May 2013

Insights – Neil Birkbeck

Last week, Neil Birkbeck was named Interim Manager of the Year in both the Regional and “Best of the Best” categories at the Wessex100 awards. Intramezzo spoke with him to find out more about his work.

Neil, congratulations on your awards. What was your winning assignment?

Tunstall Healthcare is the world’s leading provider of telehealthcare solutions, operating in over 40 countries and supporting more than 2.5 million people worldwide. The company places great emphasis on ensuring that its vehicle fleet management policy delivers exceptional service as well as economic savings and, after 12 years with its incumbent supplier, Tunstall decided that it was time to review the service, delivery and cost of its vehicle fleet management. I was appointed to undertake a tender exercise on its behalf.

This involved working with the internal HR and Finance teams, as well as the incumbent supplier to understand the vehicle requirements across the UK business. I also undertook the majority of the leg work that supported key decisions around fleet management, service and maintenance provision. Through my analysis I was able to offer the business further clarity around many of the chargeable elements of the incumbent’s operating model which drove much of the pre-qualification questionnaire data. I facilitated the e-tender process from start to finish which involved establishing a list of potential suppliers, preparing the online pre-qualification questionnaire and finally managing the auction itself.

How did you come to take on the project?

My last permanent role was with a private equity business and, as a result, I tend to get a lot of introductions via PE firms. It was through that network that I was referred for this assignment and it struck me as being an interesting new challenge.

How long have you been an interim for?

It will be five years in July.

What made you start doing interim work?

I had been in the corporate world for a long time. I had spent 20 years with Trusthouse Forte and worked with big organisations such as B&Q and Johnsons Controls so interim work appealed as it seemed like something different from that. As mentioned, my final permanent role had been with a private equity business and, following the sale of the company, I stayed on for three months in a “hand-holding” capacity. During this time I was offered my first interim positions – one of which ended up being a 13 month project. I hadn’t planned for my career to take that direction but I enjoyed interim work so it seemed a no-brainer for me to continue with it.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

It has to be the variety. I enjoy taking on different roles and working with different people. In the corporate world, you tend to spend a lot of time in the same culture and environment while, as an interim, you are exposed to a variety of companies and ways of thinking.

You also have the opportunity to really play to your strengths. The role of an interim tends to be much more focused as there aren’t as many peripheral demands placed on you. For me, that means I can make a much more meaningful contribution.

I feel this allows me to offer more and, in addition to interim assignments, I am always happy to provide free consultations on procurement strategy to business leaders and FDs, for example.

What are the key challenges of interim life?

The very nature of interim assignments means that you always have to think about the next project and where it will come from.

How does the contribution/impact of an interim differ from that of a permanent employee?

An interim can bring a great deal of experience to a role and offer much broader expertise. We are also able to hit the ground running – without the need for a drawn-out induction period.

I think that interims also have more accountability and commitment – we are appointed to do a specific job so there is a real impetus to get it right first time and to the highest standard.

Neil, thank you for the interview and congratulations again.

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