I met Dirk Tesche in a Holiday Inn Hotel Bar next to my office in Frankfurt, Germany. Straight away the first look at him told me, this man is different - light leather bag under his coat, a black hat on his head and a welcoming smile on his face – a look you don’t see often in Germany.
I think first of all I should introduce Dirk to you, as you might wonder, what kind of special person he seems to be. So here we go: Dirk has more than 40 years of professional experience, the last 15 years working as an Interim Manager for different international companies, driving change through Mergers & Acquisitions as well as insolvency proceedings with continuance. One of the companies he worked for as Interim Manager was Philipp Holzmann AG. It was the 2002 insolvency of Germanys former largest and one of the world’s biggest construction companies. Through the insolvency process Dirks tasks included among others the structuralizing of Philipp Holzmanns’ 320 international subsidiaries and associated companies. The winding-up embraces till today nearly 60 kilometer (or 37,3 miles) of records – and as far as is known, the process is still not finished.
Let’s come to the interview and enjoyable midmorning I had with Dirk:
Through the last 15 years, Dirk was involved in all different kind of changing processes. Asking him in what kind of roles he drove those changes, his answer came immediately:
Dirk Tesche: “I am always the Implementer unfortunately seen as the Invader and the first thing I have to do is to put up an umbrella to save the employees from fear. Afterwards the most important things I do are within the nonverbal area. Today you would say that I use my Soft-skills.” With a smile he added: “To be honest, I’d rather call them Fluid-skills. I am able to obtain more information within one week, then anybody from the company itself. And you know why? Because – nobody – ever – takes – the – time – to – talk – with – the – staff ! What is natural for us, most controller or financiers have never done before - talking to their
people. And that’s what I do. I talk to them. I encourage them to get a chance to be part of solutions, to tell me what is happening in the company, I offer an open ear to them and for their anxieties. You know, my ears are my most important tools and I try to walk through a company twice a day, if possible. Because I am like a sponge, I need to absorb as much information as possible. Otherwise I couldn’t follow my own understanding of leadership: Leading means to encourage employees to act by their own choice and for their own good.”
In Dirks eyes it is self-evident to talk with the General Manager or CEO (if they are still there) and to the shareholders, but the second hierarchical level is one of his most important “partners”, as those people provide the base for operations. And Dirk would never forget the people working at the machines or the nice men and women from the front desk. “Because they know the daily business, they know the grapevine.” And you should never underestimate the grapevine.
As a company, thinking about hiring an Interim Manager for situations like change, you might wonder for how long such a manager is needed. Dirk explained the following:
Dirk Tesche: “Of course there is no fix statement I can give you, but in many cases it takes something around nine months.” He made a pensive face and added: “But the magic number is three, not nine. Because within three seconds I need to get the sympathy of the others. Within three minutes I need to figure out if the sympathy is entitled and within the first three days, I need to know where the skeletons in the closet are and I have to find solutions about how to get rid of them within three weeks. Then we have three months to eliminate all skeletons and the hard work is done. Ok, now you might wonder, why do I stay for another five months or more. And here you find a stumbling block, most companies can’t handle. Yes, the business is getting better and they believe everything will come out fine. But that is wrong. For the next months I exchange the shovel for tweezers. Because now it’s the time to talk to employees again, to convince them again and again. People don’t change within two or three months. It takes time. And this time the company should invest to get the highest probability of success for the whole change process.”
Asking Dirk what his most surprising change situation had been, where he was asked to help the company: he said:
Dirk Tesche: “I was called for a change process, where a foreign company bought a French enterprise in summer and was extremely surprised that it is nearly impossible to make business in France during August (you need to know, that nearly everybody is on vacation in August, so most production companies are not producing anything). And on top, the production costs of the new company where way too high. So here several problems occurred just because somebody did not analyze or plan detailed enough, what would have been extremely necessary.”
Let’s get the focus to the talent of companies, that you should not lose, when you are in a difficult situation, and it doesn’t matter, if we look for example on the acquiring or the acquired side. As an interviewer it is always interesting to get deep insights in such processes and I really wanted to know, what companies do, to retain their talent. But the answer was honestly shocking: “Unfortunately often nothing.”
After this answer I needed to recollect myself. Imagine you are a company. You are going to merge with another company. You do this, because you see not only financial benefits, but technical process and innovation. How successful would such a merge be, when the partner company loses its talent?? And maybe you lose great talent from your company as well. It would be a catastrophe! So why on earth would you not try to retain your and the other companies’ talent? Dirk answer’s:
Dirk Tesche: “Most of the “important” managers and executives are from finance or controlling. Most of them miss the importance of the whole aspect of empathy and even more dangerous how important employees are for the success of an enterprise. You can’t measure everything in numbers, not when people are involved.”
So what do the people need in order to not leave their company? How do you try to retain the important talent?
Dirk Tesche: “Most employees want to feel acceptance, appreciation and praise for their good work. The last thing they want or need in most cases is more money. Today’s work is not only about money. It’s about a right work-life-balance, reputation, authenticity and the knowledge, that somebody is listening . And here you see the benefit of hiring an Interim Manager. As an Interim Manager you must be able to juggle between managing, sales, psychology or your role as pastor. . Most companies think in Excel and results. But Change Management is a People Business. Excel can’t help you here.”
And with these wise words my interview with Dirk Tesche ended.
Thank you Dirk for giving me this fascinating insight of your work and the two hours, I really enjoyed while talking with you!
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Rex was hired as a Project Director for a multinational factory in China. He held a similar role with another multinational before accepting this new position. The recruitment process was rigorous and exhaustive with many rounds of interviews with various department heads at regional and global levels. Rex was offered the position and accepted, reporting to his new boss (The Global Head of Supply Chain) who was based half way around the world. In his new role, Rex did not directly manage a team, however, he was responsible for managing several department heads that did not report to him. Rex was also responsible for updating all key stakeholders at headquarters on a project’s status. Sadly, Rex only lasted one year in this role, since he was not able to match the performance expectations of multiple stakeholders. This is a situation where Rex would have benefited from executive coaching. Amidst the daily demands of his job and the expectations of his stakeholders, Rex needed to better manage his focus while making strategic decisions at every moment to achieve goals and make progress. Like Rex, every level of management can benefit from coaching. But the individuals who benefit the most from executive coaching are those who are motivated to pursue growth in their personal and professional lives. In most cases, new hires at every level do not receive enough support for grasping an organization’s culture. Michael D. Watkins, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at IMD and author of “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels,” explains that all new hires at every level must gain insights into the values, norms, and guiding assumptions of an organization. At the same time, they must navigate the very fine line between working within the existing culture framework and seeking to change it. Executive coaching is a natural next step in working with companies transform their businesses and aligns perfectly with my own life purpose and passion. I have been working as a retained executive search consultant for over 10 years, helping companies succeed by finding the right leaders as a search consultant, and then coaching these senior executives to reach their fullest potential. Transitions are always difficult for any organization. Whether through an internal promotion or an external hire, most senior executives receive only a basic orientation and onboarding. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Onboarding Isn’t Enough,” co-author Michael D. Watkins finds most companies are doing little to support the onboarding process. “Nearly all large companies are competent at the administrative basics of signing leaders up, but that level of onboarding does little to prevent the problems that can arise when working with new colleagues and grappling with unfamiliar cultural norms and expectations,” Watkins says. In my discussions with HR decision makers and business leaders about their biggest challenges, I have learned that many companies are trying to transform their organizations in a marketplace where disruption is constant. In this VUCA environment, some of their strongest business leaders were not performing as successfully as they once had and were having difficulty adapting to change, new market landscapes and new processes. These are very common themes and challenges that I consistently hear from companies in my travels. I realized that as an executive search consultant, my value in impacting a company positively stopped at the recruitment and hiring process. I knew that I wanted to continue helping clients and executives succeed beyond the appointment of a senior leader, and this is why I began executive coaching. Technology advances in the last several years have created a much faster and more complex world. According to the renowned mindfulness expert Rasmus Hougaard, our attention in the workplace is under siege. We are constantly under pressure, always on, overloaded with information and trying to work in distracting environments. Executives today face many more challenges in adapting to change and successfully keeping pace with these complex work environments, compared to ten years ago. Authors Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck in their book, “The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business”, advocate that understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success. Coaching positively impacts a company’s bottom line by helping executives remain present, be focused and make optimal moment-by-moment decisions that deliver optimal results. As I look back at my work as a search consultant, my most fulfilling moments were helping executives achieve their goals. Many senior executives in Asia, Europe and the US have reached out to me to explore job opportunities, but also seek career guidance. With every inquiry, I always tried to take the time to share my thoughts and advice. In doing so, I felt I was giving back to those who mentored me throughout my own corporate career. Many search firms like SpenglerFox offer executive coaching and HR consultancy services in addition to traditional retained executive search. To receive further information about the executive coaching services, please contact Mary Kramer at email@example.com. About the Author: Victor Filamor Victor Filamor was SpenglerFox’s Country Manager Hong Kong and Asia Consumer Practice Leader in 2007/8. He is currently a Partner and Certified Executive Coach with a retained executive search & leadership advisory firm in Hong Kong and Singapore specializing in the Consumer & Retail and Industrial sectors. Prior to his executive search career of over a decade, he had 25 years of P&L management, as well as marketing, sales and operations management experience with Consumer and Industrial Fortune 500 companies and Asian multinationals. He has lived in four countries across Asia Pacific.