Archive for March, 2010

How to tell if your company is being acquired?

Posted on 3 March 2010. Filed under: Articles on surviving an acquisition, Stories about surviving M&A deals, Tips & Suggestions |

Are you asking yourself the question ‘Is my company being acquired?’  Should you be?

In earlier blogs here and also in  the Surviving Mergers book, I have said that it is critical to take a number of steps BEFORE the acquisition takes place in order to better your chances of being retained by the new owners.  Assuming, of course, you don’t want to leave the company and have nothing to do with those new owners!

But how do you tell if your company’s being acquired?  It would be very helpful to know this in advance of the official announcements so that you can be fully prepared.

First, take all rumours seriously.  Just as some people say ‘there’s always some truth to any joke’, there may be some basis to a rumour and the gossip about your company that you hear.  If you do start to hear such rumours — even if they are flatly and emphatically denied by management (and often they HAVE to do this for legal reasons) — you should then begin preparations.

If there aren’t any rumours, you can still pick up the ‘weak signals’ that something is happening.  One of my MBA students in my Mergers & Acquisitions class told us that he noticed lots of people in the lift each morning in fancy suits going to the executive floor and that all client meetings on that floor had been cancelled (and those inside the firm were told to find meeting rooms outside the headquarters).  He said two weeks later it was announced that his company (the Royal Bank of Scotland) was launching a hostile bid for the Dutch bank, ABN AMRO.

So look for the key signals that a deal is being discussed:

  • Unavailability of senior executives at functions where you would expect them to appear
  • Requests for information about your work that are outside the ordinary (the bidding company may be doing due diligence on your company)
  • Frequent or even consistent visits by ‘suits’ — probably investment bankers, lawyers and accountants who would be advising your senior management on the deal
  • Fewer corporate announcements from the PR and Investor Relations departments (as your company may be concerned about saying anything that would affect the planned deal)
  • Disappearance of key staff in accounting, HR, operations, etc.  These people may have been pulled out to work on the deal, as it isn’t just the senior managers who are working on it early on, as they need support to do the detail.
  • Delays in product launches, due to management distraction or a desire to delay the launch until AFTER the deal’s been announced.  Similarly, there could even be an acceleration of product launches if management thinks this might increase the price that they can get for the company.

There are certainly other signs.  You know your company best, so you can best assess whether there’s something different — and unexplained — going on.  If you do have other suggestions, please leave them below.

Of course, sometimes — maybe usually — the announcement of an acquisition will come as a complete surprise to everyone in the target company.  This is likely to be true especially if the deal is hostile and your management will be fighting the deal.  If you only hear about it along with everyone else, then start to take preparatory steps immediately.  See our posting ‘What to do first if your company’s being acquired?’

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