Q&A with Alex Lenihan, Head of SME in the North West
Alex Lenihan, Consultant and Head of the SME Division in the North West...
Alex, you focus on the SME sector ... How long have you been with the firm?
I‘ve been with Odgers Interim since June 2011 when I joined from another specialist interim provider.
What are the main industries you specialise in?
My main remit since joining has been to develop the SME practice in the North West. Odgers is a global brand, with a large footprint in London so it is perhaps no surprise that it was less well known to SME’s operating in the North West. My main challenge has been to strengthen our ties in this market and to demonstrate our commitment to offering excellent quality candidates and service.
What kinds of clients do you and your colleagues work with and where are they based?
We work with a really interesting and diverse range of business scattered to all four corners of the North West. I find that really exiting as one day I can be working with a specialist aerospace component manufacturer in Cumbria and then meeting a financial services in Liverpool the next. It’s testament to the vibrancy of the North West economy that we have such diverse sectors operating here; from textiles business in Lancashire to chemicals businesses in Runcorn and distribution operators in Warrington.
How has the SME sector and its core industries shifted over the past couple of years?
It’s no surprise to say that since the financial crises and subsequent recession, that funding has been the biggest problem for SMEs. The banks’ need to recapitalise, and their ongoing risk averse nature means that even those businesses with robust models are still being refused finance. High levels of inflation - combined with increasing commodity prices and a slide in consumer spending - means that SME’s are really feeling the pinch. Their size and position in the supply chain often means that they are the most vulnerable. However, it’s by no means all bad news; the North West topped the national regional tables this month, and it’s those businesses that continue to innovate and utilise the best talent that are seeing the best growth. That’s where our services come in as we can provide specialists who can make the fundamental changes required to enable a business to move onto the next level; whether that’s in finance, HR, procurement, supply chain or IT. Companies that respond quickly to change are the ones with the brightest futures.
What sort of roles are you seeing most of at the moment?
We’ve seen a real demand in business development, innovation and growth positions. Sales is one thing but SME’s often lack strategic direction in their business development plans as product lines and service offerings grow. It can be tempting in this market to service all clients through fear of losing market share but planning is key. We also see quite a bit of demand from clients looking to realign their offering and to define their marketing strategies.
What's the most interesting role you have dealt with over the past few months?
I’m currently working with business which is looking at international growth. The brief required a top level operator who knew the market inside out in order to oversee a number of international acquisitions. The role required a complex skill set along with the knowledge and ability to road test potential opportunities and perform the necessary due diligence. Our interim is now in post is presenting his findings to the Board and will remain on board to manage the integration of the newly acquired businesses. The next few months will be an exciting period as his impact really begins to take hold.
How do you think you add value to the organisations you work with?
Our interims are experienced and often over qualified operators with specific knowledge of our clients’ market sectors. This means they work as part of the business, outside of office politics and with no hidden agenda.
What are your predictions for 12 to 24 months and how do you see the SME sector shifting?
Hopefully, we’ll see an increase in the availability of finance and we should see the trend for further export opportunities continue to grow..
Do you have any advice for anyone who maybe looking for interim positions in your sector?
Think about your core skills and market yourself accordingly. It’s a competitive market for good interims and our clients are looking for specialists, not generalists.
To learn more about Alex or his work, please do check out his profile.