Chris Tomlinson is an Executive Business Consultant, Programme Director and Business Leader/Advisor. He has an excellent track record of adding value by providing advice, leadership and pragmatic guidance to organisations, as well as leading various large teams successfully through business change, transition, integration and transformation.
Chris’s portfolio of experience includes several years at KPMG, BearingPoint, CGI and Logica, in addition to 20 years-plus industry experience in finance, operations and information technology.
When making the leap from permanent to Interim, Chris started his own consultancy company, ‘Casada’, in June 2008, focusing on various programme leadership, CIO advisory and business change roles.
The first letter of each of his daughters’ names (Casey, Saffron and Darcy) make up the name Casada – not so dissimilar from the family-centric feel of Sullivan & Stanley.
S&S sat down with Chris to hear about his journey towards becoming an S&S Associate, having arrived at the company in November 2017. He is currently undertaking a Delivery Advisory role at Vocalink, the global payments company which was recently acquired by Mastercard.
Chris also reveals what it means to be a Programme Director, why he made the jump from permanent to interim and his insights into the gig economy.
How did you get to hear about S&S and what does your role at Vocalink entail?
“Pat got in contact with me and told me he had an interesting Interim role at Vocalink focused on improving the customer delivery operations in their international portfolio.
I am a coach, mentor, consultant and customer Programme Delivery Advisor primarily focused around international real-time payments programmes and helping Vocalink respond to proposals better, improve their customer delivery and capability and have more commercial focus.
I’m basically helping people to run things better: better documentation, better structure, better governance and better control. And out of this, better agility.
The problem with the banking industry is that when they want you to deliver something, you have to go through this process, then this process – it’s not agile in that perspective.
Having lots of project experience is fine but organisations need to be commercially-minded as well.
My role also involves mentoring a wide range of people within Vocalink.”
What were you doing before S&S?
“I was an advisor to the CIO at Moore Stephens, on and off for 18 months. I undertook a number of interesting and crucial roles, mainly in the IT arena.
The original role was to evaluate their third party service providers, so doing a bit of an RFP type of thing which meant working with a range of departments, including legal, procurement and the evaluating team. Much of the work concerned business relationships and improving the perception of IT across this pretty traditional accountancy firm. I also prepared his budget and business plan, in addition to improving the IT financial management (my background involves accountancy).”
What do you think a modern Programme Director should look like?
“They need to be flexible, adaptive and collaborative. They need to retain a clear vision when directing a programme in order to maintain impetus and alignment between what the business wants, and what the programme and technology can provide.
Making sure that the employees know what is their remit is paramount, irrespective of the approach being taken to deliver the programme. Of course it’s a given to have great communication, and the ability to give feedback and take the correct actions.”
What are the key challenges that they face?
“Organisations and their needs are changing at an ever-increasing rate so defining and sticking to a programme takes some doing, hence the need to be flexible, adaptive and collaborative.
Getting the right people in the right places is key to success and pretty difficult at times, so surrounding yourself with the best that the market has is crucial.”
How is your role evolving as technology continues to advance?
“Over the years my role has evolved through various sectors, including engineering, finance, technology and business change, to now being a programme director, advisor, mentor and coach.
Technology has always played a part and will continue to do so, as it carries on advancing and expanding. It will become an even more significant element. Making sure we have the appropriate technology balanced with the people aspect is crucial in order to make a successful programme.”
How does working as an Interim compare to being a permanent employee? What are the real key benefits?
“I’ve worked as a Finance Director, Business Partner, Programme Director and Management Consultant as an employee for many years before working as Interim. The major benefits are twofold: for the client and for me.
Firstly, the client gets a dedicated, focused, outcome-based and enthusiastic person who wants to get on and succeed in delivering the objective/task/piece of work.
Secondly, I get to choose roles I really want to do – the ones that I find exciting and interesting, with the knowledge that I have a clear outcome to achieve. Objectivity and ability to see the vision is sometimes easier when you don’t have to deal with the politics in an organisation. Don’t get me wrong though, you need to be aware of the politics and nuances of a business but you can ‘file/compartmentalise/store’ them away better than if you were an employee.
Personally, I have never wanted to retire. Being an Interim allows me the freedom to choose what, when and to a degree where I work. So it’s a great lifestyle choice for me that makes the ‘work, life, balance’ equation real.”
Do you have to hit the ground running at a quicker pace when you work for yourself rather than when you’re a permanent employee?
“You do have to work harder. Being a member of Deloitte, for example, opens the door rather than “Hello I work for Casada Associates.” You have to be able to deliver quicker because you can’t rely on your colleagues to do it for you.
I’ve been up against McKinsey in the past, who charge £7000 upwards. When we bid against them, we were pushing the boat out by charged £2500, which was expensive for us.”
Do you think the gig economy will take over?
“I think it is definitely an upward trajectory at the moment. People are increasingly becoming less enamoured with working for the same company for 15-30 years.
I love getting up on a Monday morning now because I’m doing what I want to do and not thinking “I have to go to work”. The fact you’re independent means you can get up and go and work for somebody but you can decide when you’re not doing that anymore.
To thrive in the gig economy, you have to be focused and driven to do what you want to do. It’s nice being able to come in and do something, and know that you don’t have to do this forever (as soon as my daughters finish their exams next year, I finish my current engagement so I’ll have some time off with them).
If you’re in a permanent job, it’s usually quite challenging to get time off because you have to ask for it. As an independent, it’s under your control. I also enjoy keeping up to date with things that interest me and because I want to, not because I have to.”
What are your plans for the future, post-Vocalink?
“I’m good at and enjoy the more advisory, mentoring and coaching side of stuff and would be keen to do more of that, maybe as a Non-Exec Director.
I would like to stick with S&S because I do really like them, plus they’re very sociable and informative too. Also, as a Consultant and Advisor, I could be here for the rest of my life as there are so many things to fix!”