Where should you start when you think about integration? In this episode, Jim Jeffries, founder of M&A Leadership Council, joins Domenic Rinaldi to talk about post-merger integration and transition and how that can typically make or break the return on investment for your acquisition. Oftentimes, this phase of the deal gets lost in the shuffle because so much time and attention is spent on consummating the actual transaction. Jim and Domenic discuss the importance of formulating your strategy and the difference between doing the deal versus completing the deal. Get to know the S-3 model and how each of these plays an important role in integration.
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Make Or Break Your ROI: Post-Merger Integration And Transition With Jim Jeffries
In this episode, we talk about post-merger integration and transition and how that can typically make or break the return on investment for your acquisition. Our guest, Jim Jeffries, is an expert in these matters. Jim co-founded the M&A Leadership Council, which is a training and certification platform that has prepared thousands of M&A executives and professionals on the key elements of mergers and acquisitions. Jim shares some outstanding concepts related to M&A integration that you won’t want to miss. Unfortunately, what you’ll find here is that this phase of M&A oftentimes gets lost in the shuffle because so much time and attention is spent on consummating the actual transaction.
In our firm, we have a construct that we follow with our clients so they start thinking about integration early and start to plan what it’s going to take so when they find their transaction and they find the deal that they want to buy, they’re ready for integration. Let me bring you through that. First and foremost is you start thinking about integration while you’re thinking about your acquisition and that you’ve got a goal set for the acquisition. Whether you’re an individual or investor group and you’re looking to make your first acquisition and it’s going to be a platform, you need to understand how you’re going to transition into that business. If you’re a company that’s looking to do an add on, and whether that’s to grab clients or technology or do a geographic expansion, you need to understand what the goals are of that acquisition and how you would transition that into your company.
The next thing that you need to think about is your resources and your team. What sort of resources do you have available in the company or maybe outside of the company that can handle the integration? Oftentimes what I’ll see is that people think that they can take this on themselves or they can layer integration onto their existing employees in addition to their day jobs. What you find very quickly is that people start to get maxed out or they’re above their level of expertise. Thinking about the resources that you need to bring to bear on an acquisition for integration is important. There are firms that specialize in this or maybe you need to go out and find specialists for particular areas, for example, accounting or HR, technology. How are you going to integrate or take over each of those functions? The other thing when you think about resources and a team is that somebody should be the head of the acquisition and leading integration. The buck needs to stop somewhere and somebody needs to be calling the shots. You always want to think about having somebody that’s going to lead that integration effort.
The next thing is the process and plan. What’s the process that you’re going to follow and what’s the plan that you’re going to implement for each of the phases of the integration? For example, people. How are you going to handle the people? What is your goal? If you’re taking on a platform, chances are you’re going to keep most of the employees. If you’re a company that’s looking to an add on, you might have some overlap and you need to think about how you’re going to address that before the acquisition and what the plan will be the day after the acquisition. The same goes for clients, vendors, systems, IT, and then also, how are you going to handle conflicts? It’s inherent in the process of making an acquisition that you’re going to have conflicts. How are those conflicts going to get resolved? Who’s going to handle them? What’s the process for clearing that?
The next thing is the culture. I can’t stress enough how important culture is whether you’re an investor group that’s buying your first business or the company that’s going to be integrating another business into yours. Understanding what the culture is and whether or not it fits with your culture and your morals and your beliefs is so critical. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen acquisitions happen and there wasn’t a good cultural fit. Many times they can work through it, but not without some pain and suffering and loss of productivity. It’s critical to address culture and whether or not there’s going to be fit.
Communications. What’s your communication plan? What’s the communication plan the day you do the acquisition, the day after and to all of the constituents involved in the transaction. Not employees, but clients and vendors and anybody else that’s going to be impacted by the acquisition. The last piece is the return on investment. Understanding what your return objective is so that you can measure whether or not you achieve that return and be measuring it on a regular basis. If something’s not right, being able to course-correct quickly so you make sure that you don’t miss your targets. This is a very high level. There’s much more involved in integration, but this should give you a pretty good start when you’re thinking about acquiring a business.What resonates with a lot of people is doing the deal versus completing the deal. Click To Tweet
Before we get into the interview, please head over to K2Adviser. If you want to avoid the common deal pitfalls or the risk of potentially losing substantial dollars, you need to know if you’re ready for a transaction. To do that, we’ve built a couple of assessments. On that website, we have a seller assessment that you can go through in five minutes, and it will tell you quickly whether or not you’re ready for an exit. If you’re looking to acquire a business, on the Acquire tab, we have a similar assessment that will help you understand how ready you are to make that acquisition. Being prepared is critical to ensuring that you maximize returns and you minimize risks. Thank you for being here and I hope you enjoy the episode.
Jim, welcome. I’m happy to have you here.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here and I’m delighted with the things you’re doing for the M&A community. It’s become very popular and I feel honored to be on your program.
Thank you so much. If you wouldn’t mind, can you take a few minutes and give people a quick background on yourself? You’ve done so much, we could probably make that the whole show. If you could give everybody the highlight of your career and stuff that you’ve done, I would appreciate that.
I’ll be happy to do that, Domenic. The background for me is basically an entrepreneur. I’m an idea guy. I’ve had several companies I’ve divested most successfully and one unsuccessfully. Part of that is obviously the learning, but it was back many years ago that I was heading a consulting firm. I had roughly 200 consultants. We elected to get in partnership with a large PE firm. It was an interesting concept to be able to provide the consultants with shared equity and upside with the PE group. Our role was to improve the operations of the businesses that were acquired. We began doing roll-ups and that became a whole new experience. When you start rolling other interests and managing the portfolio and that kind of thing, then we learned very quickly that integration is complex and difficult.
We were doing integration by the seat of our pants and doing it intuitively. What does it take? With two competitors, how hard can that be? Once I retired from that business, I got interested in the idea of merging entities and generating value from doing that. I founded a company that was in the merger integration business, and we went to the market and we became very successful in the first couple of deals we did because we did them on a counterintuitive basis successfully. Some successfully, some not so much, but obviously, there was a tremendous amount of things to learn. The difficulty and learning, the practices that were necessary to build value were not apparent to me out there in the M&A community. There was a lot of training around how you do the deal, maybe strategy a bit, targeting a bit, diligence a lot with the accounting firms and others.Everything intersects in the M&A environment. Click To Tweet
How to do the deal? It wasn’t as difficult to learn about and be successful at how to complete the deal. That was my thing that I had that resonates with a lot of people. It’s doing the deal versus completing the deal. That’s when you get all tied up in this integration and those kinds of things. My belief is that integration and completing the deal starts at strategy. Too many people want to segment all of these things and not intersect all of these things and have them work together. That was the start of the idea of offering the M&A community training particularly the buy-side and around the M&A best practices for everything let’s say from diligence through integration. Maybe also optimization beyond that. It’s a rail that you have to go on and everything intersects in that environment. I founded the M&A Leadership Council, which people can go to and look at MACouncil.org and see what that’s all about. Since 2010, the Leadership Council has been rather successful. It’s fairly well-known in the M&A community.
Did I read correctly that you’ve now educated over 4,500 M&A professionals around these concepts?
That’s right. We’ve been very blessed since Jack Prouty and I started this business. We started opening with a training program that might have 10, 12, 15 people attend to where now our onsite programs which we are well-known for that because we do them in nice resort communities and areas, but that’s changed a lot since March.
Jim, am I correct in saying that you’re training both M&A professionals but also in-house M&A groups, corporate development groups and senior leadership inside of companies?
Yes. The need is apparent all the way up to the CEO. There are a lot of things that are counter-intuitive, counter-cultural that have to be done in integration. Decision-making is a challenge and most companies do it all wrong. The training that we’ve been doing started out as a specialty, but we’ve broadened that out to where it goes all the way from strategy through the core development roles to the diligence and integration.
I know you’ve built a tremendous business there and you’ve helped a lot of people. I’m so excited to talk to you about this concept of completing the transaction. I’ve been on this bandwagon for a long time. We’re now starting to educate and consult with buyers and sellers well in advance of their transactions. One of the things that I asked buyers in the first meeting is, “Do you know how you would integrate a business? Is that part of your strategic plan?” Invariably the answer that comes back is no. I agree with you. It’s such an important piece because if not, as you stated, you could be impacting the value of that acquisition tremendously.
You absolutely could be, Domenic. Maybe I can’t say the typical CEO, but that typical management team, as they have in the past for decades thinks, “How difficult can it be to bring this company that we know so much about that we’ve investigated,” and so forth. “How difficult can it be to onboard those assets?” It’s a big challenge. Many people would state that half the deals don’t deliver the value that you promised the investment community, but integration is difficult. Most of the C-level doesn’t want to mess with it after the close. The other challenge that’s out there that maybe is certainly bigger is that most integration activities are done by people who haven’t done them in the past, or they’ve done them, but we don’t know that they’ve been successful at it. What kind of playbooks, what kind of tools and templates and the headset for integration do they bring to the party?
Did I hear you correct? Did you say that it’s likely 50% of acquisitions don’t hit their ROI targets because they didn’t have an integration plan?
At least that many, Domenic. You’re saying ROI. There are a lot of different metrics and you also have to know how long you are going to give it to perform. I would voice it this way. Most M&A deals don’t deliver the value that was promised. That’s a pretty easy statement to make.
This is such a meaty topic, but let’s start with when you first sit down with somebody, you talk about integration and how important it is to have it in your upfront plans. How do you describe integration? What goes into it and how do you approach that topic with senior executives?
Integration in my mind and integration that is trained by the M&A Leadership Council. The very strong belief and the proven concept is that integration starts with strategy. By making a statement like that, you’re telling them that it’s more important than almost anything else. If you don’t have a strategy behind your appetite and what you’re going to go after. You don’t have a strategy behind how you’re going to make that happen, what the resources are going to be, what the outcomes are going to be, how you’re going to generate those outcomes that you want, then you’re not prepared in my mind to make an acquisition. One other thing that I would say that’s important that is fairly nuanced is that many of the companies who are making a lot of deals are managing their businesses like a portfolio.
Your meetings with CEOs and the management team, etc., you’re going to find so many that maybe that’s a new concept to them. Value is created by having the talent to make acquisitions and also make divestments effectively. Some of the strategies are to make acquisitions so that they’re not so tightly integrated that you’re able to divest to them more easily. Meeting with CEOs, the thing that they’re most interested in and they get their arms around, which I’ve been teaching for a long time. It’s still taught at the council since I retired and that is the S3 model as I used to call it. Speed, Synergies and Stability. All of those play an important role in integration. Since Jack Welch first announced the idea that speed was the most important thing in integration, you’ve got to get it over with, you’ve got to tear the Band-Aid off quickly. That’ll reduce the long-term pain, etc.Integration is difficult, and most of the C-level just doesn't want to mess with it after the close. Click To Tweet
Speed is very important. We lose a lot of that. We certainly lose a lot of that in decision-making and some of the protocols we have in terms of building our teams. We elongate the process, hoping not to break glass, but broken glass is fine. You’ve got to get it over with. You’ve got speed. You’ve got synergies. You have to understand how to capture synergies and not necessarily realize, but capture. Do the things to capture synergies, revenue, costs. I even think performance is a synergy when you’re acquiring a company. The last, and I would say the most important thing is stability. How are we going to stabilize this union after we’ve made the acquisition on every area, in every part of the businesses as we do that? Stability is important as well. S3 is important. I would go into meeting with CEOs. That was your question. I would be preaching S3 more than anything and saying, “Tell me how you’re going to do that.”
One of the things that I’ve seen throughout my career in M&A is that even when people do think about integration early on, they underestimate the amount of time and the resources that it’s going to take to pull off integration. One of my examples is they expect that their current head of HR is going to be able to take on the additional task of taking over the other HR group with no thought to, “That HR person probably has a full-time job.” Are you going to peel some things off of their plate so they can take time out to do the integration? Are you going to give them an additional resource? Do you find that a lot of cases?
You find it in most cases. There’s always that add on top of your day job that companies think they can do. Integration is a full-time job. Particularly when you look at the functional areas of the business, you’ve got to have dedicated 1, 2, or 3 resources to get through the integration. In many cases, it depends on what you’re buying and the complexity of the deal that you’re trying to do. The resources, the experience of the resources, they may have expertise in their functional area, but maybe no expertise at all in terms of the cross-functional activities that are going to take place. The other thing that’s humorous, but it’s not, that is oftentimes in selecting the resource. Companies tend to look for the most available person. What we say is availability is not a qualification here. My belief is you look for the person who is unavailable, who is so tied up, so valuable in the organization that you wouldn’t be able to pull him or her out of that role. That’s probably the person we need.
Let’s address the folks out there in our community who haven’t done this before. They haven’t done much of it or they haven’t done it well. Where should they start when they think about integration? Should they be obviously signing up for one of your classes? What should they do? Should they look to an outside firm? Where should they start on this path so they know whether or not they can use their internal resources? Do they have to hire an outside firm so they can make some of those decisions early on?
The first thing you have to do is to make sure that there’s a backstop. There is a level of expertise that is supporting the entire exercise. If that’s not resident in the business, you have to go outside. You absolutely do. You need to get your hands on some trained consultants or advisors. I can talk a long time about consultants versus advisors and experience versus inexperienced and those kinds of things, but you’re going to have to have that. It depends on how close you are to doing a transaction. If you’re emerging out of targeting, you have to get training. You’ve got to get the foundation built. All of our people or virtually all of the people who would go to the M&A Leadership Council would say, “This foundation is something that we need and we should have done it a long time ago,” or whatever. That’s the purpose.
The M&A Leadership Council was designed as a giveback to the M&A community. It operates basically as a nonprofit, a breakeven organization. That was a gift that Jack Prouty and I decided to do since we were both virtually retired at the time anyway. We designed it that way. It’s a very unique organization, as most people out there know that have gone to it. There are two things. You’ve got to have training for the resources, if they’re not highly experienced, and don’t bring the tools of the trade and the capabilities. You have to have the training. The next thing is you have to have this backstop, you’ve got to have a support system that knows what they’re doing. There’s an art to selecting that as well. You can’t say, “You’ve got a big name organization out there. The people that are going to send are going to be as fluent in M&A as the person who came to visit us last week.” There’s a lot to that. I don’t know if that’s answering your question precisely, but it’s important.Integration starts with strategy. Click To Tweet
Let me ask you, when it comes to integration, are there three areas of integration or 2 or 5? I know they’re all important, but are there a couple that rise to a level at which if you miss these areas of integration, you have no shot at achieving value?
There’s the overarching umbrella that sometimes we give too much importance to and that’s culture. Everybody wants to talk about culture. Culture is very important. Culture is difficult to get your hands on prior to the close, to discover things that you need to discover prior that, so you’re going to be dealing in a reactionary environment around culture. There’s a challenge out there, and that is how do you differentiate culture from a business model? A lot of companies will confuse that issue. They have a business model out there and the models of the two companies being united don’t mix well or they don’t go to market the same way. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work, the CEO is announcing, “Our cultures didn’t fit.”
Culture is critical. Decision-making is important. I stated that earlier that in some of our prior practices, when I was doing M&A integration as a consultant, we even had a decision-making agreement that we had with the CEO that this is how we’re going to operate and this is what you’re going to do. We did that in a $1 billion-plus transaction with over $75 million in synergies to capture, but we knew to be successful. We needed that CEO to behave properly, and it was called the behavior agreement. You can imagine going in and saying, “We want you to sign a behavior agreement.” It’s stressed clearly, and maybe a little bit cleverly, that you’re important to this whole thing and we need decisions made quickly. We’re going to put together the integration teams and we’re going to be able to bubble up everything that needs to be decided on.
We’re going to coagulate those bubbles. We’re going to pull them together. We’re going to look at it and have a lower level to make some of the key decisions down here. You’re going to authorize those. Every week, the 2, 3 or 4 things that could be deal destructors, you’re going to get the information and we want you to make a decision. If you can’t make the decision, we’re going to give you twelve days and bring it back to you again. You’ve got to make a decision, one way or the other. That’s how disciplined decision-making needs to be. I don’t want to scare the pants off the CEO, but it’s important, Domenic. Those are things that are key.
I’m sure you’ve been called into these situations. The deal’s been done. They’re in the middle or maybe at the beginning stages of integration and it’s not going well. It’s obvious that they’re botching it. What should the CEO do when he’s faced with that situation? He realizes that this deal, all the promises are slipping away day by day. How did they get their arms around that and right the ship and probably have to win back the hearts and minds of the people that they sold this to initially?
It happens sometimes. I don’t know there are many that admit to it, but they probably take that issue and they struggle with it way too long before it becomes a required divestment or whatever. There are companies like M&A partners, which are part of the M&A Leadership Council who focus greatly on integration and have a practice around re-integration or fixing the problems. I don’t think it’s smart to put it back in the hands of the people who didn’t do it right the first time. You have to get a new set of eyes and a new vision on the business and you have to do it with people that are so highly experienced that they can walk in and they can see the problems. You don’t need to consult it to death. You don’t need to have a lot of meetings. If you don’t have quality resources coming in from the outside that know what they’re doing, it’s probably going to continue in turmoil. It can be a very big business and it should be one that CEOs and the management team are willing to throw up their hands and say, “Let’s do this.” The longer you’re in turmoil. The longer your things are not working out well, the worst things get.
It certainly holds true with every aspect of an M&A deal. We talk often about you need an M&A experienced attorney. The accountants on the deal should have a lot of M&A experience. Why wouldn’t you pull in people without integration experience? That’s what solidifies the value that you were hoping to get out of the deal.
The return on investment metric you mentioned is geometric. When you’re bleeding that bad, you need to have somebody that knows how to put on the tourniquet and triage the situation. That’s a great word for what we’re trying to do. We’re triaging a situation and you can’t go in and study stuff.
I’ve been fighting this battle for so many years and it seems like it’s an uphill battle to convince owners of businesses to plan for these events well in advance. Whether it’s an exit, an acquisition, whatever it is, don’t wake up one day and decide we’re going to do this and expect that your house is in order and you’re ready. Time and time again, the statistic is that over 70% of owners don’t properly plan for their exit. That statistic blows my mind. As much as we talk to owners about it, it’s hard to move the needle. Is integration the same thing? It’s such an afterthought that they can’t get their arms wrapped around it. Is it the same battle that we fight on preparing for an exit?
I think so. Integration is very difficult. It’s one of the most difficult business processes as it was of anything else you might do in your career. That’s why the M&A Leadership Council created our CMAS Program for certification. We focus primarily on integration, but now we do it across the M&A lifecycle, but it’s to make sure that people focus on their careers, their capabilities, and the best practices. I don’t know if I’m going in the right direction, but certification is important to the people who do this difficult task. That’s why we created it. Becoming an M&A certified specialist with the M&A Leadership Council provides people with a credential that says, “I’ve done this.”
Our credentialing and our certification program is not about taking a training course coming out and taking a test and becoming certified. You have to prove that you have developed the expertise. That’s very unusual. It’s difficult to do that. Preparation for a good exit or for the completion of the deal, the integration, you can get certified, you get certified people to lead these kinds of things. I hope over the course of time that more and more people will become certified M&A specialists that as they move through their career-changing companies or not, they’ll be planted in roles that are going to be more impactful and more successful. They’ll have a larger say so via their experience when they’re doing these things.
It’s so important that people educate themselves before you go into what are significant investments and you could be impacting the lives of lots of people if it doesn’t work out. Your employees, your vendors, the trickle-down effect of a deal not working could be devastating to a lot of people.The longer you're in turmoil, and the longer your things are not working out, the worse things get. Click To Tweet
We’re impacting lives. It’s not the business thing. There are a lot of lives impacted by M&A. A lot of people think, “You’re in M&A. That’s a sexy thing to be involved in.” It’s difficult. It’s hard work. The more you can internalize the effort and the resources required, the outcomes that need to be generated and the value coming out the back end. When you can get everybody focused on that, you can become very serious and successful at growing your business.
I’ve got to tell you, I am so happy that there are people like you around.
I’m not around anymore. I retired in September 2019. Go down the Leadership Council and call Mark Herndon up to be on your program sometime. He’s good. He runs the Leadership Council.
Certainly do that, but my point was that you started something like this to educate people. Doing it in a nonprofit way is outstanding because education is so needed. Deals are tough, to begin with. If you don’t have the right people in place and you don’t have the right knowledge and education and your team in place, you’re never going to get the outcomes that you would hope for. Jim, in closing up this conversation, what parting thoughts would you have for our community around integration or anything else M&A that you think would be helpful I’ll throw in and it doesn’t have to be, especially in this COVID environment that we’re dealing with?
I thought you might bring that up. We have two right now. We are in a challenging period. It has caused a lot of people to make dramatic changes. Obviously, in the M&A Leadership Council, we are not having very nice site oriented onsite training in San Diego or Scottsdale, Arizona or wherever we had these things in the past. Herndon and the rest of the team have had to pivot and go completely online. I’ve got to say, they’ve been successful at doing that. There is still maybe even larger demand for getting this training, but it’s not the same. We’re all struggling. How do you do due diligence or discovery? You can do some research, but you’re not going to get behind the walls of an organization in this environment.
Domenic, it’s going to be very difficult. I don’t know when we’re going to pull out of this. Some days I feel positive. Other days, I feel it’s going to be around or the absence of travel might become a real hindrance to getting onsite training. Our people that have been through the training will say it makes a huge difference to be onsite and be with 30 or 40 of your peers from different companies and be able to talk and interact around best practices and what they do about this and that. That’s one of the things certainly that made that unique. I think we have to go on. The good news is the training that the council does is online. It’s interactive, which is unique. The tools are still available. You can get a lot for I have to say a lot less money because they’re not paying for airplane rides and all the other stuff. It’s working as well as can be expected.
As far as principles in a deal, the point is so well taken that it’s going to be so difficult to due diligence and integration. We had a tour of a company, a factory that was done 100% via Zoom with the owner walking around with their cell phone, the entire time. It was a massive factory. The owner was walking around the entire factory stopping and providing commentary. It was great. They got to see behind the walls, but only to a certain extent. It was all via Zoom. It’s not like touching and feeling it and seeing how it all operates and comes together. The buyers are not ready to do that. The seller’s not ready to do that. They’re probably going to have to and figure that out in order for the deal to get consummated. It’s a brave new world.
That’s a scary scenario there. I’m sure if I were the CEO, I’d only want to show you the things that I want you to see. You’re caught in that environment. That’s difficult. Here we are, new technologies are coming out, Zoom is coming out with a whole new physical instrument that has multiple mics and all that stuff. Everybody’s getting ready for the long haul, which we may have here. Pray every day that we’re going to have a new vaccine or a new way to kill this thing off. We’ll see. We’ll do the best we can. The M&A community, Domenic, always reacts. We’ll figure it out.
If you’re in this world, creativity is in your blood. If it’s not, you don’t last in this business for very long. It’s such a pleasure to have you on. I know you’re retired. You probably don’t want to take the calls directly, but if folks reading wanted to get in touch with the M&A Council, how could they reach there?
You can go to the website and there’s contact information on the website MACouncil.org. If not, somebody is going to lead you to Mark Herndon or one of the other executives that are there. Mark is the new chairman of the council who’s doing a great job. There are other resources and other companies. Let me say this, I retired, but I’m still busy. There is still an opportunity for me to give back and I will take a phone call, or I will take an email. We probably would, should start with that. [email protected]. Send me a message and let me know what you’re struggling with. We’ll tee up a zoom, tee up a phone call. We can do whatever, but maybe I can add some value. You never know.
Thank you so much. I appreciate you being here.
It’s my pleasure. God bless you. Thanks, Domenic.
I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you enjoy our content, please remember to subscribe and review our show. I look forward to seeing you again in the next episode. Until then, please remember that scaling, acquiring or selling a business takes time, preparation and the proper knowledge.
About Jim Jeffries
Jim Jeffries is Chairman at M&A Leadership Council. Jim spent twenty-five years leading national and international consulting companies, private equity and M&A. He is a co-founder of the M&A Leadership Council, which is a global organization delivering best practice training to the M&A community. Jim is a consultant and confidant to many Fortune 1000 C-level executives and has provided advice on M&A valuations of more than $23 billion. He desires to continue interacting with C-level execs in acquisitive or soon-to-be acquisitive companies and to give back to the M&A community in all ways possible.
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