When a whale swallowed Jonah, it “vomited” him ashore. Yuck. I guess a gangplank wasn’t an option.
Pinoccio and Gepetto, in contrast, exited their whale by way
of a sneeze. In the Disney version, at least, the depiction was nowhere near as
icky as you’d expect.
In actual oceans, whatever a whale swallows finds itself immersed
in hydrochloric acid and digestive juices — a lethal and unpleasant prospect.
When a corporate whale swallows a smaller business, employees
of the acquired business often find that experience unpleasant. Not as
unpleasant as a whale’s digestive tract, but worse than being the swallower.
If you’re the swallowee, getting through the process while
minimizing the misery starts with an unobstructed view of the acquiring company’s
… no, stop that! Not its esophagus. Its plans. The big three:
Holding company: The
whale bought your employer because it liked its products, services, ability to
innovate, customer list, intellectual capital, or some other desirable
Whatever the reason, some acquiring companies are careful
to, changing zoological metaphors, avoid killing the golden goose.
What you’re in for: Mostly, your now quasi-autonomous
business unit will have to pay a tithe to corporate. On top of which, instead
of review by a friendly board of directors that’s well-attuned to your company’s
business culture for review and approval, major capital proposals will probably
go to a corporate executive leadership team that’s far more concerned with cost
and risk reduction as outcomes than opportunities to increase revenue,
marketshare, and mindshare.
In exchange, your CEO probably gets a seat at the table
during the annual strategic planning retreat.
Overall, if you’re being added to a holding company,
tomorrow will, for the most part, look a lot like yesterday.
company: Large enterprise management culture emphasizes cost reduction
above all other forms of business improvement. It’s epoxied in place, from the
board of directors to the executive suite, and from there on down.
The companies they acquire are more likely to be
entrepreneurial, with an executive team that cares far more about increasing
revenue than about reducing costs.
As a consequence, acquiring companies often set “synergy
targets” for each acquisition — opportunities to reduce costs by
eliminating duplicative business functions.
As it turns out, eliminating many of these is hard. Often,
really hard. Even something as seemingly generic as human resources turns out
to have nuances that add a lot of complexity … and therefore cost … to the
redundancy elimination effort.
But everyone’s names are on the synergy targets. And oh, by
the way, your company has to find some way to pay for its corporate tithe, too.
The impact: Everything that can be easily handed off to
corporate gets handed off to corporate. It starts with email and the rest of
the productivity and collaboration suite. “Non-strategic sourcing” …
purchasing and the associated accounts payable … is another likely candidate;
so is recruiting.
That the waste is there to be eliminated is a political
fact. Your job isn’t to argue that the political fact is operational fiction.
You lost that argument the day everyone signed the acquisition documents.
Your job is to find the least painful functions to move to
corporate and shine your spotlight on them in the hopes that this will distract
everyone from the ones whose movement would do serious damage.
The folks who decided to acquire your company, that is. They
envision your business as an integral part of a new whole, and they’re willing
to invest the funds needed to turn their … sorry, there’s no other word for
it … vision into reality.
This is where it becomes painful.
When you work for a smaller firm, some of your identity is
wrapped up in your affinity for it. That’s going to go away. So is a lot of how
you’re accustomed to getting things done.
That’s what you won’t like. But in exchange, there’s a much better chance that your new employer is run by pros. Integrating an acquisition is much, much harder than slapping one into a holding company. An executive team willing to go through the effort is an executive team worth you giving the benefit of your doubt.
The sooner you get over your sense of loss and start to actively contribute your bits and pieces to making it work, the more likely you are to benefit from the transaction.