An interim manager since 2006, Colin Leisk is a specialist in supply chain and operational performance improvement and the management of strategic change in the world of industry.
An industrial engineer by training, I spent 10 years of my early career in production and engineering management roles in the UK. The experience of building a business by improving operations capabilities was the foundation for my love of operational challenges. I then joined a strategy and operations consulting firm and became an expert in supply chain management, but also in improving operational and financial performance in industry and the integration of mergers / acquisitions. I moved to France, initially on assignment for the Michelin group, and have stayed ever since. I built the Supply Chain practice for IBM in Europe. Then I started a new business in IBM’s electronics sector which had a very international dimension (New York, London, Tokyo, Seoul…) that I built to $400 million turnover. In 2006, in deciding to become an interim manager, I went back to my « first love » as a specialist in performance improvement and change management, working with industrial companies and private equity.
Vividly. It was a food company based in western France. The company had just completed an LBO but was finding it difficult to revive profits, so I was commissioned to cut costs in production and the supply base. Wonderful people, whom I helped to see new opportunities in their familiar scenery by “looking through a different lens”.
Then I won a 6-month assignment in Sweden to help Ericsson manage its merger with Marconi. I was jointly responsible for the integration of R&D and the worldwide product catalogue, managing to put the new and broader product portfolio into the hands of the sales force worldwide and also keep up the pace of new product introductions – two actions that were essential to achieving the year 1 growth promised to shareholders.
It was a mid-sized European company specializing in plastics packaging. I joined the divisional board to manage the turnaround following a sharp fall in revenues and heavy losses during the financial crisis. In 6 months we put in place new distribution channels throughout Europe to build sales and cut back the HQ organization and staffing in the factories. This involved redundancy plans in France and England as well as part-time working in Germany. It was my first experience of managing a redundancy plan in France, where the industrial social framework imposes certain constraints and challenges.
A good interim manager must be able to navigate difficult terrain without deviating from his course or being bogged down by heavy weather conditions (political, financial, organizational storms…) that often disrupt business change. Besides his solid experience, the effective transition manager needs to react very quickly to the situation that he has to manage: setting goals for the improvement early on and announcing a clear plan of action is essential to winning the confidence of the teams. The plan must be fact-based resulting from a rapid diagnostic phase, which is necessarily much shorter than in a consulting assignment, with the focus switching rapidly from observation and analysis to execution. In this respect, the interim manager needs two key qualities: firstly a willingness to take decisions and lead the action; secondly the interpersonal skills necessary to unite and inspire the teams that will follow.
Another vital factor is the confidence to present the truth to the board and the shareholders, confronting them with the reality of the situation and the decisions that need to be taken. This is not always easy but is essential to the success of the mission.
Undoubtedly this discipline is more highly developed as a management solution in Britain and also the Netherlands and Germany than in France, Spain or Italy, but is growing fast in these countries. I am seeing more opportunities for assignments with an international dimension – my particular interest, having worked for British, American, German and Swedish clients in France and other European countries. The financial crisis has undoubtedly increased the pressure on European businesses, who find that their industrial footprint is no longer ideally suited to market conditions: this is an issue where an interim manager who understands both the economic and social dimensions of manufacturing operations in Europe can make a significant impact.
Similarly I see opportunities in the world of M&A and private equity, since the funds and major multinationals have new money to invest and there are a large number of under-valued companies around Europe today. In this context I have appreciated the collaboration with Delville Management who have invested in building an international presence and are targeting international players in industry and also in private equity.