Last year, I was asked ‘how far will an interim travel?’ If he had known me better, he would not have needed to ask. The reason for his question was simple enough: there was a possibility his business could require the services of an interim financial person and he wondered if it was too much to hope for that someone would be prepared to travel from Ireland all the way to the UK. I assured him that many interims had UK experience and regardless of UK experience, many would happily travel there on an interim basis.

The question started me thinking about my own 20 years as an interim and the locations where I have worked. My first true interim assignment was in Galway, where I quickly learned why anyone who lives there does not wish to leave. My next assignment took me to Asia, which was quickly followed by another job in Asia. By this stage, I was asking myself how far I was prepared to travel, eventually concluding that I would consider almost any location where a client has a need. I didn’t define ‘almost any location,’ which was just as well given that my view has changed considerably over the years. While the first person to suggest a trip to Nigeria got a short, blunt response, experience has taught me that it is best not to judge a book by its cover. Since then, I have worked in Nigeria and have learned to appreciate its charms. With experience in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the countries where I have worked range across the alphabet, starting with A and ending with Z.

 A is for Afghanistan

Recently, I was asked to assist with the establishment of a fund with the objective of improving the investment climate in Afghanistan. Now Afghanistan doesn’t immediately spring to mind when the conversation turns to FDI but, with initial funding of $34m pledged by international governments, the proposal was serious and did require consideration.

Despite all the money pumped into Afghanistan in recent times, the country has many well publicised problems, one of which is a moribund economy. Potential investors, whether they be local, regional or international, are confronted by a host of obstacles, including legal, regulatory, stifling bureaucracy and rent seeking activities. The fund aims to alleviate these problems by working with government to identify and eliminates major obstacles. It will also introduce a legal and regulatory framework to facilitate public private partnerships, arrange training and advise on initial transactions.Needless to say, as activities are being funded by international governments, the project design incorporates substantial oversight processes.

No discussion about Afghanistan ends without questions about security. Yes, the security presence is oppressive and westerners don’t exactly go for walks in the country – but then, it is not so long ago that oppressive security could be found in any Northern Ireland town. The main difference appears to be that the Taliban have more and bigger toys.

Z is for Zimbabwe

Some years ago, I was engaged on a privatisation project in Zimbabwe. The main target, a beef processing enterprise, was a dream assignment and I still reflect on what might have been. The company had so much in its favour: modern, efficient, operating to EU standards, producing a world class product – free range beef – and managed by a quality team that was keen to effect privatisation. So good was the product that each container of beef landing in Europe had potential purchasers scrambling to buy it, though I noted none appeared willing to pay a premium over standard market price. There were even serious prospective purchasers, keenly following the sale process. What could possibly go wrong?

To maintain and improve quality, producers competed for a series of annual quality awards. This included a small producers’ prize, a small producer being a farmer who typically kept one or two animals. An interesting statistic was that the small producers’ prize had never been won by a farmer with less than two wives. This revealing piece of information set my mind racing at the possibilities for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Think of it this way: a simple change in cultural attitude could revolutionise rural Ireland and stimulate economic development. The Dáil debate and subsequent referendum would make a welcome change from the usual political shenanigans.

As work on the Information Memorandum progressed, it became apparent that a government directed contingent liability required resolution before a sale could be effected. However, before that was put in place, the President made a public announcement to the effect that he was of the view that key industries should be nationalised. That announcement turned our world upside down and before long weconcluded that it was best to withdraw until the political situation improved; it never did. The last reference I saw to the enterprise was in National Geographic, which featured a photograph of the ruins of a building, where anything of value had been stripped. A sad end to a once thriving industry.

Pat Mc Loughlin

See Pat’s member bio. Pat is a member of the Chartered Accountants Interim Managers