Interim stories: Q&A with Transformational Change Programme Manager, Mark Cooper

23 October 2023

In our series, Interim Stories, we sit down with interim managers from our community to hear about their careers, lessons learned and hear their thoughts on the industry. Today we’re speaking to Transformational Change Programme Manager, Mark Cooper…

Can you you tell us a bit about your background, and what led you into a career in interim management?

My background has always been food manufacturing, which I went straight into after completing my engineering degree at Loughborough University. I worked as a permanent employee for many years but was made redundant in 1999 and I have worked as an interim, running my own consultancy ever since! Would I have left a PAYE job without being made redundant…..? No! But now I am doing it, I love it (after all, I have been doing it for over 23 years).

What, in your opinion, is the best part of a career in interim management?

There are many things; the variety of roles and businesses (as an engineer, it is great learning how various food products are manufactured); meeting different people; and with the variety of challenges I work on, this keeps your mind active. Also, living in Hampshire, it is just incredible working in different parts of the country – there are beautiful places wherever I have worked in the UK, even in the most industrial areas.

And the worst?

Two things really; living on the South Coast, it often means that I must work away from home, which is difficult for me and the family. And secondly, team relationships build, even as an interim, and it is always sad when you move onto another assignment. However, this focusses you more on keeping in touch with past clients and teams.

Why do you think you have been successful in your career?

It is all about the people; being able to relate and build rapport with all stakeholders, from the shopfloor to the boardroom. I am also very driven to succeed.

What do you think makes a great interim manager?

Flexibility, pragmatism, challenging the status quo, independence, patience; and extensive experience (breadth of industry, and level of seniority).

Are you an early bird, or a night owl?

Definitely an early bird; in my travels North, West and East (the Isle of Wight is the only place South of where I live, and I have never worked there!) I will always leave at the crack of dawn.

What would you say your biggest failure has been, and what did you learn from it?

I am a big believer in that interim / client relationship, and understanding, and agreeing, the key deliverables in the first few weeks is paramount. The length of an assignment is often unclear, but one of my USPs is a notice period of one day. If I am not delivering a tangible return, I should finish that assignment there and then. But, it is also important to ascertain an end-date, and to agree what was to be achieved.
In my 40 different challenges since the year 2000, there is only one client that I didn’t renew after an initial 6-month term; due to politics and personalities, I decided to leave – this I consider was my biggest failure, leaving an assignment, despite all the challenges, and before it was complete.

Who has inspired you in your career?

I have been inspired by many of my previous managers and clients, an early one being Phil Conway who was effectively the Chief Engineer at Rank Hovis when I was a project engineer based in Windsor. As well as good role models, I have also ‘learnt’ from some poor management styles. It is much better to motivate people by ‘leading from the front’ and using a ‘carrot’ rather than a ‘stick’.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity within your industry?

In the food industry it is undoubtedly automation. The use of AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots), especially in warehouses with finished product is a common, albeit an expensive, solution in some leading FMCG companies. Labour, particularly with intricate products, is still usually the largest product cost that can be influenced the easiest. As labour costs rise, and the relative cost of mechanisation reduces, the use of Automation, particularly AI, is likely to revolutionise food manufacture in the next 5-10 years.

What is your go-to productivity trick?

Every assignment is a different challenge, and I never believe in a check-list as you have to deal with the priorities in front of you, and these by the nature and the complexity of manufacturing, need different solutions. I am also not a great lover of using the Japanese names of the lean play-book – keep it simple and try not to confuse people. However, RCA (Root Cause Analysis), by either 5Y (5 Why), or my preferred method, the fishbone diagram (or Ishikawa, lol!), is useful in every situation from accident investigation to downtime reduction.

What’s next?

I always believe in ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’, my current assignment is at the halfway stage and this now is the busiest period over the summer until September. It will be finished by October when I will take a few weeks out to re-energise. One of my greatest loves is travelling, and ideally I would like to spend a bit of time in South America. As well as interim assignments, I also advise SMEs on how to profitably grow, and then assist the shareholders in their exit from the business; I am an accredited ValueBuilder™. I definitely, health permitting, will not be retiring just yet.

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