Interview with a specialist
A crisis manager’s approach to restructuring a business.


Edwin Pittomvils obtained a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering in 1984 from the University of Leuven.

Over 30 years, Edwin has gained proven expertise in business development, marketing and sales, especially in the projects & service business.

He has been active in a wide range of industries, including micro-electronics, space & defense, telecommunication and building industry (automation & control and elevator industry) in renown companies such as Honeywell, Airbus Defense and Space as well as ThyssenKrupp. Edwin has built up extensive experience in dealing with local and European Works Councils. Today Edwin Pittomvils is CEO at Kanigen, where he started as crisis manager.


So, we found in Edwin an ideal interlocutor to explain the added value of an Interim (Crisis) Manager to put companies back on track after a difficult period.


TIP-IM: do you have a specific approach in getting companies in difficulty out of trouble?


E.P.: I have very often taken over the lead of a company or a division which was in difficulty. 

My approach is always the same: I start with a thorough analysis of the situation. I have a thorough look at the problem – is it about returns, is the company making a loss, are the structures adapted to the market, etc. This mostly involves an in depth SWOT analysis. At the same time, I also avoid coming to conclusions too quickly. I don't always apply the rule that the big decisions have to fall after 90 days. First, you have to be convinced about what is good and what is not. I learned that too. 25 years ago I sometimes wanted to act too fast. Now I have a much more measured approach to the situation. You also have to give yourself time to estimate exactly which people you can really count on in a company, so that you can then decide for yourself who you want to continue working with.

 

This does not alter the fact that you can quickly start changing things if you are sure of your plan. And that takes courage. You have to dare to reduce an overweight management structure so that the company will run more efficiently. I had to do this recently, and that turned out to be the right choice. 


TIP-IM: do you often encounter resistance within the company going through a restructuring process?

 

E.P. I have been CEO of the company I am working in for 2 years now, having started as crisis and change manager. My aim is to bring organizations up to “the next level” of performance. I have a fairly open and very analytical approach, and I am also quite accessible. I stay calm whatever the situation. But determination is key: you have to dare to deal with problems with determination. When I was active for the Honeywell group in Germany, in 2006, I had to deal with a lot of resistance from the management. I made it clear then that I would not be leaving until the problems were solved. And we've managed to turn the tide.


TIP-IM: do you think the pandemic has opened the door to a transition to engaging managers for more and more temporary assignments? 


E.P. A lot of companies could have been in trouble or are going to be in trouble now. So you typically need people who can analyze well and take care of the distressed situation. Managers who know how sort things out. I also went straight into savings mode during the pandemic. The market for people who have expertise in change management is undoubtedly becoming increasingly interesting. 


TIP-IM: Is Belgium part of this changing trend?


E.P. I do think that this transition is going quite smoothly in Belgium. Our history has taught us to adapt and to be open. In Germany, for example, this is much trickier. Germans are more inclined to solve problems internally and are often reluctant towards external managers. 

 

TIP-IM: Do you see the generation of talented young people who are now entering the labor market making the transition to self-employed managers faster?


E.P.: For a part I do. I have two young sons who work as external consultants. But I like to give young people the following advice: Do not to take the step too quickly. Building experience in companies first remains an important step. 

 

Project management is an excellent preparation for general management, for example, but you also need extra training in other fields such as finance. Remember that as a Crisis Manager you have to have expertise in a whole range of areas, especially when it comes to restructuring companies. An Interim Manager therefore needs a wide range of skills. Higher education is not yet preparing the emerging generations enough to have a broad view of business. They therefore better build up their experience in practice before they continue to build up their careers as independent contractors. 


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