Philippe Soullier, founder of Valtus, works towards the agility of businesses and the future of young graduates. He founded Valtus in 2001. Twenty-two years later, his company has become the European champion in executive interim management with sales of € 110 million, 120 employees and 37 partners in six countries. In November 2023 Philippe was interviewed by Anne Florin from the French business magazine “Entreprendre”.
What led you to create Valtus in 2001?
I worked as an employee for fifteen years in the financial departments of large foreign groups, involved in reorganizations and restructuring. I admired the professional expertise of the available executive leaders, and it seemed impossible and surprising not to leverage their skills for other missions. In 2001, during the Iraq war and economic recession, the opportunity arose. I decided to create Valtus and started calling everyone to meet business leaders to test the concept. The foundation was laid.
What is executive interim management?
Our mission is to bring agility to mid-sized and large companies, helping them transform, to stay at the top and to hybridise their skills. These companies have a base of internal talent, and we are here to provide external talents to overcome certain challenges, to supplement or replace as needed. The executive interim management profession began with restructuring, primarily involving HR functions or crisis executives in companies that needed to recover. This is now a very small part of the profession. Nowadays, executive interim managers are sought after in digital, international, and post-integration sectors. It is always necessary to find high-caliber managers for these missions. The managers we engage are in the second half of their careers, aged 45 and above, wanting to give meaning to their journey and experience satisfaction from achieving goals. We add value to the “silver hairs” by quickly finding the right level of talent at the right time.
Statistically, half of the missions are in the industry, followed by services and distribution. In terms of functions, the CEO and CFO duo represents 50% of the missions, followed by HR, industrial, logistics, etc. The cases are always different, ranging from helping a leader whose skills are not suitable for a task to establishing a new subsidiary abroad or bringing forces and structures together in a merger. The average mission duration is nine months.
Is resorting to executive interim management not an admission of failure for internal organization? Is it a recruitment problem?
The world of work is transforming due to several significant trends, such as “working differently,” the desire to find pleasure and meaning in one’s role or mission. Additionally, the volatility of the economic world means that companies can no longer accurately anticipate their revenue in three years. The current technological world is synonymous with complexity and speed, requiring agility and flexibility. Resorting to executive interim management is not an admission of failure. Often it is the best solution to tap into external resources. I think it’s more of a humble acknowledgment of a future that demands constant adaptability. We respond to exceptional emergency situations, and internal resources are not inexhaustible. Regarding recruitment, the interim management solution is very fast. Using a headhunter can bring the right resource in six to nine months, while an executive interim manager can be in place in a week or two. This is especially true in certain job markets considered unattractive. Sending an interim manager there is easy. Partial remote work is also possible in some roles.
Is Valtus facing recruitment challenges?
Executive interim managers are challenging to recruit; we have talent hubs in different countries. We also need to better promote our profession, explain it to leaders whose careers are more tumultuous than in the past.
What is the profile of your clients and competitors?
Our clients are mostly mid-sized companies with revenues ranging from 50 million to 2 billion euros. They want to accelerate, respond to an urgent situation, or need a manager with a very high level of skills due to an acquisition, etc. Competitors are numerous but relatively modest in size. We often think, interim management was invented in the US, because many other professions originated in the United States, for example, headhunters, outplacement professionals, lawyers and auditors. But that’s not true. Interim Management is a European profession, it originated in the Netherlands, then in England and France.
What are your plans?
We continue to grow with the firm intention of becoming a global leader. The current volatile and uncertain world is an opportunity for us.
And the Valtus Foundation?
Seven years ago, I was shocked to learn that the unemployment rate for graduates in France was around 25%. What could we do? Valtus has expertise in the second part of a career. We also chose to create the foundation by employing a professional coach to give a boost to 100 young graduates per year, with an 85% success rate. These young people lack a network, tire themselves out sending resumes, often without a response, and their confidence dwindles. We offer an on-site program over several weeks, but in two days, they understand that they are no longer alone. There are promotions of 7 to 8 graduates throughout the year, from various backgrounds and professions. They come to us mainly on the recommendation of Young Advisers from Pôle Emploi. The Valtus Foundation will not solve unemployment. However, we create a positive ecosystem with a mentoring system from interim managers, company employees, and even clients.