We have talked to Niklas Hjelmsäter, an experienced CFO working as an Interim Manager since 2006, about the benefits of engaging an interim leader. In addition to being a cost-effective solution for a time-limited need, an interim brings unique competence and experience that is often lacking internally.
Niklas is specialized in driving change and turnaround and leading financial functions through turbulent periods. He is engaged when a client needs to change or reorganize their business where old or non-functioning structures and processes need to be redone, when there is a lack of skills or when you have an outdated strategy or goal. With experience from all parts of a finance function, from leading large M&A processes and building up international finance departments to building a start-up from idea to product in a wide range of industries, he knows that his toolbox is applicable in most industries and that it is basically always about the right leadership.
In what situations does it benefit an organization to hire an interim CFO, CEO, or other business-critical roles?
“Hiring an Interim Manager adds value when there is a need for specific skills, or when you need to implement major changes and cannot lose speed. Another example is when you must recruit a person for a permanent key role and cannot have a vacancy in the meantime. If you have been an interim for a long time, it becomes an experience in itself, as you are used to quickly analyze the current situation, what needs to be done and quickly creating results. Common to all Interim Managers is a well-developed ability to quickly add value to both the business and the organization. You have made the same journey several times before, which creates a unique knowledge and experience. When you step into an organization for a limited time, you are not as exposed to internal politics but can focus on the task itself. You have been appointed to perform a task and solve a problem. As an interim, you also have a very practical and hands-on perspective. The client does not have to worry about things landing in long PowerPoint presentations or ending up in strategic issues. An interim gets things done and implemented and leaves a well-functioning team and a long-term and sustainable solution behind.”
Can you give some examples of assignments where you as an interim CFO have solved the customer’s problems?
“At EE Group, majority-owned by Bridgepoint, I was interim Group CFO. The assignment, via Nordic Interim, was to transform the Group Finance function and to recruit the right skills. Here I built-up structures and processes for accounting, board reporting, treasury, covenant management and implemented new processes and routines for, among other things, financial reporting. Together with my team, I ensured functioning corporate governance and pushed through a complex change and ultimately a cost reduction. Another type of assignment was when I led the finance function through an intensive period in connection with a divestment at Lindorff. The assignment required a high level of technical knowledge and leadership experience, and I also introduced a new business planning process according to LOTS®.
Other situations in which I have been involved have been in connection with acquisitions as M&A Advisor in international contexts, to build up financial organizations from scratch, and to ensure that structures, processes, and teams develop at the same pace as an organization in strong growth. As a change leader, it is very much about creating a clear structure, making sure that everyone understands their role, what they should do and why. At Klarna, my team and I worked out a model that we named APA: Adaptive, Proactive, and Accountable. When that was done, I took on the role of SVP Corporate Development where I led the financial aspect of the acquisition of the German company Sofort. This was the first acquisition for Klarna, and many parallel processes were required to understand how the acquired company would fit into the business. An important factor was to ensure that all owners were willing to make the investment.
Another example when adding value to a customer is when the CFO focuses on a change project and needs support in leading the day-to-day operations. It can also be during a permanent recruitment process.”
What is your top 3 advice for succeeding as an interim CFO?
- Make sure you have a well-functioning team; it is an absolute prerequisite to have the right person in the right place to succeed with the assignment
- Make sure you have a clear assignment with clear goals
- Deliver and show fast results. It is about what you get done, as an interim you have a limited period to finish your assignment.
Why did you decide to work as an Interim Manager?
“I was asked to run a change process within Pfizer’s Nordic operations, an assignment that ended with the divestment of parts of the business. Driving change, entering new situations, working with new people and new contexts is what motivates and engages me. It is a constant learning curve, in each new assignment I learn new things which is extremely exciting and challenging. I have had fantastic opportunities to get into interesting companies and change situations during my career.”
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