The Human Capital Challenges of M&A
Change is inherent in Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) transactions, making preparation and methods to overcome the challenges associated with the change essential to a successful process. In today’s show, we speak to Jennifer Fondrevay, an M&A expert, speaker, and Founder of Day1 Ready. Her company is on a mission to rediscover the humanity in business and provides services for a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, start-ups, and small businesses. The human component is the core of the business, such as culture, productivity, and retention. Jennifer advises senior leadership, acts as a liaison to middle managers and provides a progressive approach to organizational transformation companies require during an M&A. She is also the author of the book Now What?, providing readers with a guide to navigating the complex M&A process based on more than 60 interviews with M&A integration survivors and practitioners. In our conversation, Jennifer walks us through the M&A process and how change can lead to opportunities. Specifically, we discuss the role of emotion during an M&A, the impacts the process has on employees, ways in which M&A is similar to a relationship, the underlying ideology of her approach to M&A, and why change is inevitable in the business world. We also learn what red flags to look out for when assessing a partnership and how companies can overcome the challenges during an M&A.
Change is inherent in Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) transactions, making preparation and methods to overcome the challenges associated with the change essential to a successful process. In today’s show, we speak to Jennifer Fondrevay, an M&A expert, speaker, and Founder of Day1 Ready. Her company is on a mission to rediscover the humanity in business and provides services for a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, start-ups, and small businesses. The human component is the core of the business, such as culture, productivity, and retention. Jennifer advises senior leadership, acts as a liaison to middle managers and provides a progressive approach to organizational transformation companies require during an M&A.
She is also the author of the book Now What?, providing readers with a guide to navigating the complex M&A process based on more than 60 interviews with M&A integration survivors and practitioners. In our conversation, Jennifer walks us through the M&A process and how change can lead to opportunities. Specifically, we discuss the role of emotion during an M&A, the impacts the process has on employees, ways in which M&A is similar to a relationship, the underlying ideology of her approach to M&A, and why change is inevitable in the business world. We also learn what red flags to look out for when assessing a partnership and how companies can overcome the challenges during an M&A.
Key Points From This Episode
- Outline of the lessons that Jennifer has learned during her career.
- The benefits an advisor, like Jennifer, can provide companies during M&A processes.
- Discussion about how change is inevitable in the business world.
- A walkthrough of the essential aspects to consider during an M&A, such as culture.
- The impacts that the M&A process has on employees.
- We learn about the underlying characteristic of her approach to M&A.
- How grief is a part of the M&A process and ways companies can overcome it.
- Why respect and acknowledgment of the opportunities are essential to the M&A process.
- Another important aspect to be considered: partnership.
- What red flags to look out for when assessing a potential partnership.
- A simple exercise that companies can practice: a pre-mortem assessment.
- Why building working relationships is essential to driving value.
- Jennifer shares how she developed her philosophy and approach to M&A.
- She gives us a rundown of the different characters that she uses to convey her approach.
- What not to do during an M&A process to avoid creating a toxic work environment.
- What her favorite type of characters are in the context of an M&A.
[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builder’s podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:22] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, I’m joined by Jennifer Fondrevay, the Founder of Day1 Ready, a consultancy that advises forward-thinking business leaders, owners and C-suite executives on how to prepare for the human capital challenges of M&A. Jennifer and I discuss the fact that changes inherent in M&A transactions, and how you can overcome the challenges often associated with this change. I hope you all enjoy.
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[00:00:58] AD: Jennifer, welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. Excited to have you here today.
[00:01:01] JF: Thanks for having me, Alex.
[00:01:03] AD: Talking to our listeners for a minute, Jennifer and I met at the Association for Corporate Growth, ACG inter growth out in Las Vegas earlier this year. It had been end of April of 2022. I saw her present and share as part of a session, just I really enjoyed some of the thoughts. In particular, your framework and thinking around change and dealing with change and dealing with others when we’re going through a situation or change. I would love just to maybe start our conversation off with you sharing a little bit about yourself, but then how you found yourself in a place where you spend time thinking about and helping others understand change.
[00:01:45] JF: Well, one, I should just highlight, it’s great that after hearing me present, you said, “I’d love to have her come on to my podcast,” because there’s no better vouch, or confidence vote for what you’re saying than having someone invite you. Thank you, Alex, for having me on.
[00:02:02] AD: Absolutely.
[00:02:04] JF: I took what would be considered the circuitous path to mergers and acquisitions, because I am not a dealmaker. Don’t have a finance – did get an MBA, but I was always marketing leaning. Spent 25 years in marketing. The last 10 years of my career as a marketer, I went through three separate multibillion dollar acquisitions. With each one, I kept thinking, there’s got to be a better way to do M&A. I felt that the potential was there.
Particularly, the very first acquisition I went through was when Nokia acquired Navteq. Navteq was a digital mapping company. Now maps are ubiquitous. Back in 2008, when we were acquired, that was not the case. I thought it was brilliant that Nokia acquired us, in order to keep people connected. They recognized it wouldn’t just be cellphones and talking on a phone, but it would be through maps. That acquisition if you know anything about how Nokia did moving forward, didn’t reach its potential. That I would say, was the first acquisition that really formed my view on what happens to people in times of change on certainty.
To me, I consider M&A, mergers and acquisitions change tsunamis. They are typically the most dramatic change that you’ll experience in your career. If you aren’t prepared for how people react to change and how to lead them through it, then you can have what I experienced; deals that have potential, but don’t reach their ultimate value. I talked about that in my book, interviewed people for that very question.
[00:03:38] AD: I want to dive into that in a second. I want to highlight something from it. First, again, talking to listeners, our typical listener is someone who works in professional services, whether that be advising a business, or maybe even advising directly on a transaction, whether private equity, investment banking, or if you’re in transaction advisory, if you’re an attorney dealing on the deal side, or just a general business advisor, understand that in today’s market, acquisitions, mergers and acquisition, M&A as a whole is a very vibrant element of business. It’s a very key fundamental element of growth for most organizations, large and small.
Meaning that you are likely as an advisor to be sitting on the sidelines somewhere in a process, dealing with a transaction somewhere. Now, the flip side of that, as a employee, or a member, or a participant within an organization, your organization is also likely to go through some kind of combination merger. A lot of our listeners are in the accounting world. If you pay attention to what’s going on in the accounting world right now, massive consolidation. You’ve got firms that are being created left and right.
All this to say, this idea that business combination, however that may be, that is going to continue to happen and that you are either going to be front row seat to it, because you’re living it, or sitting on the side, advising to it. You are likely to be in and around that sphere of that ecosystem. That’s what I find, I think really important all then, because now all of that said, and you talked about some of the challenges and what you’ve learned and you’ve done a lot of interviews and created a book around all of this. What is it? What have you learned as someone who’s living through that process?
[00:05:14] JF: Well, for advisors in particular, too, I’m so glad you brought that up, Alex, because advisors have a unique role in advising others who are going through it to be that outside observers, give guidance and advice, particularly if they’ve had multiple clients who have gone through a merger and acquisition. Because oftentimes, when you are facing that change, when you’re in the eye of the storm, you don’t know what to expect, right? Everything feels unpredictable, out of your control. One of the things that I wanted to highlight with my book, and that I think is a unique role of advisors is to say, “Listen, it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster for a bit, because you’re dealing with uncertainty, you’ve got a strategy that could keep evolving and shifting. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad strategy, but you want to be the person that’s weighing in on the strategy, as opposed to sitting back and waiting to see what happens.
I think, advisors in particular can play a crucial role as that outside observer to say, “Hey, I’m here for you. I can help support you. I can be that outside perspective. Don’t hesitate to vent, to call me up.” I say, particularly with financial advisors, because the tendency is to often think, “I just need to get out of here. This is a bad situation. I’m unhappy about it. I don’t need to go to another company.” When oftentimes, you’ve built up a lot of equity with your company. As you highlighted with so many M&A deals happening, the grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, but everyone’s dealing with a lot of change and uncertainty.
Don’t abandon the equity you’ve built. Look to see where the opportunities are, and an advisor can play a tremendously important role and help giving you comfort of okay, here’s how to think about this and what the future could be.
[00:07:01] AD: Oh, a couple of things you said I think are important. Change and certainty were the words that I kept hearing from you. At the end of the day, that is more speaking about a transaction occurring, that is inevitable. I would argue that in life in general, change is inevitable. I think, when you combine two organizations, it just accelerates change and creates even more change and uncertainty. At least me as a human, but I think most of us really dread uncertainty, dread the unknown. t can be really challenging when you don’t know what’s happening next.
Not necessarily, do you want to know every drop of every detail and clarity, but just total unknowns, right? Like, oh, well, this company and this company just merged. Do I still have a job? What’s my role look like? What is the future of this look like? How does this affect me, right? Those things inevitably happen, create that uncertainty and create some of that internal dialogue that we all deal with and trying to process and think about what our future might look like.
Now, what I find really fascinating, this is similar to what you had shared it your presentation at inter growth, you talk about what tends to happen in that process and how do we as people tend to show up during that. I would love to get your thoughts. Because again, at the end of the day, under all of this, this is really about managing and dealing with change and understanding the effects of change on yourself and those around you. As an advisor, if you want to be a good adviser on that, just even having an understanding of that framework can bring tremendous value. After we dive into change a bit, let’s come back and chat about, okay, we know this now, how do we really help advise them? Let’s come back to that.
[00:08:34] JF: Right. There’s two aspects that I’ve talked about on ACG that I covered in the book. The first is just the reality that you go through stages of grief. The stages essentially, are that journey from denial, no way. This isn’t happening. You’ve envisioned a certain future for yourself, and you hold tight to that vision. When an M&A deal is announced, which unfortunately, M&A deal is just the term, it has all this baggage that comes with it. Once you hear that news, everyone starts in denial, but you journey to acceptance. No one gets there the same way. It’s not a linear path. I highlighted that at ACG.
The reality, the reason why that happens is particularly if it’s a high-charging entrepreneurial company, just a company where everyone’s been on a mission, right? You identify with that company. Now, when an M&A deal is announced, you don’t know what that future looks like.
[00:09:31] AD: The culture, the organization, the way people are going to act.
[00:09:35] JF: You’re mourning the loss of the future that won’t be the future you had envisioned. You tend to unfortunately, again, with the negative baggage that comes with M&A, you tend to imagine the worse. The work that I do is to help people not only move from denial to acceptance, but to actually see that there are opportunities. I learned this the hard way, because I absolutely – had all the worst reactions. We were B2B and the company, Nokia was B2C. I looked at it as a great opportunity, then I was unhappy. I went through all of those stages.
You cling so much to your prior identity and the equity that you had built up, your achievements and all of that, that oftentimes, you can miss the opportunities to contribute moving forward. That’s one of the biggest messages that I share, not only with a book, but with the consulting work that I do is to help executives and their workforce understand what that journey is going to look like, so they can see the opportunities.
Then the other part, which I know you liked was the – I talk about what happens to people when change is thrust upon them. You see a different side of them. I use the pandemic as a reference point. Just think about the change you saw with people who you knew, who you thought would react a certain way faced with uncertainty, but who reacted a very different way than you had anticipated. You can’t always predict how people will react to change, and that’s a big part of the message that I deliver. It’s why I identified the 10 characteristics, or 10 caricatures of the kinds of personalities that can emerge when change and uncertainty is the operating work environment.
[00:11:21] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.
[00:11:28] AD: I want to peel back and maybe we can talk about just a handful of the most common characteristics, caricatures that come up. Before that, you said something that’s, I think, really important about going from that denial to acceptance journey. Oftentimes, I think we’re talking about this in the context of M&A, so I think it’s very relevant. I think, you can apply this in pretty much any element of your life, where you’re going through some meaningful change. The idea of the denial, the mourning, the letting go of what you thought the future would look like and what you identified what you yourself believed that you would go forward doing.
We all have our own ego and our own internal sense of self. It’s, I thought that I would have this. I work at this organization. I thought this is what the future would be like and this is how it would be. Now I don’t know if that’s true anymore. The only way I can explore and accept and understand the future is in many ways, letting go of whatever that previous belief was, which is really hard in many cases, but I have to let go of that belief to start thinking about whatever that future might be. Is that the underlying tone of what you’re saying there?
[00:12:35] JF: Yes, that’s it. Exactly. Thankfully, I was interviewing a CEO for my book. When I was describing to him that section of my book about that the stages, he said, his mom was a grief counselor and it actually had helped him, because he understood what that – it’s called secondary ambiguous loss. It’s the future. It’s intangible, but it’s a future you had envisioned, that now is no longer your expected future, and you don’t know what’s going to replace it.
I thought, when he said that, I thought that’s exactly how it feels. You’re mourning the loss of the future that won’t be. It was such an epiphany for me and helpful. People mourn certainty and familiarity. They mourn the potential of losing their boss, not knowing if they’re going to work with the same team, wondering if the amount of change is going to have them start all over again. There’s all of that woven into the stages of grief that someone might go through and it’s exactly what you said, I’ve actually led a number of companies in ceremonies to let go. Because in order to really come to that partnership, that merger or acquisition, you have to come to it with an openness and a respect for the other side, and almost letting go of some of the ways you’ve always done things.
That seems so out of character for business. That’s a very emotional ceremony. Letting go. What are you talking about? I can tell you the number of companies who I’ve done that with, how profound an impact that has, because it’s like, okay, I’m letting go. I’m honoring the things I loved about my company and I’m letting go of other things in order to start anew and to see what we can now grow together with another company.
[00:14:30] AD: It’s emotional. I agree with everything you’re saying. Oftentimes in business, we try to take the emotion out of things. Well, this is business, so this doesn’t really matter. Anyone who might be thinking that in the back of their mind, I would challenge you to think about your business and understand what makes your business work. There’s generally one main thing that makes your business work and it’s you, people, all the humans that are behind that. At the end of the day, they’re going to continue to interact and this is emotionally as humans, we show up the same at work as we do at home.
We may have different kind of fronts we put out and we may act differently in different situations. At the end of the day, the underlying human is still the same human. The same person going back and forth. Those emotional reactions, emotional thoughts will occur one way or another. This idea of having to make change, letting go of the past, I’m going to use a very easy example, I think many listeners can latch on to think is about marriage, or a partnership with someone in a relational way. There’s things, when you decide you’re going to be a partner, and especially in a life partner type sense, there’s things in your life that you have to do differently. Many things that you have to do differently.
There’s a lot of people laughing about and thinking about some of the changes. As a business, it’s the same thing. It’s a marriage, right? It’s a marriage of two organizations and coming together. When that happens to your point, both organizations to be successful, are going to have to let go of certain things that were done a certain way in the past and bring change for how it’s going to be in the future. I understand that whether it’s an acquisition, or a merger, and depending on the size and what the structure is, there’s different levels of one company may be changing a lot more than the other company.
When Nokia acquired you, there was probably a lot more change on your end than it was on their end. But nonetheless, there’s change on all sides. There has to be some level of letting go of what you believed was going to be there, and restructuring and making space to have that ability to think through and engage in what that new future is, correct?
[00:16:19] JF: Yup. What’s fascinating, so you may recall, I framed it during even that ACG talk, I framed that if there’s one thing you take away from this talk, it’s that for a merger and acquisition to be successful, both parties have to come to that union with respect for the other side. I even highlighted, marriages that you really admire, love is a foundation, but more than anything, it’s that you see there’s a respect and they bring out the best in each other. They could be complete opposites, or they can have similarities, but they bring – They don’t always agree on everything, but they have respect for the other person.
Frankly, that came from the research that I did for the book after talking repeatedly to CEOs in particular. When I said, well, what was the greatest lesson you learned for your deals that were not as successful as you had expected? Consistently, they would say, “I wish I had been more humble. I wish I had come to the deal, appreciating what the other side brought to it.” They had been on both sides of deals. That’s when I acknowledged it’s about partnership. That’s not typically how a CEO is going to come to a deal, though, but that’s what they said the lesson was, was not giving up certain things. The deal is a deal. You’re still negotiating to try and get the best out of it for both sides, but an acknowledgement of what the other party brought to that partnership and how they could co create something new together, as opposed to here’s how we’ve done it. Here’s how you fit in. Now, let’s go and do what we have in mind. Your comments about marriage and partnership is spot on, because I saw that that came through in the research that I did.
[00:18:01] AD: It’s interesting. I do a lot of work around relationship building in general and whether it’s in a teamwork, or networking, business development, leadership capacity. One of the things that we talk about a lot is this concept that all relationships, human to human relationships are all rooted in trust and respect. Mutual trust and respect. They have to have a mutual level of trust and respect between me and whoever else it is that I’m building a relationship in all contexts, to truly build that relationship, in what you’re saying.
Now, if I’m doing a transaction, if I’m in the middle of doing a deal with someone, the trust better be there, especially if we’ve gotten to that point. We’ve gone through a process, we’ve vetted things out, we need to be trusting that. It’s a lot easier to be trustful if you’re on the acquiring side, versus the acquiree. The trust in many ways has to be there. As a leader, it’s your job to make sure that trust is established and it’s clear. The other side of that is the respect element. I love that use the word humble in recognizing that, and I think that goes for all parties in the transaction.
Be humble about what’s going on, step back. Just because you think you know something, or you think you’re right, or because you have a belief one way, doesn’t mean it’s right. Step back, understand other perspectives. Try to get a grip of what’s going on. I know at times that can be easier said than done. But really, trying to do your best to ensure that there is that trust and respect among everyone at every level and how you’re approaching it. If you’re an advisor sitting on the outside, it’s helping make sure that someone is building that trust or respect. If you’re in the middle of it, you’re trying to come with respect, to look for the respect, have some trust there and work to form that, because that is what’s going to create the foundation for success.
[00:19:36] JF: The other aspect of the partnership description using that analogy. Clearly, we’re very like-minded, Alex, which is why I’m thrilled to be talking to you, because that partnership aspect, the other way I use that as a reference point is when you’ve got red flags that come up during that due diligence period, and there can be this, well we’ll fix that afterwards. This is not that big a deal. I say, well, think about it this way, right? In a marriage, traditionally, any marriage you’ve seen where they went into it thinking, well, they’ll change afterwards, right? If we get married, this is going to work. They’ll adapt, they’ll evolve, I’ll be able to help them.
It doesn’t work. You can’t change someone. You go into something with that knowledge and then realize, okay, maybe this isn’t the right partnership. Listen to those red flags. If part of your thinking is, well, we’ll fix that afterwards. We’ll take care of that. Let’s just get the deal done. I can’t tell you how many CEOs have said, “Absolutely, we listen to that red flag, because we recognized, hmm, this may be a partnership where it’s not going to get better afterwards.” The business owner is always going to act that way. He or she is not going to suddenly change into a different person. That acknowledgement is really important. Again, using a marriage or partnership as your reference point is helpful.
[00:20:57] AD: Well, I would also point out, when you talk about the red flags, there’s a difference from saying, and I’ll use the analogy of sweeping another rug. There’s a difference in saying, hey, there’s some dirt in the floor over there. We want to get this deal done. We know there’s some dirt in the floor, and we’re going to have to together figure out how to get that dirt cleaned up.
In knowing that, having that conversation, everyone being aware of it, versus seeing and saying, “I don’t want to deal with this right now. We just want to get this done. Let’s pick the rug up and sweep it on there for now.” Because sooner or later, you’re going to have to move that rug. You’re going to have to find. You’re going to have to address that. I spent a number of years doing transactional work and understand that at some point, time kills all deals. You want to get the deal done, you have to push through things. You can’t solve everything. It’s impossible to know everything, to solve everything before you get done.
There’s a difference of looking at it and saying, “That’s an issue. We’re aware of it. You know it. I know it. I don’t know the solution. Here’s some of what we’re thinking. Here’s what you’re thinking.” We’ll figure out the nuance behind this on the other side of this, but we’re aware of it, versus just trying to kick the can. Trying not to, because you’re totally right. Those are the things that creep back up and cause a major issue on the other end of things. It comes back to expectations get wrong. That’s what erodes the trust and respect. That’s where all sorts of things start going sideways later.
[00:22:16] JF: Yeah. You know what’s interesting, one of the exercises that I do that has surprised me how much executives enjoy doing is a pre-mortem. In post-mortem, in medical terms, the patient is dead and you work back from that to figure out what are all the things that happened that led to that. A pre-mortem, in a business context is essentially, okay, let’s work from the vantage point that the deal is done. We’re signed. Now, what are all the things that could affect this deal? Positive and negative. Where are the challenges? Where would we anticipate opportunities? Talking that through is often the best part of the exercise is not necessarily solving for it, but also, understanding, okay, oh, yeah, you’re thinking about that differently.
It could be anything from the government and acts of policy that now burdens you from launching a certain product that you had planned to come out, or the competition moves faster on a product that you didn’t even know they were working on. There’s all these scenarios. It’s not even necessarily so much what would we do, but talking through, okay, I hadn’t even thought about that, right? Because I have executives, everybody’s contributing from their vantage point. That conversation alone, exactly as you said, you can’t really kick it down, but it gives you perspective on how people are thinking of the potential challenges and where you’re aligned, and maybe where you diverge in terms of how you might approach it.
The conversations can be a great way for an executive team to understand, “Ah, okay.” So certain things go south, or we have a challenge here. I can see you who’s going to help, who can really make this work, how we might approach it. It almost gives you an advantage moving forward on that deal to have that perspective that you might not have, if you just say, “Oh, yeah. Well, that could be a problem. Let’s deal with it when we get to it.”
[00:24:13] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.
[00:24:19] AD: Maybe bring this full circle back to the starting where we talked about as an advisor, and if you are someone who is an advisor sitting around a transaction in whatever capacity, one of the best ways you can drive value is just be a sounding board. What you’re describing is a little bit of a sounding board type activity. Ask some questions, help someone think through and talk through it and process through thinking about what a future potential state might look like, because that’s how you start to uncover and get a better grip on what all of that might be.
[00:24:52] JF: Yeah. When I wrote my book, Now What?, I wanted it intentionally to be very conversational. I wanted it to be, whoever was reading it. It’s written for the person who isn’t in the room and the deal is made, but who is burdened with the execution. I wanted them to envision as they were reading the book that I was sitting next to them on a barstool. I just ordered us two beers and I was going to tell them everything I knew about what to expect in a merger and acquisition. From the stages of grief, to how people change. People who you think you know can become a different version of themselves. I even talk about this in the book. Have you ever seen the TV show Survivor? You see a different – people shift allegiances. It’s a different beast when people are faced with change.
Then how to make it work for you. How to not only navigate this as a leader, but then also, how to find the opportunities. It’s exactly as you said, I think advisors can play that role of just being that sounding board, that person who says, okay, well think about this, or think about that. Because sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, all you see is the stuff that frustrates you and you won’t necessarily see the opportunities and advisors can help you even look for that.
Well, here. Here’s how you’ve talked about what you love about the job. Are you seeing that? Do you see potential for that? There’s great ways, actually, for advisors to get even closer with their clients to help them as they navigate that.
[00:26:14] AD: Well, and a great way for an advisor to build a relationship that even if you’re not getting paid in the moment of taking that call and being that sounding board and having that discussion, the opportunity that comes on the other side from the relationship you build, that’s the value driver, right? It’s frankly, a pretty simple way. Listen, ask them questions, be that sounding board, help them step back and see something differently. Then see if you can interject any thoughts or any good questions that might get them thinking, to your exact point, seeing it differently.
[00:26:41] JF: Yeah, and you highlighted it before, Alex. It’s seeing that client not as transactional. Just as somebody who I do business with, but seeing them as a human, and actually treating them that way and connecting with them at that level.
[00:26:53] AD: 100%. For the back half of our conversation here, I want to shift gears and talk a little about these caricatures that you’ve created. I know you have a number of them, so we don’t have time to go into all of them here, but let’s pick a couple of the top ones and maybe just give us an overview. What do you create? What was the idea? Then share a little bit about some of the key ones that you’ve come up with here.
[00:27:12] JF: First, the reason I came up with them, I would say, and this is after three different M&A deals that I went through. As I was interviewing business executives, CEOs, CFOs, private equity, I’ve recognized a pattern in terms of how they talked about different people, how they showed up, what undermine the deal being successful, all of that. When I realized, okay, it wasn’t unique to me, some of these personalities that emerged, I wanted to not only give them a name, but to give people a frame of reference.
I also thought, Alex, to be quite honest, who in the right mind would read a book, a survivor’s handbook on how to survive M&A, unless they thought it might be funny. I want to have some dark humor in there, and there’s a lot of dark humor in M&A. I had these 10 caricatures drawn. Jeff York, amazing Illustrator, to bring to life each of these 10 personalities. I also didn’t want them to be judged, because I know I was one, if not more of these personalities during the time of my own M&A experience.
For instance, one of my more popular caricatures is the former rock star. Every private equity person I interviewed said, “Oh, we’ve definitely dealt with one of those.” They tend to be when you’re acquiring a company, they are the person who got the Midas touch. Could be your head of sales. Maybe it’s the chief technology officer, who just has come out with great products. A chief product officer, or the up and comer, right? You can even have a younger person who just has the CEO’s ear. Private equity gentleman who I interviewed for the book said, “Yeah, there was this one guy that everyone said, you’ve got to keep him. He’s super. He’s a rock star, but he struggled after the deal.”
The reason why I call it a former rock star is when the metrics for success change, they can have a hard time pivoting, because they got to be successful doing something a certain way. Now they’ve got to pivot. Yet, they’re stuck in well, hey, what got me here, this made me successful. You all just need to come back to the way I used to do it. That’s never going to work, because that’s not how they’ve gotten successful. The former rock star can be detrimental to deal success, particularly if part of your valuation is here’s key talent. This is how they’re going to do.
I talk about the fact that acknowledge what they’ve done in the past how that contributed, but how they need to evolve that to contribute to the future, that the metrics for success have changed. And role modeling that, because they can stay stuck in their way, if not. The more that you, I would say, coddle them, it’s going to make it harder for them to pivot. You really need to role model that behavior to demonstrate we’re shifting, the strategy is evolving. What made us successful, yeah, our company did really well and that’s how we got to that point, but we’re not going to be able to evolve and exponentially grow, unless we pivot. The former rock star. I think, I talked about that even in our ACG event. It’s one of those visuals. It’s like, “Oh, yeah. I know one.”
[00:30:36] AD: It’s speaking to listeners. If you ever find yourself in the mindset of, well, I’ve been doing it that way forever. Why do I have to change? Just step back and reassess, because what got you here won’t get you there, right? I understand that you don’t have to change all the time and change is really hard. Sometimes you might actually have a really good way of doing something that is really successful. Recognize that, especially during a time of change, having to adapt to how you do things is really important.
To your point, if you’re on the end of dealing with somebody that’s in that process, don’t coddle it, don’t let the behavior continue. Help highlight the changes that are needed and help explain why the changes are needed. Make sure to address it. I think that’s excellent. I’d love for my favorites that you have there. I think, it’s just a really good way to describe it.
[00:31:20] JF: You recall too, we had someone ask a question about, well, what happens if that does happen over time? All three of us on the panel said, you can’t keep that person around forever, because they can create a toxic culture. That’s why I highlighted, you can’t coddle. Absolutely, give them an opportunity, highlight the need to pivot. After a while, you’ve got to move forward with or without them.
[00:31:44] AD: No, it’s a great point, the toxic culture. At the end of the day, that can do more harm than good in the big picture of things, right? More than anything. Let’s do, just for the sake of time, let’s do one more. What’s your second favorite, or second most popular?
[00:31:56] JF: That’s usually a tie, between the dominatrix, which is the bully, the person who is not a consensus builder. They tend to be very seductive at the beginning of a deal, because they get things done. They are just results oriented and that’s it. Here’s the objective, this is what we need to do to go after. They rule through fear, typically, right? A bully. Just imagine your worst bully nightmare. The reason that that can be detrimental in the long-term is people burn out. People do not deliver their best when they’re operating under an environment of fear.
While you get everyone doing their job, and maybe even being more productive, because they’re just trying to make sure that they hold on to their job over time, you lose great talent, people burn out, and you can actually undermine the success of that deal long-term. With a dominatrix in particular, I highlight, you’ve got to demonstrate that collaboration is critical as part of achieving success. You definitely want people to be clear on the objectives and understanding of what the strategy is required to get there. At the same time, for that bully-oriented type of leader, you’ve got to demonstrate, yes, but your incentives, the incentives will come, retaining talent, making sure we have people able to do the job. Because if we’re losing people repeatedly, it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, the deal won’t achieve the valuation.
Then the other one that typically people love is the know it all, because everyone knows a know it all, you don’t need a merger and acquisition to have a know it all show up. In an M&A scenario, they can undermine the success of a deal. Because collaboration is critical, right? There’s that period of time where the company’s coming together, or figuring out what does that strategy look like? When you draw up that strategy in isolation and due diligence, it’s one thing, but then you got to test it and recalibrate and reevaluate. A know it all can kill that collaboration and ultimately, innovation. The know it all is a popular one, because everyone has seen one.
I just say, you need to demonstrate that you don’t have to have all the answers. Success comes from collaborating and co-creating new best practices. Not knowing the answer to everything, but solving together on the problem.
[00:34:21] AD: It’s actually a great point for us to wind this down on the importance of true success is finding a way to collaborate and creatively work together with others to solve the future unknown problems, right? Whether it’s a more efficient way to do something, or solve a new problem ahead of you. It’s the what got you here won’t get you there. Well, historically you’ve done to create success doesn’t necessarily address what you have to do in the future to create success. The way to really create that success in the future is about collaborating, in being creative when working with others in determining how to get there. No matter what your personnel is. No matter where you’re – I think, that’s fundamental lesson. I love that.
[00:35:02] JF: Yeah. Know it alls happen on both sides. It’s a matter of making sure you’re checking that on both sides of the equation.
[00:35:10] AD: It’s a bit about being humble and everything we’ve talked about, from the beginning here. This is all about change. This is all about when you’re going through a transaction, there’s a lot of change. Whether you’re advising on the sideline, you’re sitting in it yourself, it creates a lot of change, a lot of uncertainty. You have to go through that denial to acceptance, that letting go of yourself, letting go of the old views, your previous perspective and perceptions of what the future, your expectations of what things might be, and really make room for those new things. Part of that is understanding, working with others, being collaborative and working to find a new solution to this changed environment that everybody is in now.
Jennifer, this has been an excellent conversation. I know for our listeners, I think you have some resources out there where they can see more your caricatures and find your book and learn a little bit more about what you do. For our listeners, how can they get in touch with you, what’s the best way to find you and some of the resources that you have available?
[00:36:04] JF: From a resource standpoint, if you go to jenniferjfondrevay.com, that’s my website. I have some fun, again, continuing with the theme of the book, so I have a personality quiz. If you take the quiz, it allows you to figure out who you might be working with in your deal scenario. Trust me, it’s a fun quiz. Not one of those painful 50 questions. Also, I’ve had a lot of people say, oh, when they took the quiz, they realized they had become one of these caricatures. I highlight the quiz.
Then also, you can download. I’ve got a one-pager that has all 10 characters on it. It gives you a chance to assess who they are, what the opportunities and the challenges are with that particular character. Then I always encourage people to definitely connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m very active on LinkedIn. I share a lot of the content. I write for Harvard Business Review, and Inc and Fast Company. I’ll share not only just general content, but also the articles as well. Connecting with me on LinkedIn is another way to get some of those resources.
[00:37:09] AD: Awesome. We’ll make sure those links are in the show notes below for listeners. Jennifer, I appreciate you coming on here. It’s been a great conversation. Enjoyed the conversations we had and again, appreciate you being on here today.
[00:37:18] JF: Thank you. Thanks again, Alex.
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