Tips for Thriving During an Acquisition
As the tech industry in Utah grows, so will the number of liquidity events. An Initial Public Offering is always exciting, but you're just as likely, if not more, to be acquired instead of making it onto a stock exchange. If it's your first rodeo, perhaps my experience will help the average employee that's navigating the acquisition process:
The CMO of Jive Communications pulled me into his office on a winter afternoon. Even though I had only been with the company and on his team for about six months, I could tell by his demeanor that this wasn't going to be our typical conversation about marketing at Jive.
That was when he brought me "into the tent" and told me that Jive was in the process of being acquired by an organization out of Boston. I don't know what response he expected, but after congratulating him (he was on the cusp of having years of hard work pay off), I told him that an acquisition and becoming part of a massive, publicly traded company would be an amazing learning opportunity for me—something that would help me mature as a marketer and a leader.
And I was right.
I spent the next few months involved on the marketing track of due diligence as LogMeIn took a deeper look into our business. There was a silent period where a small-ish group of us waited and daydreamed about what could happen. There was the all hands announcement when the broader organization got the news. And then, five months after my meeting with the CMO, Jive became LogMeIn.
All acquisitions are different and have varying circumstances. They can be exciting and scary, full of opportunity or risk. The personal timing may be ideal or disastrous. I understand all of those feelings. Here's my advice based on what I learned and what may be helpful counsel for others going through a change in company ownership:
- An Acquisition Doesn't Mean Everyone Gets Fired: It's easy to assume the worst, but the Harvard Business Review states that typically "30% of employees are deemed redundant" after an acquisition. There are teams and roles that may have a higher likelihood of redundancy than others (I'll let you figure that part out), but assume you aren't part of a "reduction in force".
- A Lot of Things Will Go Right: You'll be worried about your job and your area of responsibility and your friends and your health insurance and your PTO policy and your manager and your culture and your everything else. You'll feel territorial. It's impossible to go through an acquisition and not be worried about how it will impact you. But there are things that will get better! You'll likely have more financial resources available for business needs. The processes and procedures may be more mature. Instead of everyone wearing multiple hats, there will be people who have deep specialization. My PTO was better because I could actually disconnect, knowing there was someone at the office who could cover any issues that may have come up. Our benefits improved significantly and suddenly there was an Employee Stock Purchase Plan that we could participate in. And did I mention Bagel Wednesday?! Yes, we got Bagels every Wednesday morning. Bagels or no bagels, don't forget to be grateful for the improvements that will undoubtedly happen.
- Accept Ambiguity: I (immaturely) expected that we'd be acquired and I'd immediately have a clear understanding of my position within the new company. I thought I'd know right away how and where I could make an impact. You'll adjust better if you accept that change will be constant (I spent 30 months there after the acquisition and things were consistently shifting.) Accept that change may be slow and won't always be clear. Literally everyone who is part of the "transition committee" also has a day job that they're responsible for. There are executive level decisions and strategies that have to be addressed. Every decision impacts multiple managers, teams, departments, etc. It means adjusting tech stacks, investing money, or reorganizing. Few decisions are quick because they are AT LEAST multi-faceted. So my advice is to be patient, and while you're waiting for clarity around your new job, you should…
- Stand Out for the Right Reasons: Your company was acquired for a reason... what was it? What was the value they saw in your organization? If you weren't part of the 30% that was let go, what value kept you employed? Is it technical in nature? Is it historical knowledge? Is it customer relationships that can't be easily replaced? Whatever it was, that's a good train to be on, to optimize/accelerate, and to report on. There are bad reasons to stand out too (holding too tight to "how you used to do it", going rogue in processes and procedures, etc.) and you should avoid those. How can you figure out what transitional, cultural, and/or political landmines you should avoid?
- Find Allies Who Can Guide You: There will be great people within your new organization. Smart, talented, and hard-working people. People with families. People who love dogs. People who care about the environment. People who watch Grey's Anatomy and people who love tennis. Instead of trying to find the right manager to "rub shoulders" with or staying after the all-hands meeting to get some face time with the CEO, focus on building some meaningful relationships with people who are kind enough to guide you through your new landscape. These people won't mind an email or a Slack where you awkwardly ask about a policy or "who is that person?". When you see someone who might be your style in a meeting, reach out to them and make an ally.
The most important thing I've learned after our acquisition?
I CAN KEEP UP. While we were in the early stages of the acquisition, I was worried about how my skills would match up with my new co-workers. "After all, they've managed bigger budgets. Worked at bigger companies. Managed more products." That's all true and there are admittedly people who were better professionals than I was in many ways. But at the end of the day, I wasn't out of my league and you won't be either. Don't let false insecurities or the imposter syndrome hold you back.
An acquisition is a tricky situation to navigate professionally and emotionally, but when it happens, there is a lot you can do to be successful throughout the process. That may mean you're successful in exiting and moving on. But I hope, for your sake and for the new company, that it means you make a massive contribution and love your new employer.
And I hope they have Bagel Wednesdays.
TechBuzz welcomes contributions from operators like Logan Mallory who ware making a difference in the Utah technology scene. Logan has previously contributed thoughts on HR, Leadership and related issues to TechBuzz. Logan is VP of Marketing at Motivosity. He earned an MBA and BA in Communications from BYU. He previously held Digital Marketing Positions at LogMeIn, Jive, Workfront, and Deseret Book. He has been an adjunct professor at the BYU Marriott School of Business in Marketing Strategy. He hails from Michigan.