The general manager: a dying breed

Photo at blog from webmaster - 21/09/2010 - 13:14

I read an interesting article on Piet Hein de Sonnaville, a well known director of a tier 1 interim management company, who concluded after a study that the interim general manager is disappearing rapidly. Due to the ever growing demand for project managers, the traditional more generic breed of managers is dying out. Being a member of this species myself, I compared his observations with mine.

De Sonnaville describes the typical general manager as a mostly somewhat older generalist with a broad vision. According to him especially during times like this, the wisdom of these managers is ideal for coaching young talent.

Although I agree I would add to that also the broad experience in (managing) various business functions is prerequisite as well as international or cross-cultural understanding. I don’t think a brilliant career only in sales or finance is enough: integral understanding of all business processes gives a true general manager the width of mind to optimize a company.

Also I think especially an interim general manager should be free of a career agenda: still agile and driven but more towards personal satisfaction and less towards the next job. And yes, this all comes with coming of age.

The tendency to go for a project approach is at the one hand logical: scoped, focused, budgeted and going for a defined result. At the other hand these keywords also show the limitation: less applicable for company-wide attitude changes, personal and organizational aspects and qualitative sustainable result.

The current generation of management talent has two main options to make a career: a vertical one within a business function to get to the VP-level or start an entrepreneurial one via creating an own business. Horizontal career development is hardly offered anymore. The traditional young graduate programs at banks are still there but focus on delivering specialist rather than generalist.

So where do the interim general managers of the future come from? The successful entrepreneur will hardly ever want to be an interim guy and the specialist manager sees an overwhelming demand for his or her trade.

One would expect that with a lower supply of candidates the demand for “old school” general managers would overheat. But no, weirdly enough demand is even going down because organization think they can do it with cheaper project managers. The fact that especially the more complex projects and programs fail because of missing general management skills or the inability to cover both business and technical aspects, should be a sincere warning.

What I see from own observations is that hiring managers or board or directors are very hesitant to hire somebody who has been around the block for some time and might comment or act upon some undesired things. Rather go for a less dangerous project manager than to see the personal empires attacked.

So price and not risk or quality rules the choice at the moment. But my prediction is that this will change. At the one hand because when business recovery is stalling, the current senior management has to show color. At the other hand is that the upcoming general shortage of quality resources ask for wise, visionary coaching.

As always comments welcomed!

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