Mikael Eriksson was Interim Manager for a global company in the forest industry, an assignment of eight months. A business unit had encountered profitability challenges and needed a highly experienced person to quickly get the commercial function back on track.
Niklas Björkman, Partner at Nordic Interim Oy, talked to Mikael about the assignment, and how he solved the critical challenges.
The assignment was to develop the organization and improve profitability.
Where did you start?
“You need to be onboard from day one. I started by getting to know the people by interviewing them.
In an organization with problems, it is not about the individuals, it is about how they work as a team. I needed to understand how they worked.
The first task was to rebuild the organization to support the profitability objective. We changed the organization from working with a regional focus to a business area-focused structure. That was already a big change.
The second thing was to increase profitability. These things needed to happen simultaneously within a very short timeline.”
The low prices were a huge problem.
What measures did you take to raise the price level?
“When you get to know the team, you need to empower them. When we realized how challenging the situation was, we needed to agree on a high profitability target. This was not easy, as it meant a double-digit price increase for all customers. Many of the customers had long contracts, and they were asking why we wanted to increase the prices. They could also have said no to the price increases.
There was a lot of internal resistance in the beginning, and I often had to argue for reasons to do this. It takes passion and persistence to win. Persistence is the key ingredient to success, and I took a front-line position to support my team.
I also participated personally in tough client negotiations and stepped in to help the team when needed. I did not always give them the answers, I just showed them the right way to act in tough negotiations.”
When looking back, what are you particularly proud of in this assignment?
“We achieved a very good result through the seemingly impossible price increases. It is also very satisfying that the organization is now working as a team. From being reactive, they are now working proactively. People do not check the smallest details with me anymore, they are taking responsibility themselves.”
What advice would you like to give to other Interim Managers?
“Even if you know that your assignment will only last for a limited time, you have to act as a part of the team and not work as an external consultant. Focus on the task together with your team.”