Robin Exman has recently ended an assignment as interim Head of Strategy & PMO at Sodexo, one of Sweden’s leading service companies with over 4,400 employees. On his journey to become an Interim Manager, he has worked in strategic and operational roles, primarily in the food industry, with a strong focus on strategy, business development, and complex logistics flows. We spoke with him to get his best advice on succeeding as an Interim Manager and to learn more about his career.
As a management consultant at Deloitte, Robin gained valuable knowledge in project management of strategic initiatives. However, after 8 years, he felt the need for a broader foundation and a deeper understanding of customer challenges. He moved on to Martin & Servera, Sweden’s leading restaurant wholesaler, taking on the role of Director of Business Development with responsibility for the group’s strategy process. The role involved setting plans for both organic and acquisition-driven growth.
Robin’s desire for greater operational responsibility led him to the position of COO at Galatea in 2020, one of the Nordic region’s leading beverage distributors, with Systembolaget as its largest customer. “It attracted me to take on greater operational responsibility and see the challenges from within a business. I was responsible for various companies and functions, including a warehouse operation with hundreds of employees, sales companies in both Finland and Norway where we acquired one and started the other from scratch, and an entirely new e-Commerce solution for our restaurant customers.”
To assist a company with critical issues and drive change is something that suits Robin. To be more flexible in his role, he chose to start a career as an Interim Manager. In February 2023, he began his interim assignment at Sodexo, Division Healthcare, Seniors & Education, where his experience in the food sector proved valuable, given that food represents approximately 40% of the revenue. His background in business development and strategy aligned perfectly with the role of interim Head of Strategy & PMO.
What were your responsibilities as interim Head of Strategy & PMO at Sodexo?
“I was responsible for the strategy of the Division Healthcare, Seniors & Education, which primarily focuses on the public sector. The services include food, cleaning, and administrative support services to hospitals, schools, and care homes, as well as the logistics associated with these services. There was also a need to set a strategy for the entire Sodexo Sweden, together with another business segment, and I was instrumental in facilitating the Swedish operations’ strategy conference for 120 leaders.
The collaboration with the management team has gone very well, and the strategy has received positive feedback from the owners. The crucial aspect now, especially in times like these, is to quickly see the impact of the strategic initiatives launched. We have established a robust process to ensure our goals are met. The advantage is that Sodexo is a very pleasant organization that works closely with our customers, allowing changes to be implemented and adapted to customer needs quickly and efficiently. Additionally, I have enjoyed working tremendously with my colleagues. Now, I am starting in a permanent role as Strategy and Marketing Director for Sodexo AB, something I am very excited about!”
What are the benefits of using Interim Management when, as a company leader, you have problems that need to be solved right here and now?
“By bringing in an Interim Manager, the client gets an experienced leader with a good understanding and experience of similar issues, who can bring relevant industry expertise to quickly find solutions to existing challenges. The advantage of coming in from outside of the company is that you don’t have a history in the organization, thus not having preconceived views on the business or having to consider internal politics. This means that you can beneficially question old truths and be a catalyst for change. It ensures that sustainable and long-term initiatives are implemented, and that knowledge stays within the company when you leave the assignment.
For me personally, a career as an Interim Manager means facing new challenges and evolving with each assignment. I get to do what I find enjoyable, contributing my experiences, and genuinely seeing that it makes a difference for the customer and the organization. It is also an advantage to be flexible and manage my time. I am a co-founder of TRT Solutions AB, a company that offers comprehensive solutions for taking care of estate following the death of an individual and moving services. As an interim, I have been able to have time for working with TRT. The company operates in Mälardalen and handles everything from moving, cleaning, sales, recycling, etc. It’s nice to be able to help people going through grief or other challenging situations.”
What are your top three pieces of advice for succeeding as an Interim Manager?
- Focus on what will have the most impact on the company and ensure that deadlines are met.
- Share your insights and experiences from previous workplaces and adapt them to the company’s conditions.
- Dare to do what is right for the company and the organization, even if you don’t get to reap all the rewards.
What are your best pieces of advice for effective change leadership?
- Ensure that everyone understands the overall purpose of the change and what you aim to achieve.
- Communicate openly and honestly about the change, conveying the feeling of what it will be like when the goal is achieved. Consider the target audience when communicating and keep it straightforward, simple, and common for the entire organization if possible. It will save you time and create clarity.
- Spend some time planning the change and its communication, but once communicated, implementation should happen quickly. The organization does not thrive in a state of limbo. Stick to the schedule!
- Dare to make changes rather than just talking – take action!
You have a busy work life, what do you do to relax and recharge?
“I have just become a father to a little daughter, so most of my time naturally goes to my family, but you don’t get much sleep as a new parent! Football is a significant interest; I have played a lot myself. Otherwise, a nice dinner in town is always something that enhances everyday life.”