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M&A strategy

5 Key Findings from a Survey of Executives: How to Think About M&A Strategy During an Economic Earthquake

One of the million- or billion-dollar questions firms are asking, given the pandemic, is whether this is a good time to pursue M&A strategy. Looking to high profile players, you’ll find examples both of companies, like Boeing, abandoning deals and companies, like Google Cloud, publicly saying they are open to acquisitions.

To guide your thinking about M&A best practices through the end of 2020, it makes sense to consider what we know about how firms are currently making decisions. The M&A Leadership Council recently conducted a survey of 50 C-suite executives and senior corporate development leaders about their plans. 

Let’s discuss the major findings from the survey and what they mean for you as you think about strategically positioning your firm to succeed when economic activity rebounds.

1. Deals in Progress

The good news is that deals are still getting done, especially those in later stages. While just over half (51%) of those surveyed reported a “temporary pause” in M&A activity, only 14% indicated they had halted all deals currently in the works. And 12% actually reported expediting late-stage deals, while another 12% indicated that they fully intended to proceed to deal closing assuming negotiations go well.

What does this mean for you?

If you’ve put the brakes on a merger or acquisition, it may be time to reengage your vetting process and due diligence. Go back and review your M&A best practices checklist to make sure you’re going in with eyes wide open. Pay special attention to the items on the list that may have shifted with current events and those that are most likely to be volatile as the economy sorts itself out.

Proceed as follows:

  • Meet with your project team to regroup and discuss moving forward
  • Review monetary and non-monetary assets and business priorities
  • Make an exhaustive list of questions that have recently come to light

2. Anticipated Deal Volume

With regard to deal volume, it’s no surprise that 26% of executives report a substantial reduction in the number of M&A deals for the remainder of 2020. Additionally, the 51% of executives reporting that they are on a “temporary pause” expect to remain paused until they see signs of an economic recovery, which is not likely to happen before the end of the year.

Despite this sobering news, 23% of respondents anticipate no significant change to or an increase in the number of M&A plays they pursue this year. For buyers staying in the M&A game, four motivations were prevalent:

  1. Seeing opportunities in M&A hotspots
  2. Looking to gain the “first mover advantage,” while other prospective buyers are still in shock and trying to sort out their plans
  3. Needing to innovate or reposition for post-COVID market realities
  4. Wanting to accelerate commercialization of the most promising new technologies, medical advancements, or delivery systems

What does this mean for you?

You aren’t necessarily crazy if you’re seeing opportunities for M&A plays. If your balance sheet is strong, your stock price steady, and access to credit solid, it may be a great time to keep your eye on who you want to partner with as we reinvent our post-pandemic work lives. 

3. Deal Objectives

Many companies are predictably broadening the scope of deal types they’re considering. While 57% indicated they’re most interested in doing deals similar to those they’ve done in the past, the data also suggest these acquirers simultaneously shopping in several different strategic deal-types.

59% reported their intent to opportunistically buy distressed companies and 23% said they are targeting new, non-core technologies, solutions, or segments to intentionally diversify their future revenue streams.

What does this mean for you?

Acquiring companies that are struggling during tough economic times, but which will likely thrive quickly once the economy picks up steam again is a valid M&A strategy. Play your cards right and you could end up with a really lucrative deal, while saving a technology or smart solution, which might otherwise be lost to the dustbin of history.

It’s also a good time to consider how to diversify or reinforce your own revenue streams. Many firms experiencing a slowdown in the past few months have taken the time to strategize about insulating themselves from future economic distress. One savvy strategy is thinking outside the box about new ways to bring in revenues and develop new efficiencies.

In addition, for firms concerned about their own ability to weather the pandemic storm, a “marriage of survival” may be a mutually beneficial solution. If you know of a competitor or adjacent company that you suspect to be in a similar struggle for survival, it might be worth a phone call.

4. Operational Challenges

Sellers in prime position will be in high demand. Any sellers who are ready to do a deal, but confident about surviving the economic lockdown, will be prepared to hold out until P&L statements recover. So finding the best play may be more of a challenge than you anticipate.

Additionally, this may call for a level of due diligence and dialogue that some buyers aren’t prepared for. For instance, looking at 2020 financials, to what extent have core fundamentals, competitive pressure, or other internal or external factors impacted the drop in revenues? How confident are you that the impacts attributed to COVID are accurate? Also, how should your leadership team evaluate and validate the target company’s rebound plan?

What does this mean for you?

If your firm is eying an M&A strategy as a buyer to gain market share, keep in mind that the most attractive sellers will be in high demand. You’ll likely need to get creative about bridging the valuation gap. Consider: 

  • Valuation, 
  • Deal structure, 
  • Growth incentives, and
  • Talent retention.

Your strategies here will need to be simple and convincing to win the bid. Remember, acquisitions, even in the best of times, are highly emotional transactions. Now is not the time to spare the empathy. If you want the transition to be smooth, be sensitive during this delicate dance.

5. M&A Capabilities

Finally, survey respondents reported they are calling in reinforcements to bolster their internal M&A capabilities. For many firms, operationally executing an M&A strategy amidst so much economic uncertainty, across all deal phases, and over multiple deal-type scenarios requires a level of M&A sophistication beyond what they currently have in place.

As the chair of the M&A Leadership Council, Mark Herdon, cautions us: “Mergers and acquisitions are notoriously difficult in any environment and post-Covid, they may be even harder. Setting aside political sabre rattling from the recently proposed ‘Pandemic Anti-Monopoly Act’ [which could also throw a monkey-wrench into your M&A plans], even the most skillful acquirers may be hard-pressed to navigate other real-time acquisition challenges.”

What does this mean for you?

Upleveling your M&A strategy means upgrading your M&A operating processes, playbooks, software solutions, skills, and resources to enable working remotely for any deal type, market environment, or deal volume. To support your crisis recovery strategic objectives, consider carefully any gaps you might need to fill.

Of course, shoring up your M&A capabilities need not require a long internal hiring process. Working with an external team that has significant skills and experience in the M&A space offers several advantages. Audacia Strategies offers a network of specialized partners who bring specific expertise, depth of resource, and proven experience. Check out our services to see how we can support you. 

Photo credit: Gino Santa Maria

taking bold steps

Taking Bold Steps is Scary—Saddle Up Anyway

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

John Wayne

This quote from America’s favorite cowboy resonates with me right now. In a previous blog article, I mentioned that one of my 2020 goals for Audacia Strategies is to continue to scale. As a team, we’re ready to take ourselves to the next level. 

Okay, you might be thinking, so if the team is ready…what’s with this talk about being “scared to death?” Well, taking bold steps can be scary—even for us! And even when you’re confident about your next best move, you may have doubts about the execution. So, let’s talk about what I’m doing to push ahead and lean into my strengths.

What does scaling Audacia mean for you?

Before we get to the business lessons for taking bold steps, it makes sense to talk about what scaling looks like for Audacia and how this will benefit our stakeholders. This will give us some context for discussing our plan and key takeaways.

As with everything we do, we’re always thinking about how we can serve our clients better. Here’s what scaling will allow us to do for our clients:

1. Replicate Successful Client Engagements

Scaling means having the ability to measure and then replicate successful client engagements more easily. Of course, each client is unique, but we bring an approach based on best practices and our experience that works. 

Individual wins are worthy of celebrating. But if we also take the time to examine what really works with an eye toward replicating that success, everyone wins.

2. Contribute Diversity, Experience, and Transparency

Key to scaling is mindfully building a team that not only works seamlessly together, but also brings more diverse perspectives, outstanding experience, and radical transparency to the table.

Audacia’s clients appreciate our unique philosophy of tough love, diplomacy, and truth-telling because taking bold steps means going in with your eyes wide open.

3. Go Broader and Deeper

As we scale, we are looking for ways to help our clients take their transformations to the next level. You have asked for expanded offerings and we’re ready to deliver. We’re adding to our  current service offerings in transformation, investor relations, and strategic communications.  

Scaling our team will allow us to expand our offerings to include, for example:

  • Corporate Responsibility Strategy
  • Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee 
  • Market and Competitive Analysis

We’ll also be able to provide deeper expert support on more complex projects and engage seamlessly across multiple stakeholder sets. Stay tuned for a future blog post about the key actions and attributes to consider when building a team.

4. Stay Accountable and Follow Through

Sharing our plans for scaling in this way means we’ll make it happen. Audacia Strategies—the name itself—inspires us to make bold moves and help our clients do the same. Just because we take bold steps, though, doesn’t mean we have no fear.

Taking bold steps can be scary, fear of failure is real! But fear is not a reason to stand still. It’s a sign that we’re on the cusp of something big.

What’s the plan?

  • Get Katy out of the way: It’s time to focus on engaging with the right support teams to identify and develop repeatable work processes. This way I can focus more fully on my role as CEO and my most valuable work with clients. 
  • Use technology to our advantage: We’ll explore project management tools, communication tools, calendaring tools, etc. that will help our team work better together. The trick here is not to add tech just to add it, but to add the tech that adds value. Strategic use of technology will keep us on track and connected. 
  • Establish regular feedback systems: Timely, useful feedback is the only way to make improvements and move forward. We’ll develop feedback systems both for working with clients and within the team.
  • Keep bringing on board the smartest, most interesting, and most candid team members! Got ideas for project managers, communications experts, and amazing business strategists? Send ‘em our way.

Lessons for Taking Bold Steps

How can you take these lessons and apply them to your business? Any transformation or transition phase can be a challenge because you are “operating without a net.” Still, there are steps you can take to make these times feel less chaotic. 

Whether you’re considering how to best scale your team or what bold moves will help you increase your market share, you can learn from what I’m doing to keep myself on track.

Here are the things that I’m working on that may help:

  • Focusing on high-value activities. As CEO, it’s imperative that I use my time most efficiently for the health of the business and that means making the high-value tasks my #1 priority.
  • Eliminating distractions. Related to the first point, I will separate the actions and activities that are mere distractions from those that actually facilitate accomplishing more for my clients (e.g., what can I delegate? Can I find a better workflow here?).
  • Looking for the right qualities. My vision for Audacia Strategies is building a team of people who are more than simply co-workers. So, I’ll be getting very clear on what makes a great teammate, not just a good employee.
  • Setting clear expectations for teammates…and for myself. 99% of business issues stem from a mismatch of expectations. I’m focused on being clear about my expectations and holding us all accountable.
  • Drawing clear boundaries in the business. Boundaries are respectful—with only 24 hours in a day, it’s important to acknowledge that we all have priorities beyond work and that should be respected and celebrated. As an example, technology enables us to do a lot, but it can also enable stressful behaviors such as feeling like we need to be always “on,” like we have to respond instantaneously, and that we have to work at 2am to “keep up”. Technology “off hours” are good!
  • Remembering that we are all more than our work. Personally, I know that I’m more creative, focused, and patient when I have had more sleep (questionable with 10-month-old twins, but #goals), more time with my family and friends, and more time for working out/reading/resting my brain.

We all know we need to take bold steps if we want to grow. So, the next time you start to feel that fear creeping up, have the courage to sit with it. Talk about it. (Maybe blog about it?) Seriously. What if instead of running away from that uneasy feeling, we decided to let it wash over us and really listened to what it was saying?

I’d love to hear your stories about taking bold steps. What’s the single best thing that you have done to make these transformative moments feel less chaotic? Leave a reply below.

Photo credit: nd3000

crisis response strategy

The 5 G’s for Walking Through Fire Without Getting Burned–Your Internal Crisis Response Strategy

We’ve all had those days. You know, the days where you are forced to pull your IPO and your CEO gets fired, or Congress launches an official investigation into your safety procedures, or your company is the target of whistleblower claims

No? You’ve never experienced a business crisis like this? Then, you’re one of the lucky ones. But keep reading because even if it’s not to the scale of the situations above, you may someday find yourself in a sticky business credibility situation. 

We’ve talked before about preparing a crisis response strategy from a PR perspective. Now I’d like to take a look at what to do inside a business. How do you handle your response with employees and customers?

How to Respond to a Business Crisis

When a challenge to your firm’s reputation arises, it’s important that you meet the challenge with a crisis response strategy not only for rebuilding your brand’s outward facing reputation, but also for addressing the crisis internally. You can’t expect your team or customers to read between the lines of your external messaging. Plus, you owe it to them to communicate beyond the “party line.”

As always, I recommend creating your crisis response strategy well before you find yourself walking into the chaos of a crisis. Consider the following 5 G’s as you build your framework:

1. Get to ground truth.

When a crisis happens, it’s important to keep two things in mind: you need to respond promptly and you need to respond truthfully. Surviving the crisis is all about how you balance these two factors. There can be a tendency to sacrifice truth for the sake of speed and vice versa. Ideally, you will avoid both pitfalls.

DO NOT SPECULATE. Your internal crisis response strategy should be informed by what you know, but you cannot wait to respond until you have absolutely all of the facts in front of you. So what can you do? Be transparent about what you know, where you are in the process and what you are doing. It’s important to acknowledge the credibility challenges (all of them), allow any legal processes to proceed, and identify and explain the steps you are taking.

2. Gather your team.

Even if you are the only person in your particular department, you will need a team. Whether you’re in finance, legal, communications, HR—as the saying goes, “look for the helpers.” Remember, it takes time to gather your team. So plan ahead and notify the relevant parties that you may call on them and what roles they will play in the crisis response strategy.

Once you’ve gathered your team, listen to them. It can be tempting to be reactive, but try to get a well rounded perspective before making any big decisions. Otherwise, you run the risk of overpromising in the hopes that you can make the whole thing go away. 

Instead, get a baseline. Get perspective. And give context.

  • Did your numbers tank this quarter? Focus on the data, not drama. Look at firm-wide numbers, the market, and get a line on how competitors are faring. You need a clear baseline before you can respond realistically.
  • Is there a government investigation? Get to ground truth (see above). Work closely with your legal department, but also encourage as much transparency as possible. The appearance of concealing or stonewalling is not a good look either inside or outside the firm.
  • Is someone accused of misconduct? Again, get to ground truth (see above). Also, consider re-emphasizing policies, values, and company culture within the firm (assuming they are not the cause of the misconduct).

3. Give employees the support they need.

Employees are most likely to end up on the frontlines during a crisis. They will be communicating with customers, other employees, regulators, etc. Do not leave them “swinging in the wind” as they try to clean up the mess they didn’t create.

Arm them with the facts and engage them in an ongoing and transparent conversation about what the firm is doing to repair or recover its reputation. Use the channels appropriate for your organization—email, text, newsletter, video, Slack, person-to-person meetings, etc. 

Meet employees where they are—during a crisis they should not have to search for answers. Part of your crisis response strategy should include resources for employees on the frontlines. Communicate with employees early and often.

  • Whenever possible keep the touch personal. For example, answer questions during a town hall, Zoom meeting, or video conference.
  • Create manager talking points ahead of time and distribute them as soon as you’re ready after a crisis hits.
  • Don’t say anything to employees that you wouldn’t say outside the company. This can be controversial, but it’s reality. Memos leak. Video and audio recordings can be shared. Screenshots can end up in the wrong hands. Be transparent and be prepared for what that means inside and outside the company.

4. Go on the offensive with customers. 

If the crisis impacts customers directly or has been/will be in the press, go on the offensive and own the issue. Rather than trying to totally control the crisis, though, let your mindset be one of getting your version of the facts out first. Again, make sure you explain to employees what your crisis response strategy looks like with regard to customers. 

Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean sugarcoating anything. Be transparent about next steps and honest about the potential impact (if any) on clients. Also, be sure that your customer communications are consistent with employee communications. As you consider these messages, your tone may differ, but the overall message should be consistent. The same goes for investors.

5. Grant trust. 

Follow the above 4 G’s and this last G should come naturally. When you create your crisis response strategy ahead of time, you’ll have the luxury of being able to fallback on your process. In the midst of a crisis situation, when it feels like everything is burning all around you, don’t underestimate the power of being able to trust in your people to execute on your process. 

How can you be so confident? Well, the confidence comes from having a strategy, knowing your audience, and believing in the human response to truth-telling. There’s a lot to be said for a company that owns up to mistakes and expertly pivots when crises arise. 

Whether you’re facing a small-scale crisis or a crisis of epic proportions like those recently faced by WeWork, Boeing, or GE, it’s helpful to remember other leaders have walked through the fire of chaos themselves. As Abraham Lincoln—no stranger to facing a crisis—once said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

At Audacia Strategies, we’re no strangers to facing a crisis either. We’ve walked with our clients through the fire using the 5 G’s and we can help your firm develop the crisis response strategy that works for you as well. Schedule a consultation so we can talk about your needs.

Photo credit: Rawpixel

inspiring

Reading, Listening, and Watching—What I’m Loving Right Now

It’s beach season. If you’re lucky enough to get some R&R this summer, I bet you’re reaching for something inspiring like a good book, your favorite podcast, or a binge-worthy T.V. show to watch. Me too! So I thought it would be a great time for me to dust off this occasional blog feature.

reading listening watchingHere’s what I’m up to in between (and sometimes simultaneous with) feedings and snuggle time with my favorite twin babies:

Reading

Educated: A Memoir

Okay, I’m about a year behind in reading this 2018 bestseller, but WOW am I glad that I did. In case you’re behind, like me, Educated is the memoir of Tara Westover who was kept out of school by her survivalist family. Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom and went on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University. It is a story of family, loyalty, reinvention, grit, and so much more. If you need a great, inspiring, page-turner for your travels this summer, this is it!

Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report

333 slides. Yup. 333.

If you’re reading this blog article, then you know that I prefer short and sweet presentations. But this is an exception. Meeker has been providing in-depth analysis of the trends driving the Internet for over 20 years. Don’t think of this as a presentation—think of it as a masterclass on market analysis. Interested in internet usage? Use of data? How industries such as education and healthcare are transforming? It’s all here. So pour yourself a cold beverage and enjoy. I bet you come away with several inspiring “ahas!” I certainly have.

Listening

Business Wars

I’m not a fan of comparing business to military conflict. But if we set aside the title of this podcast, we get awesome behind the scenes stories of some of the biggest business competitions: Anheuser-Busch vs. Miller, Netflix vs. Blockbuster, McDonald’s vs. Burger King. You get the idea. Each season has seven episodes digging into the history of the competition. History is always the best teacher, right?

Broken Record with Malcolm Gladwell

Honestly, this podcast had me at Malcolm Gladwell, but Malcolm Gladwell PLUS interviews with some of the most fascinating personalities in music? That’s my jam. (See what I did there?) In this series, Gladwell interviews a diverse array of singers, songwriters, and producers. Still not convinced? Take a look at this short list of examples: a two-part interview with Questlove, a discussion with Pentatonix, a conversation with Vampire Weekend. Great listening for your commute or walk around the neighborhood.

Watching

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

As I mentioned a few months ago, I devoured another of 2018’s best sellers, Bad Blood, a real-life thriller that charts the rise and collapse of Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup that flamed out spectacularly with lawsuits, federal investigations, and possible prison time for key executives (the jury is still out, literally). The Inventor is based on the book and incorporates interviews with key players and actual footage from the company before its collapse. It’s an incredibly compelling HBO documentary that reminds us all that businesses are run by people…and all their flaws.

Game of Thrones: Season Eight

No spoilers here, but let’s just say that I’m still processing the final season of this iconic series. Anyone else? Whether you love or hate this last season, the energy and excitement around this series prove that there is still an appetite for good writing. Of course, with GOT wrapped up now, I need a new series. I’m ready for the next season of The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu) and Big Little Lies (HBO). What else should be on my list?

I hope you have some incredibly fun stuff planned for the next few months. If any of your travels, lounging poolside, or playing in the waves leads you to discover something inspiring, please share it with me on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn) or via email. I’m always on the hunt for business tips, tricks, and motivation to move the needle at Audacia Strategies.

Photo credit: Mylene 2401