EXECUTIVE LEASING When Lease is More How contractors can add value

For growing number of senior business people the opportunity to work on continuum of contracts as full-time leased executive is the ultimate in work/life balance.

The attractions are simple. They include good pay, the opportunity to schedule time off around their own lifestyle, greater variety of work, and the ability to sidestep the tedium of office politics – to name few.

But the benefits are not all one-sided. For companies running leaner management structures, leased talent can be godsend. It can be brought in to caretake role while the incumbent is away or until full-time appointment is made, to implement specific projects.

While executive leasing is arguably multimillion-dollar business, data on just how many senior executives are choosing it as permanent workstyle is patchy.

Many executives tee-up one-off contracts direct with firms though the majority are placed with one of handful of leased executive firms that dominate this industry. These firms act as conduit between network of self-employed, GST-registered contracting talent and companies that temporarily need their expertise.

Most of the people on the books of these firms are regarded as full-time leased executives who go from one contract to the next. They typically work on an hourly rate that adequately compensates for the lack of benefits, holiday pay, and the 20-30 percent commission paid to the firm that found them the job.

While the accounting/finance sector used to be the mainstay of executive leasing, demand has extended into marketing, project management, change management, logistics, and IT, with the biggest growth currently coming from the human resources sector.

The bottom-line is when companies need to inject outstanding talent into specific areas for limited time – typically three to 12 months – they’ll often turn to an executive contractor to assist.

Management spoke to two leased executives brought in to do just that.

Deborah Mclaughlin: Management accountant
Seasoned in the ways of executive leasing after stints in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Hong Kong, including contract during the Lloyds-TSB merger, management accountant Deborah Mclaughlin had no qualms about pursuing similar work when she arrived in New Zealand three years ago.

She says for the suitably skilled, executive leasing is great way for migrants to adapt to new business environment.

What converted her to executive leasing was the sheer variety of challenging work now available at her level, outside the domain of full-time employment.

Equally alluring, adds Mclaughlin, is the flexibility executive leasing offers to take more time off than permanent employment would tolerate. In fact, she’s recently returned from two-month trip back to Britain to visit friends and family.

“Executive leasing complements the Kiwi lifestyle. But because you’re running your own business, you have to manage yourself well. That means planning for gaps between contracts well in advance,” says Mclaughlin.

One of several contracts she’s had since hooking up with executive leasing company, Emergent, was an eight-month stint as Subaru NZ’s finance manager while the incumbent was on maternity leave. Although this was ostensibly caretaker role, what attracted Mclaughlin to the position was the opportunity to add value.

If handled properly, she says the real value that any leased executive can offer client company (beyond the specific requirements of the contract) is the ability to add continuous improvement – and permanent difference. If they can’t do that, she believes their value to the organisation as leased executive is sorely limited, whether the contract is project or change management oriented or not. “The value I added wasn’t seen as an indictment on the incumbent’s ability, this is really what I was hired to do,” says Mclaughlin.

She says getting new set of independent eyes to look at established practices can be very powerful. The questions she raised prompted reviews of treasury, plus export and import type systems.

Where she did add value was in the improvements to systems. This led to greater efficiencies, cost savings, and more streamlined processes.

“For example, additional reporting data meant finance could become more useful, forward-looking tool for management and the board. It’s all about going in, focusing on the positive, being intuitive and above all making commercial difference.”

Mclaughlin says while leased executives are removed from much of the company’s politics, this only heightens the need for good communication skills, especially when challenging established practices.

Leased executives are paid good money to hit the ground running on specific tasks. But to Mclaughlin, this doesn’t mean riding roughshod over the company’s rules, structure and core values in the process. That’s why she believes the matching process between leased executive and client-company is so critical, right from the start.

She suspects the view that leased executives can charge in, perform, then exit in blaze of glorious disregard for the ensuing outcomes is popularised by those who’ve never operated in the leasing environment.

From her perspective there’s an even greater weighting on getting the interpersonal stuff right as it is critical to making any permanent and meaningful difference within the client company.

With constant pressure to perform, Mclaughlin says leased executives can’t just take an “all care and no responsibility” approach.

Those that do, she warns, could severely jeopardise their ability to secure ongoing contracts.

“The trick is to go in, quickly assess personalities, size-up how to deal with them within the parameters of the working environment and develop good working relationships,” says Mclaughlin.

Fraser Wakeford: Business analyst
When you’re involved in change management, it’s especially important you fit in with the client company’s team, says recent leased executive convert Fraser Wakeford.

When shoulder-tapped for his first executive contract two years ago, he didn’t have to spend time weighing up options. For Wakeford, becoming professional leased executive was conscious decision to farewell full-time corporate employment and become self-employed.

Like Mclaughlin, Wakeford reckons it would take lot more than just money to lure him back into permanent executive position. He believes that executive leasing has brought to the forefront lot of experience he’s acquired in export control, logistics, purchasing and operations with numerous process manufacturing companies. It’s the sort of stuff that can be overlooked in the machinations of applying for full-time position.

He is currently six months into an 18-month contract as business analyst (manufacturing resource planning) with listed plastics firm Vertex. Having initially been involved in bedding down new IT systems, much of Wakeford’s contract now revolves around driving continuous improvement from these systems.

Because contract work typically involves lot of independence, he says it’s important for leased executives to take on board the responsibility to boost their own learning needs – especially if they get thrown in at the deep end.

They also need to know when to put up their hand and ask for help, and who can provide the sort of help they need.

One of the positives of leasing is the ability to focus on the job in hand rather than being sidetracked by company politics or administration issues. That’s providing the company is clear as to what his primary focus should be.

“Leased executives should be permanently motivated, task-oriented specialists who can achieve goals within certain timeframe and budget,” says Wakeford. “But unless deliverables are clearly stated, client companies may do little more than train up leased executive so they can add more value to their next contract.”

Like Mclaughlin, he emphasises the value of co

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