Leon Koutsovasilis tells Rachel Bridge at Drax why interim executives can deliver tangible benefits to private-equity backed firms
Leon Koutsovasilis only initially planned to be an interim executive for a short time as a lifestyle change, after coming out of permanent roles as Group CTO and CIO at The Travel Corporation, a holiday and hospitality business.
But he quickly realised that he really enjoyed the challenges and freedom that the interim role offered and so has been one ever since, mixing both short and longer term consulting and interim roles within and outside private equity over the past eight years to create a rewarding portfolio career.
Leon says: “As an interim you come in to a business with fresh eyes - and you are also seen by the business as someone who has come in with fresh eyes. You are not burdened by the legacy thinking that exists within that organisation; you come in with a clear mandate and you bring a certain positive energy and willingness to put in the hard yards backed by a relevant track record.”
He also realised that being an interim was a great way to utilise the experience he had gained working for a series of technology start ups, including being CTO for BuildOnline, a Saas business.
His first interim role came about when he was asked by a former boss at Travelport, where he had been Senior Technology Director prior to joining The Travel Corporation, if he would help define the digital and e-commerce strategy in a consultant role for three months. The role morphed into an interim Group Digital Director role and Leon ended up working there through a number of engagements over a three year period.
Since then Leon has worked in a wide variety of businesses providing interim executive and consulting capability in the areas of technology, digital business and technology-enabled transformation. He has also co-founded a technology start-up, an online market place for commercial property lending.
Leon’s engagement with a business typically begins when he is brought in by a private equity house as a consultant to conduct due diligence ahead of their investment. However once the PE house has acquired the business, he is frequently asked to to help with strategy or technology, perhaps as an interim CTO or assisting the CIO or other senior executives as well as their teams.
Hiring a good interim executive can be a great way for a private-equity backed business to get ahead quickly, Leon says. “Rather than spending at least six months hiring someone permanent and then getting them to ramp up, an interim can come in and hit the ground running and provide early added value, frequently assisting with finding the right permanent resource for the longer term. Everything just goes faster with less wheel-spinning.”
He is always very mindful of the potential sensitivity of his role, particularly when he is brought in by a PE firm to support an IT function within the business which may be underinvested and/or struggling with the workload and overly competing demands.
He says: “My job is to let them raise their heads above the water so they can take a breath, and then try to help them deliver on the promise. We have an open and honest conversation and they see that I am there to enable and assist with all the key things that need to happen, to provide an outside perspective, and to provide fresh thinking and new ways of doing things and overcoming obstacles to accelerated progress. I am there to help out - I am not there to take anyone’s job and they recognise that I am there to help them move forward.”
Indeed it is this unique combination of expertise and understanding that makes good interims such a valuable resource for private equity backed businesses, Leon says. It also means that not everyone would be suited to the interim role; it is important to have the right temperament, flexibility and characteristics.
“Being an interim is not right for some people. You need broad and deep experience within the sector, but you also need to have good interpersonal skills, to have empathy and be prepared to get under the skin of the business, its people and customers. You need to be constructively assertive but you also need to be humble and respectful, because if you start banging on tables and saying “I know the right answer” or “trust me, I know best”, people do not react well to that. A interim should be good at making the people around them feel comfortable to speak their mind and to feel supported and enabled.”
Drax sector lead: Stuart Jansze
Tel: 0203 949 9536