Generally speaking, acquisitions fall under two categories – those that are used to increase a business’ market reach and efficiency, and those that are used to fill gaps within a company’s service set. However, while the logic behind acquiring other companies is widely understood, the results can often fall short of the mark.
Having been on both the buying and selling side of a number of acquisitions, I know they’re tricky at the best of times, requiring strong negotiation skills and mutual cooperation.
There’s also a lot of work involved in identifying possible targets, trying to find acquisitions that could provide the best fit. Yet above all that, if there’s anything I’ve learnt, it’s the importance of integration throughout the entire process.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of being overly protective of brands, particularly when the vendor has a personal attachment to the business being acquired. But, while it’s right to be sensitive, buyers must remember that they’re not looking to merge and ‘add-on’ functions – they are looking to embed acquisitions into their business’ fabric to become extensions of the brand.
To give you an example, I once worked for a brand called 1st The Exchange with N4 Solutions, formerly known as companies 1 Software, The Exchange and N4 Solutions.
The name gives you a good indication of how the business operated – three brands, with their separate company cultures and behaviours, continuing as they had always done, making for an extremely fragmented business model with little consistency. In the Sunday Times ‘Best Companies to Work For’ league table in 2010, the company ranked second to last out of all that applied.
The first thing I did when I arrived was to study the services the company offered, mapping out the full product line to uncover where there were overlaps – it was an exciting business that touched almost every aspect of the financial services supply chain, providing solutions for brands like Nationwide and Barclays that enabled them to sell a variety of financial products, but there was no clarity. We worked hard on company culture and structure, implementing a number of cultural development programmes and, of course, renamed the business to Avelo. Thanks to the new approach to integration, within two years, the company leapt to just outside the top 100 places to work for and, more recently, sold for £210m.
Of course, it would have been much easier if integration had started from the moment the various transactions had been agreed. So, to anyone looking to make an acquisition, make sure you have a clear plan in place as to what an acquired business will bring to your company, and exactly how it will fit into your existing business model.
If you’re absorbing a similar company to yourself, how can you capitalise on economies of scale and make savings? If the company you’re buying is from a different background, how do their services fit into your overall growth strategy – if you picture your company in five years’ time, does their acquisition help you get closer to that goal? There can be no bulking up for bulking up’s sake alone.
It also helps if you find vendors that promote similar cultures and values to your own – that will make the transition period easier as operations are transferred, as well as making the acquisition seem less like a takeover and more like the path towards a business’ evolution.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to acquisitions, but there are a few key challenges that should be considered as part of any approach, integration being number one on the list. Ultimately, it’s those that fully consolidate all areas of their business that will be best positioned to grow and cater to customer needs, while those that don’t risk losing more through an acquisition than they gain.
By Chris Noblet, CEO at risk management software provider, Rivo.