What it really takes to unlock value in a merger

How a leadership team unlocked real value in one of the most controversial takeovers in UK corporate history

Summary

Challenge: Off the back of a highly hostile takeover, two major FMCG brands had to integrate quickly while delivering ambitious growth targets.

Solution: A new approach that focused on people first, processes later.

Results: They hit their ambitious growth targets. They increased employee engagement. Within their business, this integration is hailed as one of the biggest success stories globally.

To read the full details, see below.

 

The Challenge

One of the largest global FMCG companies, acquired one of the most loved and cherished UK brands in what was one of the most highly contested acquisitions in UK history. More challenging, the acquiring business in the UK was half the size of the acquired business. The appointed CEO needed to take two businesses from stand off to full integration as quickly as possible, without disrupting the delivery of ambitious growth targets set by investors. To succeed, every team member at each level needed to go through the process of letting go of the past and focusing on a very different future.

 

Our solution

BRIDGE partnered with the CEO and the newly formed leadership team, and supported them on a very different journey to integrating the two businesses. The well-practiced approach to integration – getting processes in place and trusting that the people would follow – wasn’t going to work. We needed to stop pretending that divisions weren’t there and stop assuming that the ambition for the future would automatically bring people on board. This unique approach – of people and honest conversions first – and processes second, enabled a true integration of both organisations.

We supported the CEO, the leadership team and the team’s top 80 leaders to have real conversations together, unedited. This started with two critical questions: ‘Do I have a job?’ And, if I do, ‘Do I want it?’ Next we helped them acknowledge what they were losing (from the little things to the big things). Instead of ignoring potentially divisive we helped them tackle these head on. We also got them to confront and share the judgements and stereotypes they had of each other’s companies and be honest about their fears about the future. This fundamentally shifted mind-sets and behaviours and enabled them to lead the integration in a significantly different way.

For example, they jettisoned the corporate strap line for the integration: ‘best of both.’ Although well intended, this strapline was highly divisive because it boiled down to who was better than whom. We helped the leadership team shift their behaviour from one that was initially focused on protecting their respective heritages, to one that was focused on building a combined organisation greater than either of their previous organisations.

 

What was the impact?

Within their business, this integration was hailed as one of the biggest success stories globally. Most integrations leave legacies of discord and business disruption. The employee engagement surveys that were conducted over the transition period demonstrated that the way the leadership team chose to lead this integration actually strengthened rather than eroded employee engagement.

Moreover, the business continued to deliver against its ambitious growth targets throughout the transition period and in challenging market conditions. This was remarkable given the scale of the integration and its potential for distraction.

12 months into the integration, the organisation held a conference for their top 1000 leaders. Remarking on that conference, the CEO said “this was the most successful conference we ever ran. I knew from that conference that we had truly become one business. And that’s the sense you get in the business today.” The CEO added, “the approach to the integration was completely different to the ones I had been involved with before, and it’s one that I’ve used very successfully since.”

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