A short history of Transition Management

Whether one calls them Transition, Interim or Crisis Managers, these temporarily hired forces do all have something in common: they bring their experience into the organisation during a(n) (often) critical (and limited) transition period the company has to go through to ensure its viability on the longer term. Referring to the Eisenhower matrix, the sense of importance allied with the sense of urgency internal resources can’t take care of, define the most common situations in which Transition Managers will be hired. 

From Rome to Berlin and… worldwide

Although it can be perceived as a direct or indirect consequence of the gradual liberalisation of the labour market and its sector growth directly linked to recent economical events like the global financial crisis of 2008, after a quick look into Wikipedia we learn that Transition Management dates back to the ancient Roman times, when ‘Roman contractors’ were engaged to take care of public buildings, supply armies, or collect taxes. 

In fact, the system of consuls Rome installed in the 5th century B.C. as it became a republic, can also be seen as the beginning of a certain type of Interim Management, though in the public sphere. Those Roman magistrates were elected for a short period (one year) to command the imperium. However, their power was not absolute, as they were controlled by the Senate.  

One can also easily recall, through the history, famous political leaders, militaries or even clergyman who, in the first place, produced a thorough change within states, armies, organisations and others they had taken the lead of: from Alexander the Great to Napoleon, Oliver Cromwell, Richelieu, General De Gaulle, etc. The examples are countless. 

However, history shows how it turns out to be difficult to be the initiator of a profound transition and stay respected and uncontested in the long term. 

Getting back to the business world, the appearance of the practice of Interim Managers as we know it now, dates back to the seventies, in particular in the Netherlands. The social system in place in Holland at the time was ensuring a strong protection for employees, forcing the companies employing them to apply long notice periods and pay considerable amounts when terminating contracts. Inventive and pragmatic as they are, Dutch entrepreneurs found in the temporary hiring of Independent managers an ingenious way to cope with this hyper-protective system. 

During the following decades, the hiring of Interim Managers also became popular in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. The reunification of East and West Germany, after 1989, led to the use of Interim managers in Eastern Germany. They turned out to be very useful in particular in re-structuring the formerly state-owned companies. Interim Management has continued to grow in other countries, like Belgium, France, the U.S., Ireland and Australia in particular. This type of management is now spreading further over most parts of the world. 

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