develop with the market? How do you manage to keep the course up to date?

Dr. Reijniers: That was one of the absolute main topics at EBS right from the start. We have always tried to listen to the market as closely as possible and are in close contact with the providers, of course the providers themselves, the customer companies, umbrella organisations, etc. We also always employ alternating specialist speakers in each module, who often come directly from practical experience and shine in their fields with the latest knowledge. Also current results from research and science always play a role. As yardsticks often extensive discussion projects with the most diverse participants of the industry serve as yardsticks.

JA: Have there also been any organizational adjustments?

Dr. Reijniers: Yes, the general structure has also changed a lot over the years to meet actual demand. One thing that strikes me separately in the course of time is that interim managers become younger on average. This also influences our offer. The younger interim managers have learned much more about change at colleges and universities than the older ones. I see this as the next stage in the development of our profession.

JA: You will soon be retiring as Head of Studies and have chosen your successor yourself. Why did you choose Mr. Lettmann?

Dr. Reijniers: Basically: Of course I didn’t make this choice alone, but in agreement with the management of EBS. But there are actually many reasons in favour of Mr Lettmann. The fact that he is an outstanding expert and an undisputed expert in his field. But it was also important to us that Mr. Lettmann had a true enthusiasm for his field and for the entire industry. We needed someone who was right in the middle of the business. A positive side effect is that he himself comes from German-speaking countries. I have established many relationships in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but I myself come from the Netherlands, which could sometimes be detrimental to my availability. We wanted someone who was also geographically active in the field.

In addition, Mr. Lettmann is very well known on the market. Remember that he has only recently received three top-class awards for his work. By no means everyone manages that. Mr. Lettmann has a very great added value for his customers.

And, as already mentioned, his enthusiasm not only plays an important role for the profession itself, but also for its further development. In addition to the national umbrella organisations, he has also been associated with EBS for many years and, apart from his teaching activities there, has always been a true ambassador of the subject. I have previously spoken of structural innovations in the course: Here, too, Mr Lettmann was involved earlier and was always a valuable project member. He is the right choice, there is no doubt about it. He also completed the Interim Executives programme at EBS himself.

JA: What are the biggest challenges he has to face as a new Head of Studies?

Dr. Reijniers: Allow me to answer this question in several sub-sections. And please note: These are my thoughts and wishes, Mr Lettmann will of course have to make his own decisions. But I think that first of all it will play a role to make the course even better known. To achieve this, it will be necessary to bring the added value of the Interim Executives certificate course even more to the stage. To achieve this, we would have to support the programme as a whole and ensure that the qualifications are continually improved. Apropos added value: Of course it will also be critical for success to make the added value of the instrument, the interim management service, more transparent for client companies and those who could or would like to become one. Ultimately, companies also need to know exactly what to look out for in order to benefit as much as possible from the existing offering. Unfortunately – and this has to be said – our offer, namely the Interim Executives Programme, is unrivalled, which also has disadvantages for the general development and the visible dissemination of a quality promise. For example, you can study “corporate restructuring” at the University of Heidelberg or at the Kufstein University of Applied Sciences (I am also involved in the latter myself), but the focus there is clearly on financial and legal issues. Unfortunately, a comprehensive programme that examines all stages of the process is still not available outside EBS.

My dream would be, for example, that the DDIM would say at some point: As a member, we only accept more people who have completed this course – or an equivalent, if it existed. That is the highest goal: a standard that also exists for lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc. In this sense, it is important to intensify cooperation between the various nodes in the industry. If everyone could agree, the end result would be a complex of which one could say: That is our quality standard. But this is probably only a matter of time. I have already witnessed in many countries how the industry is experiencing certain stages of development, so to speak. In any case, Germany can be regarded as a pioneer here, but it also took a while to emancipate itself to such an extent that it was possible to get to where one is today. This development is, of course, in reality a permanent progress, but something like concrete stages of development can already be seen. This begins with the establishment of a national holding company. In Germany, for example, there has been such an umbrella society for some time, but not so long in Austria. Furthermore, and this may seem like a very subtle element, but it has great effects, the contractual arrangements between the interim managers and the companies play a major role here. This service can develop best if the necessary framework conditions are in place. Here, too, Germany has made great strides in recent years – and I think you can tell that from the strength of the industry. Another important starting point is the public visibility of the service, which can be achieved through prizes and awards. Every subject has to undergo a maturing process, and these processes always run through certain stages. They could also be called maturity levels. The last step is the positioning of the service in the light of insurance, taxes, etc. A very important element to be developed here is a clear, transparent and productive quality standard in the market for further professionalization in the interim management area. Finally, it would be a dream to cooperate with the national umbrella organisations, i.e. DDIM, DÖIM and DSIM, but also with the AIMP (Working Group of Interim Management Providers). I am sure that Mr. Lettmann’s appointment represents a significant step in this direction.

The interview was conducted by Johann Auer, editor of SLIM Management GmbH.

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