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New Economy, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Management, Global Business

Running An M&A Shop

Posted by iBlog on February 6, 2008

Corporate deal making has a new look—smaller, busier, and focused on growth. Not so long ago, M&A experts sequenced, at most, 3 or 4 major deals a year, typically with an eye on the benefits of industry consolidation and cost cutting. Today we regularly come across executives hoping to close 10 to 20 smaller deals in the same amount of time, often simultaneously. Their objective: combining a number of complementary deals into a single strategic platform to pursue growth—for example, by acquiring a string of smaller businesses and melding them into a unit whose growth potential exceeds the sum of its parts.

Naturally, when executives try to juggle more and different kinds of deals simultaneously, productivity may suffer as managers struggle to get the underlying process right.1 Most companies, we have found, are not prepared for the intense work of completing so many deals—and fumbling with the process can jeopardize the very growth companies seek. In fact, most of them lack focus, make unclear decisions, and identify potential acquisition targets in a purely reactive way. Completing deals at the expected pace just can’t happen without an efficient end-to-end process.

Even companies with established deal-making capabilities may have to adjust them to play in this new game. Our research shows that successful practitioners follow a number of principles that can make the adjustment easier and more rewarding. They include linking every deal explicitly to the strategy it supports and forging a process that companies can readily adapt to the fundamentally different requirements of different types of deals.

Eyes on the (strategic) prize

One of the most often overlooked, though seemingly obvious, elements of an effective M&A program is ensuring that every deal supports the corporate strategy. Many companies, we have found, believe that they are following an M&A strategy even if their deals are only generally related to their strategic direction and the connections are neither specific nor quantifiable.

Instead, those who advocate a deal should explicitly show, through a few targeted M&A themes, how it advances the growth strategy. A specific deal should, for example, be linked to strategic goals, such as market share and the company’s ability to build a leading position. Bolder, clearer goals encourage companies to be truly proactive in sourcing deals and help to establish the scale, urgency, and valuation approach for growth platforms that require a number of them. Executives should also ask themselves if they have enough people developing and evaluating the deal pipeline, which might include small companies to be assembled into a single business, carve-outs, and more obvious targets, such as large public companies actively shopping for buyers.

Furthermore, many deals underperform because executives take a one-size-fits-all approach to them—for example, by using the same process to integrate acquisitions for back-office cost synergies and acquisitions for sales force synergies. Certain deals, particularly those focused on raising revenues or building new capabilities, require fundamentally different approaches to sourcing, valuation, due diligence, and integration. It is therefore critical for managers not only to understand what types of deals they seek for shorter-term cost synergies or longer-term top-line synergies (Exhibit 1), but also to assess candidly which types of deals they really know how to execute and whether a particular transaction goes against a company’s traditional norms or experience.

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