Mergers and Acquisitions Revisited
We wrote a post last Sept about successful acquisitions. In that post we first struggled with how to actually define a “successful” acquisition. After that we postulated that there were two primary methods of achieving what would in general be considered a successful outcome from an acquisition.
The first method is by overwhelming the acquisition’s culture and turning it into the acquiring culture as fast as possible. I called this the GE-approach because of all the acquisitions I saw while at General Electric during the 90’s, this appeared to be the dominant strategy. The second approach is to leave the acquisition completely alone and let it run autonomously. The only tie to the acquiring company is through financials. Reading an article recently I was shocked but pleased to see that academic research had arrived at similar strategies for successful mergers and acquisitions.
Clayton Christensen, Harvard professor and author of books such as The Innovator’s Dilemma, wrote an article recently in HBR with several other authors about the new M&A playbook. In this article the authors state that studies indicate that mergers and acquisitions fail over 70% of the time. Much has been written and studied about this but from the perspective of attributes of the deal. Christensen et al suggest that the problem isn’t attributes of the deal but that executives fail to match candidate acquisitions to the strategic purpose of the deal.
The article states that there are two reasons to acquire a company, to boost your company’s current performance or to reinvent your business. To extend your business but not fundamentally change how you compete, an executive should buy a company with resources aligned with the current business and fold them in, letting the acquisition eventually die. This is what we described as “overwhelming the acquisition’s culture” or the GE-approach. To reinvent your business, executives should seek companies that have a different business model put resources into it and let it grow. This is what I see as our approach of leaving the acquisition alone letting it continue to grow, perhaps providing financial resources from the parent company.