“But I was so much older then, I am younger than that now” Bob Dylan

When I was a teenager, I could never quite understand that line from Dylan’s song ‘My Back Pages’, but as I grow older it becomes clearer. In my teens and early twenties I thought I knew everything, there was not much that anyone could teach me. I was not ready to listen. Recently I heard a recruitment manager for VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas) talking on the BBC World Service and she was saying that today she is trying to recruit doctors and other professionals in their late 50’s rather than their early 20’s. The reason being that in Africa, as in many continents, people are much more likely to listen to someone older and wiser than themselves. ‘Imagine’, she said ‘the trouble that a young female midwife (who has never had children of her own) might have, trying to persuade a woman older than herself, who probably has already had a few children, the benefits of a particular method of child birth or child after care’. Well, I can tell you that the same is applicable to interim management.

Even if you have been to the very best business school and even if you are rich, with cash ready to invest, you can only speak with theoretical knowledge. A brick layer can explain the relatively simple task of laying bricks. But experience will show you just how tricky it is to make the mortar to the perfect consistency so that it does not fall off the header of the brick before you place it on the wall, let alone have all the qualities that it must have to ensure a good bond for many years to come.

An interim Manager needs a blend of knowledge and experience. He, or she, needs to have witnessed as many as possible differing types of company and business cultures. Or they must stay solely in the narrow experience of a particular kind of company and business sector to which they are very familiar. (I personally believe an interim manager can adapt very quickly to differing industries and sectors but, cultures and environments are much harder to adapt to).

So what is the ideal age for an interim manager? It has to be 50. at 50 you are still young enough to run for the train, to be the first in the office. Your children have almost certainly left home, so working late or in a foreign country is never an issue. At 50 you have enough experience to match it to the scores of management books that you read in your spare time. At 50 you still are very much open to new ideas yet you are old enough to inspire younger people, but not so old that they think you are already dead in the water. At 50 you are still looking for that big assignment, the one that is seemingly impossible but you believe you have the resources to handle. At 50 you have enough friends, business contacts and other resources to be able to get yourself out of any mess. At 50, you are ready to perform on the plateau of the performance graph, not getting better not getting worse. At 50 your memory is still ok and the mild aches and pains you may feel in the morning are still only an inconvenience. By the time everyone else has woken up and eventually arrived in the office, they have disappeared completely.

So why do I write this? Of course it has nothing to do with the fact that my book launch party, roughly coincided with my 50th. birthday, it’s just the culmination of a scientific theory that I have been working on and adapting subtly each year for the past ten years.

If you don’t agree, then you better have a damned good argument 😉

* The launch Party was for my book ‘Making a Difference’, which was published on 14th. of September 2007