The way Dick Atkins sees it, the Fortune 500's loss is small corporate America's gain. Displaced professional managers have been flocking to "interim-management" agencies, which rent out top execs for 6-to 12-month stints. "It's a key opportunity for a small company to attract very seasoned and experienced executives without making a long-term commitment," claims Atkins, president of AD/SAT, a New York City distributor of advertising via satellite.

Because the stakes are so high in an upper-level position, the benefits of a temporary union are magnified. Most compelling: companies with a specific problem can bring in someone with proven skills to solve it. If the executive isn't succeeding, "it's much easier to end the relationship without severance packages," says Atkins.

Other advantages: interim managers have little interest in the company's internal politics; an interim manager's paycheck doesn't upset the internal salary structure; entrepreneurs can give power sharing a whirl; companies can keep a job open for managers who are ill or on sabbatical.

Naturally, there are some potential pitfalls. Employees may not be interested in bringing the new senior vice-president up to speed when they know they'll have to do it all over again in six months. Or worse, key employees may feel resentful that they weren't selected for the job.

Temporary managers are also pricey. Though fees vary, interim-placement companies generally charge a premium of from 30% to 50% of a full-time executive's base salary, prorated for his or her length of stay. That's hefty, no question, but the placement companies argue that temporary execs are still a bargain compared with permanent hires. In addition to a base salary, a high-caliber, permanent manager would normally expect benefits, a golden parachute, a bonus, and perks -- which would easily equal 75% to 100% of salary.

-- Ellyn E. Spragins

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