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Part-time President

25 June 2012

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Chris Atchison - Investors Group: Review

When Christopher Barry left an impressive fulltime position in the corporate world in 2001, it wasn’t with a golden handshake and the promise of countless rounds of golf in his retired future.

On the contrary, Barry, a strategic turnaround specialist, decided instead to become an interim executive, selling his services to firms ranging from small-to-medium-sized companies to publicly funded organizations. In many cases, his clients require C-suite help but lack the funds to hire someone with his expertise on a full-time basis.

“I like the interim route because you have a varied challenge,” Barry, now in his early fifties, explains. “We’re the type of people who like to run into a burning building.”

Barry is one of a growing number of former, mostly baby boomer, executives who take the free-agent route – often well ahead of their senior years – to provide knowledge and expertise to help the next generation of small businesses reach their growth potential.

While these interim executives can command C-suite salaries, they’re not usually in it for the money. Like Barry, they trade the security of the corporate world for flexibility. Engagements typically last anywhere from a few months to a year, and offer the personal freedom to work and get in a few rounds of golf or travel with family.

Jane Matthews, head of the interim placement division at Toronto search firm Odgers Berndtson, says executives typically find companies to work for by using executive search firms; reaching out to contacts in their extensive networks, or by liaising with accountants or lawyers, who often have strong insights into C-suite talent shortages at the SME level.

But, as Barry stresses, the interim route isn’t for everyone. People need to be adaptable, flexible and willing to walk into sometimes disastrous situations, as he did when he recently had to restore funding and ethics structures, as interim CEO, at the embattled Toronto Humane Society.

But for those who enjoy being a part-time executive, he feels the opportunities are virtually limitless. “There are so many companies looking for help,” says Barry, who has worked virtually non-stop since 2001. “Once you get in the game, it’s impossible not to get work.”


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