Merger Integration: Challenges and Pitfalls
In every acquisition there are two phases: the transaction phase and the transition phase. The transaction phase includes all the steps leading up to the closing – from creating the acquisition target strategy and conducting the target search to performing the due diligence right through to structuring and negotiating the deal. The transition phase includes all the processes that take place after announcing the deal – the planning, management, and actual operational execution of the merger.
Rather than focus on the transaction phase, which has its own set of challenges to overcome in estimating the true potential value of a company, this article will focus on the area where most companies stumble during a merger – the critical transition phase. Our experience shows that while there are hundreds of specific tasks that need to be executed well, all successful transitions have three important elements in common: rigorous value measurement, speed and communication.
The overall measure of merger success for shareholders is the increase in operational cash flow (or EBITDA) that is generated by the newly combined company. Management must clearly define, quantify, prioritize and measure the achievement of operational cashflow targets. This is a critical ongoing process. While it is understood intellectually, it is most often fumbled in executing the transition. Below are the three keys to success in this area:
It is impossible to over-measure the value achievement during the merger integration process.
Speed is an important factor in a successful integration. This is due, in part, to simple financial considerations: the faster the combination achieves cost savings and revenue enhancement, the larger the net present value of the operational cash flows and the greater the return on investment. But speed is also important for organizational reasons.
Management can harness the energy released by a merger to accomplish significant change. The merger announcement has a way of unfreezing an organization but it creates just a small window of opportunity. Initiatives not undertaken within the first 90 days after the close are unlikely to be tackled at all. The longer the transition takes, the more employees will gravitate back to the status quo, causing the loss of any early momentum and the stagnation of any major change initiatives.
Remember, it is impossible to go too fast in executing a merger.
Being aware of the pitfalls during the transition phase of a merger will help you prepare for them. Here is a list of the problems that typically arise:
People have an unending thirst for information, and if they don’t receive a steady stream of honest, straightforward information regarding the merger, the rumoUrs will take over. People may not like the message, but they always appreciate being told the truth. For example, if decisions have already been made regarding leadership roles, headquarters location, and facility closures, these need to be communicated as soon as possible.
It is also very important to communicate the vision, priorities, and ground rules for the transition process as early as possible. This is a great opportunity to articulate and drive cultural, behavioral and performance change in the combined organization. But the content must be well thought through and communicated repeatedly using every possible vehicle, from e-mails and voicemails, to lunches and small group discussions, to town hall meetings and video conferences. It is impossible to over-communicate in executing a merger.
Negotiating the ‘deal’ and closing it is no easy task, but the work involved in integrating two companies after the closing dwarfs the pre-closing tasks in terms of complexity, risk and sheer volume of work. However, keeping these three guiding principles clearly in the forefront will help maximize the value realized as a result of the merger: