Does the Deal Fit?

“The most successful integrations were directed by people who placed the common good of the combined organization and its customers before all else.”

From: The Mergers & Acquisitions Handbook.

By now, most business owners are familiar with the problems created by the merger of Daimler, the German automobile company, and Chrysler, the American car maker. Here is the classic case of cultural friction adversely impacting what was originally promoted as the merger of “equals.” If any deal can point out the importance of a cultural fit in a merger or acquisition – this is it. The officers of Daimler took complete control and the executives of Chrysler left in droves. Not only were the management styles completely different – centralized versus decentralized, quick decisions versus decisions by committee, supplier rivalries versus supplier partnerships — but, in addition, the American management team received huge compensation packages, while the Daimler people worked on small salaries, but huge “perks.”

Mergers and acquisitions are supposed to produce synergies that bring results.  If they don’t, the culture is too often the reason. John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco Systems, who has been involved in some seventy acquisitions, says that he will not do a deal unless there is a cultural fit. Culture according to one dictionary is defined as the “customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a … social group.” The word “compatible” may be a better choice defined by the same dictionary as: “able to exist or act together harmoniously.” Regardless of the semantics, if both companies can’t work well together, the deal is a bad one. The importance of this cultural fit may be influenced by the nature of the deal and the desires of the seller. Here are some examples:

  • The seller sells the company on an all-cash basis and doesn’t really care what happens to the employees, the customers or the new owners. In other words, the seller takes the money and runs.
  • The seller receives sufficient cash that he or she is secure about the transaction. Despite this almost all-cash deal, or the quality of the security for the balance, there is serious concern for the employees and their future with the new ownership.
  • The seller merges the company and/or receives stock in the acquiring firm. Further, the seller’s compensation, to say nothing of any increase in the equity, may be determined by the success or failure of the cultural fit of the merged companies.

Obviously, in the first example, the question of a cultural fit, or any fit, for that matter, is moot. Assuming, however, that the prospective seller fits into one of the two latter situations, how does one determine the compatibility of the two firms? It may be a non-issue if the seller’s company is going to remain autonomous. Or, the acquiring firm may have been through several similar situations and is experienced in the assimilation process. These two examples do not necessarily mean that the companies will mesh perfectly, but they do help. However, if a cultural fit is of concern, what can be done to help assure an orderly blending of the two firms?

It can be as simple as the seller having a casual dinner with the owner or CEO of the acquiring or merging company. Much can be learned one-on-one about how the other company is managed and about its owner’s business philosophy. Is it based on teamwork? Is it entrepreneurial or hierarchical? Is the company customer or policy driven? If the CEO of the acquiring company is reluctant to share a social occasion, then the seller may have already received the answer to the cultural fit question.

Other areas that should be considered: how are the employees of the other company compensated? Or, for example, something as mundane as the company’s product return policy may provide insight into the successful integration of the two businesses. How far apart are the companies’ mission statements?

Absorbing smaller companies can be a lot easier than two firms of approximately the same size merging. There are few companies whose cultural styles are so similar that integration is an easy matter. In many cases, where there may not be a perfect cultural fit, proper communication can resolve most of the issues. Unfortunately, there are some situations, like the Daimler Chrysler example, in which the two companies may never be integrated successfully.

Sellers who are concerned about the right cultural fit should investigate this before the deal gets too far along and, obviously, prior to closing. An intermediary has the knowledge and experience to work with both buyers and sellers on this all-important issue. The right culture may be a “soft” issue when it comes to mergers and acquisitions, but just may be one of the most important.

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Selling Your Company — Some Key Points

  • Settle all litigation and environmental issues before putting the company on the market.
  • Hire a good transaction lawyer, because the buyer will also.
  • If company owners are totally inflexible, the buyer may walk away from the transaction.
  • Be prepared to accept a lower price for lack of management depth, dependence on a small number of customers or clients, and lack of geographical distribution.
  • When a buyer indicates he or she may be ready to submit a Letter of Intent, tell them up front what items you want included. For example, price and terms; what assets and liabilities are to assumed, if an asset purchase; what contracts and warranties are to be assumed; and time schedule for due diligence and closing.  (These are just some of the items a seller might want included.)
  • Be advised that many buyers will view the value of Sub Chapter S corporations to be worth less than if the company is a C Corporation.
  • Make the company more visible by attending trade shows.  Tie up patents, copyrights and trademarks.  Create a public relations program.  These areas all create perceived value.
  • Selling a company involves sometimes-inconsistent objectives: speed, confidentiality and value – pick the two that are the most important.
  • Keep in mind that companies get stale after sitting on the shelf for awhile.
  • Don’t expect your lawyer to win every point of contention – you want a dealmaker, not a dealbreaker.

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You Can Help!

You, as the seller, are an integral part of the total marketing program. We would like to offer a few friendly recommendations that will help in the marketing efforts.

It might also be helpful if you took a good look at your business from the perspective of a buyer. Try to put yourself in the place of a prospective purchaser of the business. What would you do to make it more attractive or more saleable? Obviously, the financial records of your business are critical to the sale of your business, but how it looks is also important. First impressions really count! If a potential buyer doesn’t like the appearance of your business, the rest of it may never get a chance.

Here are some suggestions. Check the following to see if any of them are applicable:

Keep normal operating hours. There may be a tendency to “let down” when you put your business up for sale. However, it’s important that prospective buyers see your business at its best.
Repair signs, replace outside lights, etc. You don’t want your business to look as if it has been neglected.
Maintain inventory at a constant level. If you let your inventory slide, your business will look neglected. If anything, increase it so your business will look busy.
Remove items that are not included in the sale or unnecessary items, especially if inoperative.
Repair non-operating equipment or remove it if you are not using it.
Tidy up outside premises.
Spruce up the inside of the business.

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What Do Buyers Want to Know?

What is the required capital investment?

What is the annual net increase in sales?

What is in inventory?

What is the debt?

What is the prospect of the owner staying on?

What makes this company different/special/unique?

What further defines the product or service? Bid work? Repeat business?

What can be done to grow the business?

What can the buyer do to add value?

What is the profit picture in bad times as well as good?

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Why Do People Go Into Business?

41% joined the family business

36% wanted more control over their future

27% tired of working for someone else

5% were downsized or laid off

*Source: Dun & Bradstreet 19th Annual Small Business Survey May 2000. Totals add up to more than 100% because respondents could choose more than one reason for going into business for themselves. This was published in the May 2001 issue of INC magazine.

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