The Art of Being Acquired

by: Doug Michaelides

Depending on your perspective, being acquired is either the reward for building a successful business or the penalty for failure.  Either way, it is an experience that most senior executives will go through during their careers.  In technology companies, an integration is often treated as an engineering challenge of rationalizing product portfolios, organizations and business systems.  A detailed integration plan with financial synergy targets is put in place and the management reporting begins.  However anyone who has been through a few acquisitions knows that success depends not just on good project management but on people management, particularly at the executive level.

A while ago I spoke with Harry Page, CEO of UBM TechInsights about the challenges of managing acquisitions.  He’s been through a number of them and has a perspective from both sides of the table.  I’ve shared similar experiences at Allstream (acquired by MTS) and Mitel (which acquired InterTel).  We agreed that the responsibility for a successful acquisition is shared between both the acquiring and the acquired executive team.

The process of integration is particularly difficult for the acquired company.  Harry pointed me to an article called “The Art of Being Acquired” written by RHR International, a leading management psychology consulting firm, which offers some good advice to acquired executives on ensuring a successful outcome:

1. Guard against performance decrements in the acquired business

2. Accept the additional responsibility for making the integration successful

3. Embrace the acquisition

4. Take symbolic steps

5. Keep ego needs in check

6. Accept the inevitability of new systems

7. Embrace new cultural practices

8. Appreciate the other side

9. Anticipate and be graceful about the power shift

10. Ratchet up the ability to compromise

11. Help the rest of the organization adjust

To be fair, the acquiring company must do its best to set clear expectations for how the acquired company will be run after the transaction.  But ultimately, it’s up to the acquired executives to channel the passion for their business into ensuring a successful integration.  Their choice is between creating a combined company that is a work of art, the piece de resistance of their careers, or one that is just a paint-by-numbers testament to resistance to change.

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