Member Paul Sechrist Speaks: In Acquisition, Lead Actively and With the Customer in Mind

The Challenge:

The situation at hand was brought by a business leader who had recently acquired a company that had wayward leadership and disjointed processes. He was looking for insight into how to make the integration successful.

If you were in this situation, what would you do?

First of all, congratulations on the acquisition! If I were in your shoes, I would dive in with active leadership – as opposed to consensus-based leadership – and work to define a vision (not an MBA driven one, but one that resonates deep into the ‘to-be combined’ companies). In my experience, over-reliance on consensus-building tactics tends to slow and dilute the process. To establish structure, I would immediately create an Executive Steering Committee comprised of members from the acquiring company to define key principles and push the ball down the field.

To execute the necessary changes, I would establish an Integration Planning Team comprised of strong, functional team members from both companies. The idea is to pick the functional brains that understand the various pieces of the companies the best. I would then task the Integration Planning Team with implementing the key driving principles as defined by the Executive Steering Committee.

One guiding principle that will pay strong dividends in acquisition endeavors is to be unwavering in creating one unified brand with one system. Straying from this ideal is dangerous, to say the least. A second, effective principle is to bounce each decision, no matter how small, against the question, “How will this affect the customer?” This powerful question creates an orienting force of logic that promotes collaboration and clarity. There is no function of the business, no matter how removed from the actual customer interface, that should not undergo this line of questioning.

My experience in acquisition was deepened significantly when my company acquired a company for approximately $1 billion; a company that consisted of 15 very loosely integrated portfolio companies. Of course, we witnessed some resistance to the key principles handed down by the Executive Steering Committee, but leadership was quick to remedy. As they say, if you’re not getting on the bus, get out of the way. Best of luck!