Alliance Managers Tackle M&A: Lessons in Music and Literature

Alliance Managers Tackle M&A: Lessons in Music and Literature

Reflections from the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals Global Summit 2020

The ASAP Summit brought together skilled Alliance Managers and BTD M&A integration experts to dissect the challenges faced by alliance professionals bringing their skills to M&A and divestment. Snowboarding for Skiers was a lively case-study exercise that encouraged and pushed the Alliance Managers to expand their abilities through two interactive sessions supported by our experts. We were privileged to have long-time ASAP gurus, Brooke Paige and Steve Twait, bring their experience. They provided advice and reflection to the participants. BTD founder and Managing Partner, Carlos Keener, UK Partner, David Olsson, and North American Director, Nick Palmer, facilitated the case discussions.

Our five experts agreed: Skilled Alliance Managers bring unique talents that can improve their firms’ M&A integration success. They discerned three “mind shifts” required for Strategic Alliance Professionals to thrive in the world of M&A and divestments. Alliance Mangers moving to M&A should:

  • Get a New Theme Song

Start singing Disney’s “Let It Go.” In M&A one needs thicker skin. The urgency of M&A necessitates rapid decisions and direct conversations. Alliance Managers, more accustomed to building relationships and teamwork, may feel discomfited by this in-your-face world. And they will be surprised when an executive, fresh off an extremely aggressive rant, turns friendly and collegial. Going in understanding the setting and likely behaviours, Alliance Managers will be more successful and less likely to be knocked for a loop. As one expert noted, M&A integration requires a short memory: No hard feelings.

  • Change the Background Music

Alliances are generally upbeat – “We’re trying to build something great.” M&A, too, has its upside, but its darker side often preoccupies participants. Alliance Managers need to shift the background music from Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” to Mel Brook’s more sober “Hope for the Best (Expect the Worst).” And this dynamic plays out in each person’s mind. Fears like “Will I or my friends lose jobs or status?” and “Will my team stay together?” crowd out upbeat messages introduce by “We’re all in this together…” and “The value to shareholders…”

Alliance Managers must bring their exceptional “EQ” skills to bear. These enable them first to anticipate and recognize these concerns, and then to address them. Directly. M&A calls for even more openness than usual. And it involves difficult conversations. Plus, the ability to engage with individuals as individuals. M&A can get very personal.

  • Remember Poor Alice

An alliance is a process. An M&A or divestment is an event. That’s a big difference. In Alice in Wonderland the king advises Alice:

“Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end; then stop.”

Things move at a very different speed in M&A, particularly decision making. Later the Red Queen notes:

“Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Alliance managers must become comfortable with the pace. Often a faster decision is better than “the right” decision.

There is a great opportunity in M&A and divestments for Alliance Management professionals seeking a new challenge. There’s the chance to broaden skills and gain new experience. Alliance Managers bring a keen understanding of organizational dynamics. They don’t lose sight of upside value even under severe resource pressures. They understand the sources of friction, often hidden, when two firms try to operate in concert.

Our participants and expert panellists agree, it’s easier to go from Alliances to M&A than vice versa.

M&A is not for everyone. Alliance Managers: You have the skills and experience to be significant contributors to your companies’ M&A. If you’re interested, you need to step into these roles with enthusiasm tempered by an awareness of the challenges. It’s up to you!