“M&A is a confidence game. With political certainty, the end of the pandemic in sight, and strong capital markets, the confidence levels in the C-suite and board rooms are high. That bodes well for M&A,” writes Anu Aiyengar, JP Morgan’s Global Co-Head of M&A.

Aiyengar’s sentiment rings true in M&A markets today. A combination of Chief Executives pursuing big ticket deals they planned during the pandemic, private equity companies sitting on almost $1.6 trillion of uninvested cash according to the Wall Street Journal and blank-check companies having raised record amounts this year, have all contributed to the explosion of activity in M&A markets.

Therefore, whether you are a senior leader in an organisation or a senior interim stepping in to temporarily lead any aspect of a business, M&A will likely feature on your radar.

BIE spoke to Karen Thomas-Bland, a Global Board Level Advisor, Partner level Management Consultant and Non-Executive Director with over 24 years’ experience in creating break-through strategies, transforming and Integrating organisations, who shared advice for leaders to help maximise the value of M&As.

When will business leaders call for M&A consultation?

After years of advising on over 50 mergers and acquisitions in both corporate and private equity organisations, in my experience clients call on expertise in a number of scenarios:

  • The client wants you to create a specific M&A strategy around the growth opportunities identified as part of the corporate strategy.
  • The business has identified an asset they want to buy and need you to provide an independent view on it as part of the due diligence process.
  • Commercial due diligence has been completed and the business needs you to help plan and execute the separation and/or integration, to deliver the synergies they have committed to the market.
  • Over time the business has grown through a series of acquisitions and needs you to integrate elements further to capture even greater value – ‘the whole being greater than the sum of the parts’.

Why do some M&A deals fail to deliver intended value?

  • Inability to drive the expected synergies from the deal. There are some great case studies where disconnects led to failed acquisitions, Yahoo and Tumblr for example, and eBay and Skype.
  • When one company announces it will be bought by another, there can often be a mass exodus of talent. If key talent leaves the business at this crucial transitional point, the new merged business will have a harder time settling and succeeding. This exact thing occurred when Credit Suisse acquired Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette back in 2000.
  • When two businesses that are apparently similar, Wendy’s and Arby’s for example, but have different cultures, processes, and ways of working that there becomes an inability to deeply integrate the two together.

Advice to help maximise the value of M&As:

Communicate with clarity 

  • Consider what are you trying to achieve with the deal? Is it a real merger of equals adopting ‘best of both’ principles? Is it a takeover? An acquisition of assets or IP?
  • Align teams, be transparent in communicating the objectives of the deal early and set and manage expectations. Different approaches drive different types of integrations.
  • Be specific, define and articulate how the acquired business fits within or sits alongside your strategy and then ensure this alignment is maintained throughout the process.

The importance of ‘Day One’

  • Develop a clear blueprint for how you are going to operate on Day 1. Then develop plans for one month, 90 days and so on, making sure everyone buys into each stage of the strategy.
  • Resist the temptation to do everything on the first day, focus on what you absolutely need to do to get the basics right and then consider what you can do to build from there.
  • See getting ‘day one’ right as an important step in creating both momentum and credibility in the organisation.

Stabilise leadership quickly

  • Invest time in building great relationships within the organisation being acquired. Sometimes leadership teams turn inwards and fail to build relationships with their new colleagues early on.
  • Settle leadership roles quickly to identify who can help stabilise the rest of the organisation.
  • Use the opportunity to make changes in the leadership that aren’t necessarily deal related.

Put culture at the top of the agenda

  • Understand the nuances of the two cultures and what can be done to marry them together.
  • Don’t try and resolve every culture difference immediately – it is impossible from a leadership perspective, and situations inevitably evolve and change over time.
  • Find symbols of change to introduce new ways of working, for example sharing success stories, leaders being visible at key sites or co-creating a new vision and purpose together.

Prioritise talent retention

  • Understand the reasons that could lead to talent leaving the organisation and the concerns of the team with regard to the acquisition.
  • Engage employees with positive change and by mapping opportunities for personal growth and development the acquisition may present.
  • Determine the new organisational structure early and then implement a clear, fair, and transparent process for deciding how roles will be selected.

Remain customer-centric throughout

  • Continue delivering the best customer experience throughout the process. This will prevent losing customers and clients to the competition, who tend to strike when you are distracted.
  • Speak to clients and customers early on about the deal, outlining if and how it will impact them and how the change can help them to deliver greater value in their business.
  • Have a clear and targeted customer retention and expansion strategy and execute throughout.

Measure success

  • Measure the success of the integration in terms of how it has achieved the desired impact on the business and unlocked the opportunities as set out in the value case, rather than activities completed.
  • Establish a rounded integration scorecard early on, covering all aspects of the deal. For example, finance, people, systems and commercial.
  • Monitor the results closely and support the business to ensure the objectives are achieved. Appoint someone whose specific role is to ‘keep the score’.

Taking these critical integration steps, as I have discovered from my own experience, really help maximise a company’s chances of realising the value case and increasing shareholder value – the ultimate measure of M&A success.

Written by

Karen Thomas-Bland

Karen Thomas-Bland is a Global Board Level Advisor, Partner level Management Consultant and Non-Executive Director with over 24 years’ experience in creating break-through strategies, transforming and Integrating organisations. With an excellent track record in creating sustainable long-term value creation in FTSE/Fortune businesses and PE Funds, she is a trusted advisor to Boards, Executive Teams, and Investors and founder of Intelligent Transformation Partners.  Her clients include IBM, Accenture, EY, KPMG, WPP, RELX Group and Private Equity Funds.  She operates globally and has worked across 6 continents.

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