Podcast by InnovatorsBox®

Dear Workplace: Season 3

Why M&As are Tough All the Time | Start with People

Dear Workplace – a Podcast by InnovatorsBox®. Hosted by Monica H. Kang.

Reimagine how you thrive at work through conversations that matter. Hosted by workplace creativity expert Monica H. Kang, we’ll study the latest trends, changes, and challenges to untangle workplace people problems. We’ll talk with executives, innovators, and experts and visit different industries around the world so that you get first dibs into the changing workforce. 

Tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or your preferred platform of choice!

In this insightful episode, host Monica H. Kang explores the intricate world of mergers and acquisitions with the guidance of Jennifer J. Fondrevay, affectionately known as the “M&A Whisperer.” Jennifer unpacks the staggering statistic that 70-90% of M&As fail within their first year, emphasizing the often-neglected human element of these business deals. Drawing on her extensive experience, including roles at Nav Tech and Nokia, Jennifer shares personal anecdotes and lessons learned, providing a relatable and profound perspective on the challenges and opportunities that M&As present.

This conversation dives deep into what happens behind the scenes of M&As, from the initial excitement of potential growth to the gritty realities of integration struggles. Jennifer offers practical advice for anyone involved in these transactions, from CEOs to frontline employees, focusing on the crucial role of middle management and the importance of involving team members in the strategy from the start. Whether you’re directly involved in M&A or just curious about how businesses navigate these significant changes, this episode offers valuable insights into the human side of business decisions and how to approach them with empathy and strategic foresight.

Guest: Jennifer Fondrevay

Chief Humanity Officer, Day1Ready

CEO's call Jennifer, "M&A Whisperer" while frontline leaders call her the “Brene Brown of M&A”. Drawing on three years of research and 60+ executive interviews, her best-selling M&A handbook, “NOW WHAT? A Survivor’s Guide for Thriving through Mergers and Acquisitions”, serves as both an M&A playbook for executives and handbook for frontline leaders. The book’s success established Jennifer as an M&A thought leader for business owners and executives on pursuing M&A. Jennifer’s 25+ years in marketing & communications working on blue-chip clients such as: Cadbury-Schweppes, Coors, Kraft, Nestle, Unilever and Pfizer, exposed her to the unanticipated impact M&A deals can have on companies, their brands, customers and employees when leadership are not prepared for the challenges of M&A. As a C-Suite marketing executive, Jennifer helped her global teams navigate the disruption which occurs post-M&A deal. She saw firsthand how growth objectives suffer because people cannot pivot and adapt as quickly as management expects. Jennifer guides Fortune 500 leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs on how to be a leader people will follow through change and uncertainty. A popular lecturer, Jennifer’s M&A leadership model has been presented at Northwestern, the University of Chicago and her alma mater, Thunderbird.

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Episode Shownotes

1. Episode Title: Why M&As are Tough All the Time | Start with People

2. Host: Monica H. Kang, Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox

3. Episode Description:

About 70-90 percent of mergers and aquisitions (M&As) fail within their first year. Why? Despite being a longstanding business strategy, M&As continue to stumble. In the coming weeks, we’ll explore this complex world and uncover why M&As are so challenging, and how we can improve. Our first guest in this series is Jennifer J. Fondrevay, known as the “M&A Whisperer.” With three M&A experiences in major global companies, Jennifer identified patterns that define M&A success or failure. Her key insight? It all starts with prioritizing people. Join us on Dear Workplace by InnovatorsBox to learn how to transform your M&A journey into a success story.


4. Guest:
Jennifer J. Fondrevay, Chief Humanity Officer, Day1Ready

5. Key Topics Covered:

  • The high failure rate of mergers and acquisitions (M&As)
  • Importance of considering the people aspect in M&As
  • Common mistakes and successful strategies in executing M&As
  • Experiences and insights from Jennifer’s personal M&A history
  • Advice for entrepreneurs, employees, and leaders involved in M&As

6. Highlights

  • Jennifer discusses her firsthand experiences with M&As at companies like Nav Tech and Nokia, offering unique perspectives on what can go right and wrong.
  • Detailed exploration of the role middle management plays in M&A success.
  • Discussion on how M&As often overlook the “people piece,” leading to failure.

7. Quotes from the guest:

    1. “The people piece of mergers and acquisitions tends to be secondary in deal due diligence.”
    2. “It’s not just what you say, it’s how you act and even your body language.”
    3. “Don’t be a know-it-all on either side of the deal. For innovation to occur, you have to see what you both bring to this.”

8. Contact Information:


9. Closing Thoughts by Monica Kang:

Monica emphasized the importance of remembering the human element in M&As and being proactive, whether you are leading an M&A or are part of a team going through one.


10. Episode Length and Release Date:

Episode Length: Approximately 42 mins
Release Date: May 16, 2024


00:00

Monica H. Kang
Mergers and acquisition, so called m and a. Its a business term and a business process very familiar in the business world. Yet when we take a closer look, theres a lot of confusion and questions to raise. For instance, if this is something thats been around the world, why is it that over 70% of M and A’s fail within the first year? In other words, why haven’t we still figured out how to do this? Well, it’s interesting, right? See, from both perspective, often the mergering happens because of potential business wins. A company would want to acquire another company because of the technology or an innovation opportunity or maybe the skills or the talent that they can buy. 


00:50

Monica H. Kang
And the companies who often get acquired are excited about the evaluation, what that would mean for their team, and often the chance to grow even further in a bigger system. Now, as you can imagine, in that process, theres a lot of changes that happen, not only in how things are done, how expectations met, and of course, getting clarity on roles and responsibility, whos doing what and how decisions are going to be finalized in what to do. So you can see why even though an m and a seems successful on the front page, there’s a lot behind the scene that happens that would make us wonder, is this really a success? Today’s guest is going to help us unravel that and navigate some key questions that we might need to face, such as, what are we really doing with middle management? Meet Jennifer Fondere. 


01:47

Monica H. Kang
She is often known as the m and a whisperer. And it’s not a coincidence CEO’s, entrepreneurs and leaders come to her to ask for advice in how to do M and a better. And through consultation and support, she has really helped people rethink about this quote survivor mentality into a thriving opportunity. Why can’t she do this? Well, because she herself has gone through this three times as an executive, one time being acquired, another time being in the team where she was being acquiring and vice versa. And so she certainly had a chance to empathize how difficult this process is. So today we’re going to dive a little bit deeper into the people challenges and what we can do better. Why is this difficult? Where do we start? What do we do? Let’s dive in. Meet Jennifer. 


02:49

Monica H. Kang
So very excited to have Jennifer here. Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us. We are going to dive into m and a. Let’s start with a big question, which is m and a is a process that has been around business for a very long time. Why are we still screwing up all the time? 


03:10

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Good question, Monica. It’s a fascinating dilemma and I should say for our listeners, just so everyone’s 100% clear, m and a is mergers and acquisitions. Yes, because I’ve had enough people go m and A. Is that like s and m? No, it is not. Mergers and acquisitions is what I work in and it’s fascinating to me as well. Why has it the statistic of 70 90% failure rate for mergers and acquisitions has endured for over two decades. That statistic was done, I believe, a Harvard business review study, and it hasn’t changed. It’s part of the reason why I do the work that I do. My thesis is that the people piece of mergers and acquisitions tends to be secondary in deal due diligence. 


04:03

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
And so part of my quest and mission is to help business owners, entrepreneurs and leaders be smarter about the role that people play in m and a success. 


04:16

Monica H. Kang
Well, let’s dive into that a little bit more. You have experienced many of those moments. Bring us back to maybe perhaps the first moment you have gone through a merger and acquisition that m and A experience. Where were you? What company? What was going on? How did it feel? 


04:34

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
My origin story. I love the fact that shows do that more so I’ll share my origin story. My first acquisition was when Nav Tech, a digital mapping company, was acquired by Nokia. If anyone remembers Nokia phone company, the originator of the smartphone. In 2008, Nokia acquired Nav Tech. At the time, I was the head of b two b marketing business to business marketing globally for Naftech. It was my dream job. I went to Thunderbird International Business School with Naftech. I had moved to Paris with my husband and two little kids to literally help roll out Naftec’s map data to car companies, phone companies, enterprise. And it was exciting. We were at the forefront. Now you can’t imagine doing anything without a map. There’s a good percentage of the population now who doesn’t even remember that maps used to be on paper. 


05:37

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
And so for me, being at the forefront of that was amazing. And I was equally excited about the acquisition of Nav tech by Nokia. I thought it was brilliant on Nokia’s part to acquire us that they had recognized people connecting with one another wasn’t going to just be over the phone, it was going to be through map data. Right. Helping to identify where you were meeting up, you know, everything that a map powers. Unfortunately, if you are at all aware of Nokia’s demise, that acquisition did not go well. There were a number of variables. So I focus on the people piece. But I am the first to say there were a lot of things that were unfortunately going wrong for Nokia at the time. 


06:24

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
But our acquisition, I felt, could have been more successful had there been more attention paid to the people part of mergers and acquisitions and the role that people play in helping a vision, a deal vision come to life. 


06:40

Monica H. Kang
Well, let’s dive a little bit deeper there. For those who are newer to that experience, what typically happens in that process, because I think we often only hear in the news, ta da, like somebody has acquired some company at x million billion and wow, that’s a high valuation. And to your point, it’s a long process, many decision makers, many influence. Even when, quote, it is successful, there’s things behind the scene is like not as successful. So break us down a little bit. How long does it typically take? What’s considered a success or not? What’s the right way to even go about understanding what’s a success or not? 


07:19

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Right. So we’ll start there. Successes. Right? Because you go in with a deal thesis, there’s a business case for why you would go into this deal. And the projections are based on what you will hit by year one, right? Post deal, thesis is based on, okay, and here’s what the business is expected to achieve within that first year. And so that failure rate is based on 70% to 90% of companies not hitting that forecasted valuation by year one. And so the tough part is, and there’s so many variables, right? But I’m just going to focus on the people piece of this, because so much of a merger or an acquisition initially is cloaked in secrecy. There’s a lot of reasons for the confidentiality. 


08:11

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
But what I find, and I actually just wrote an article about this in Forbes, middle managers not being included in that deal strategy, the vision and how it’s going to be executed because middle managers are rarely involved in that early stage. To me, that’s the equivalent of battlefield commander in war, not asking his people on the front lines, will this strategy work? Not really understanding, will this be successful once we go to battle? If you haven’t asked your people who are in the trenches in the front line, you are just hoping that this will be successful. 


08:52

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
And I find that analogy is the best description of why I see so many times the deal strategy doesn’t play out in execution because the people who are actually executing it aren’t involved in defining the strategy for it and weighing in whether, do we have enough time? Is the timeline appropriate? Do we have the resources, do we have the right people in place to execute this as this comes together, do we have the right budget? Right. Oftentimes you’ve got two companies coming together and they’re trying to create something new out of that. But do you have the right timeline, budget and resources in order to do that? That’s where your middle managers have an enormous amount of knowledge and insight to bring to that, and yet they’re not typically involved in those discussions. 


09:44

Monica H. Kang
And how long does it usually take? 


09:47

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
That can vary. Each merger or acquisition is different. What I say is you need to be prepared that it’s going to take a while, the upfront part of the journey. 


09:57

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


09:57

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
So let’s divide it into three parts. You have the pre deal due diligence. This is where you’re both checking each other out, you know, whether you’re going through a merger or an acquisition. There’s that dance of, okay, do your numbers look good? Will this work? Do we have the right leadership in place? What’s the market for this? When we come together, there’s all that analysis that has to be done beyond just looking at the books and understanding the business. So that’s the pre deal dance, then you’ve announced the deal, but there can be time, right? 


10:34

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
You probably have seen, particularly in the United States, deals are announced, but particularly those multi billion dollar deals, it can take a while for them to get through all the approvals, even in the middle market or for entrepreneurs who maybe are smaller business, middle market, it can take time to get from the due diligence to announcing it to really feeling like, okay, we’ve come together, we’re a team of one, right? It’s no longer us versus them, it’s we thinking. I talk about that a lot. And so for me it varies by industry and size. But what I always caution is just be prepared. It’s rarely a rapid timeline. 


11:18

Monica H. Kang
And you’ve gone through a few more because that has led you to later on, becoming an MNA expert and navigating that, which we’ll get to. But tell me a little bit more, what happened in the other ones and what was similar and different? 


11:34

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Well, it’s interesting because after the first, my first merger and acquisition experience, that was the Naftech Nokia, then I had two more, right, and the second one, and I won’t belabor all the companies because that’s not the point. But what was interesting is in the next one, I was part of the acquirer. The company had acquired another company and I inherited the team, a team that had been acquired and no one had been their leader for months. Being leaderless they weren’t really sure what their role was. They didn’t understand the vision of the deal and the role that they played in helping that vision to come to life. And so the benefit in that regard as a leader is I knew how they felt. 


12:20

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
I knew what they were thinking to the point where one of the guys on the team that I inherited said, you know, I was beginning to think you were a witch because you kept anticipating and knowing what I was thinking or what the team was worried about. And, you know, I reassured him, no, I’m not a witch, but I know what you’re thinking because I’ve been in your shoes. I know what it’s like to be acquired and to wonder what your value is and to try and understand how you can contribute to this new vision because no one’s actually explained it to you in terms that you can understand. I saw that a big part of my role was to help them understand the role that they played within that bigger vision. 


13:01

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
And then the third acquisition that I went through was private equity acquired a company that I was part of. And it was two weeks before I was about to go to launch, go to market with a new product that my boss called me into his office and said, hey, we need to put that on hold. We’re being acquired by a private equity company. And I thought, dear God, I’m just going to keep going to companies and deal with m and a. This must be a sign from the universe, because it kept happening to me. But the other epiphany I had in that moment was because a number of people said, wow, you seem to be very calm about this. And I said, well, at this point, I know the story. I’ve seen this movie. I know how it ends, as my dad would say. 


13:49

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
And so again, I had leaders around me saying, you know, you should write a book because you seem to have a better understanding of how M and a play out. And it was really that comment more than once from people saying, you seem to know how things played out. You seem to know what it takes to help people get through this and understand what’s going to happen. And I realized that there were patterns of behavior, consistent things that happened in each deal. Despite the fact that I had been on all sides, I saw the same things happening. And so I decided to start writing a book. And it was in the years of research that I did, I interviewed probably about 60 executives, CEO’s, CFO’s, HR leaders, middle managers. And that’s where I got the insight. Oh, it wasn’t just me. There are patterns. 


14:43

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
There are consistent things that play out and why I thought I could make a difference. 


14:49

Monica H. Kang
Could you share some examples? What patterns? 


14:52

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Well, probably the biggest one is the stages of grief that a company can go through. And this, actually, I really, I credit one CEO in particular. His mother was a grief counselor. And so when I was talking to him about what I saw, the behaviors that I saw, and even my own emotions that I had been depressed, particularly when NAFTA was acquired by Nokia, when they really started to integrate us, I went through feelings of anger and depression. And he said, oh, I know what that is. You experienced the stages of grief. And I said to him, well, nobody died. And he said, oh, no. He said, I know from my mother you were mourning the future. That won’t be. That is a part of grieving, right? When we grieve for people, part of that grief, what’s captured in that is mourning the future. 


15:45

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
That won’t be. But when he said that, I realized that’s exactly it. Right. We all tend to envision a certain future ourselves, and a merger or an acquisition can suddenly call that into question, because now we’re not certain of our future. We don’t know how things are going to play out. And I realized we think, oh, I have to wait for someone to tell me what my future is. Probably one of my biggest lessons learned in recognizing this pattern and the fact that we go through these stages of grief was to say, you will go through these stages, but you need to get to acceptance. You need to accept that the change has happened. It doesn’t mean you are joyous and happy that the change has happened, although you could be. 


16:34

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
But the more important thing is you just have to accept that change has happened. And now you need to pivot. And I thought that was a big part of what I wanted to communicate with my book. And the work that I do now is helping people not only recognize the stages of grief and that there are stages, but they can get through those stages. What they need to do is work to get towards acceptance. 


17:01

Monica H. Kang
Tell me a little bit more how you found the nickname of M and a whisperer. 


17:06

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Well, you know, I’m very thankful. When I first started this research, frankly, I was actually still interviewing for CMO roles. I was doing both. I just thought, okay, while I’m looking for my next CMO role, I’m going to write this book. And I had a number of CEO’s who, thankfully, were very candid, shared with me their m and a stories. But they tended to ask me, well, what are you doing besides writing this book? And initially I would say, well, do you know how hard it is to write a book? I was just proud I was writing a book. But I got asked that question enough. And one CEO in particular said, what you are writing about in this book is invaluable. CEO’s need to know that this is what happens to an organization post deal. 


18:00

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
They need to appreciate the role of people in the successful execution of the deal, but also what they can do proactively. How do they set up their frontline leaders, their senior leadership? What are all the things they need to think about beyond just the transactional aspect of M and A to give the deal a chance for success? And it was in that one of those conversations that the CEO said, you’re almost like a CEO whisperer, an m and a whisperer for CEO’s. And I said, oh, I love that. That’s true. The horse whisperer, understanding what horses think and how they. How to help them. He said, you know, parlay that into m and a because what they need is someone like you to help them see what could happen and how they need to address it. 


18:51

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
And so I thought it was a great title, and that’s how I embraced it. 


18:58

Monica H. Kang
Love it. Well, we’re really grateful that you are here being a whisperer for all of us as we navigate all of it. 60 plus leaders on top of your experience researching. I’m curious, like, how long your book took and curious about the process, because I know some of the listeners, like, wait, how can we talk about just how you even did it? 


19:19

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Yeah. Well, so two things happen. I would say I did three years of research. I didn’t have an idea of how long the research would be, but I. I started to pursue the book in earnest in 2016. And at that point, I think it was really proof of concept at first. 


19:41

Monica H. Kang
Right? 


19:41

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Was it just me that went through this in M and A? Am I the only one? So, thankfully, that first year, both in reading about M and A, successes and failures, and unfortunately, there was a lot more literature on failures than there was success. But I kept reading the same things over that reinforced, okay, failure is common, and there were consistent data about what drove the failure. Right. Oftentimes, and it really depends on what list you look at. But the top three that I would see a lot was overvaluation. Right? An impossible valuation. Like the number was oversized versus what was achievable in year one. Synergies that didn’t materialize, things that people thought would become more efficient, actually did not. And so there weren’t the benefits of those efficiencies. And then third was poor cultural fit people challenges. Right. 


20:35

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Those were all kind of glummed together. And for me, I had experienced all of those reasons for M and a failure in each of the m and a experiences that I’d had. So I thought, okay, we need to help prepare leaders for that. And interviewing those CEO’s in that year, one, getting proof of concept in that I wasn’t the only one that had those same experiences. And then getting stories, CEO’s repeatedly were very open. I had more than one CEO said, you know, I’ve never talked with anyone about this, and I’m so glad that you’re writing a book about it, because I do think talking more about it will help people recognize that there’s a way to do this better. 


21:16

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
And it took probably three years at least to get to 60 interviews because I felt from a quiet, from a quantitative standpoint, I wanted to have enough interviews from multiple perspectives. So I didn’t just talk to CEO’s or CFO’s. I talked to HR leaders. I talked to private equity, I talked to advisors, so M and a lawyers, I talked to middle managers, people who had the deal happen to them. Thankfully, the patterns remain the same, but it just made the stories more come alive. It made my thesis about the role that people play and how to do a better job as a leader. The interviews really helped bring that to life. And so for me, the research was incredibly important in order to validate the ways that I saw that M and a could be done better. 


22:16

Monica H. Kang
No. Thank you so much for doing the research and bringing that all together. I’m curious if you can kind of piggyback and dive a little bit deeper into each of those different angles to share some wisdom in what we can do better. So first, like, for somebody who is perhaps as an entrepreneur going through a potential m and a, what is at least one or two tips that you would recommend they consider doing to make sure that it goes well? 


22:41

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Yeah, well, and it’s interesting cause I interviewed a number of entrepreneurs for the book, and they’re all, I don’t name people. I wanted people to have the confidence to just share freely. But what was fascinating is how many entrepreneurs said, I wish I had been smarter about the people piece. Earlier. They confessed that they had gotten so fixated more on the transaction and the deal valuation and the potential dollar signs that they didn’t ask enough about the employees that they hadn’t really made that part of the discussion. And they realized they should have equally negotiated earlier on. Now, these were entrepreneurs who were acquired consistently. I think I talked with a few who had acquired, but more consistently. The story I’m telling here is about those entrepreneurs who were acquired. 


23:39

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Their lesson learned was I should have prioritized the people piece because the company that I started, the original vision that I had for it, kind of disappeared because the company changed. I hadn’t thought enough about how my employees were gonna be treated, the role that they played, the contributions that they would make to the vision. There was a bit of regret in not having prioritized the people. So I would say to entrepreneurs, it’s during that deal, due diligence. Absolutely. Focus on the numbers. What are the opportunities? Where is your business and what do you see as the potential? But equally in those discussions, don’t forget about the people piece, because that’s when you have the most leverage. 


24:25

Monica H. Kang
No, that’s a really good reminder. Second angle employee. Hey, I just learned that this acquisition is going on in my organization. As you said in your example, you’re about to launch a product. I worked so hard on this, and now they’re telling me to stop. I don’t know if I’m gonna even have a job. Like what should I worry or like, be doing to position myself for success? 


24:49

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Yeah. And this is always hard. 


24:51

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


24:51

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
But I just say, and I speak from my own experience, you need to let go of the past. Let go of, hey, this is my role. Look what I’ve achieved. I deserve this respect. I wish someone had told me I was interviewing for my job all over again. That’s not necessarily a negative, but I think if you understand going in. Yeah. You gotta prove yourself again. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you’ve got a skill set that you’re proud of. So I say the thing to focus on quickly, let go of the past. Be future focused, not backwards bound. Don’t necessarily rely on your boss. He or she has their own full plate. Particularly in what I went through, which were multi billion dollar acquisitions. You need to look for the opportunities, or you’re really ambitious. You can create opportunities. Right. 


25:47

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
You can often find that there is a missing piece. Right. Particularly. So I’ll use Naftech, my Naftech Nokia experience, as an example. Right. The one woman who reported to me did a very good job of seeing that the communication between the teams wasn’t happening, that our company and their company, that lack of communication meant that were overlapping in certain areas and also finding out, unfortunately, in front of the clients that we had overlapped. And that was a miss. And even though she was junior, she recognized that being that bridge between the two groups and literally organizing and coordinating so that people could see, okay, you’re working on this, we’re working on that. It’s part of the same vision, but we’re working on different aspects. But how do we complement each other versus compete with each other? 


26:44

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
She took on that responsibility and it actually helped elevate her to a bigger role because she saw that opportunity. So I highlight, particularly for middle managers, you have enormous opportunity in front of you if you look for it. And that’s why I always say you have to embrace uncertainty, embrace the unknown, embrace the fact that there’s not a roadmap specifically because these two companies are coming together and you’re creating a new roadmap. Find your role in contributing to that roadmap. 


27:17

Monica H. Kang
Definitely hearing the importance of being proactive versus letting others decide on your potential faith. What about on the other side? So from those who are in leadership, who are making the acquisition and acquiring a new team and a new company, what should they look out or do that could help improve the situation? 


27:39

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
There’s so much that I advise CEO’s and leadership teams on there. Two things come to mind, and it’s driven by where I’ve seen the most success, when companies come together and the leadership of both sides has respect for the other side. And the analogy I use is, I’ll say, think about the marriages you most admire. Absolutely. There’s love. That’s the foundation. But partnerships or marriages you most admire, what rings through is respect that each partner respects the other. And they may be different, but they bring out the best in each other. And those are the unions, certainly, that I admire. And every time I talk with leadership, they say yes. And thankfully, a number of them say, that’s the kind of partnership I have with my wife or my husband. And so I say, you have to bring that same mindset to this. 


28:34

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
And it starts at the top. If you demonstrate respect for the other side, what they contribute to this partnership, and you highlight the value that they bring, and both sides are constantly doing that, then your frontline leaders, your middle managers, go into meetings with that respect, and it helps overcome what I see undermine so many deals, which is acquisition arrogance. Right. The company that acquires tends to be arrogant about the acquisition we acquired you. You’re lucky. Whereas the company that gets acquired that says, well, you paid a lot of money for us. Don’t you want to hear what we have to say? And it can create this us versus them dynamic. So first and foremost, I say respect has to be at the core of that coming together and role modeling that behavior. 


29:28

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
And the tough part with this throughout, and it comes up a lot in my consulting, the tough part with mergers and acquisitions is it comes with negative baggage. Everyone knows about the failures. They don’t know about the successes of M and A. 


29:45

Monica H. Kang
Right? 


29:45

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
That 70% to 90% statistic that we talked about up front, that’s the thing that rings true. So the ten to 30% successes, no one knows about those. And so I say to leaders, you have to understand everything you say and do once the deal is announced, you’re starting at negative ten, because now people are looking for everything that reaffirms, oh, this is the worst thing ever. This is going to be terrible for my career. This is going to be terrible for the company because they’ve already heard all the negative things that ever happened to all companies that go through a merger and acquisition. So I say to leadership on both sides, right, acquirer or acquiree, you need to understand that people are going to be looking, they’re going to read between the lines. 


30:34

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
They are looking for everything that confirms the negative things they already think about this. So you have to appreciate that it’s not just what you say, it’s what you do, it’s how you act. It’s the body language. It’s how you write emails. So I’ll give examples. I’ll say, you write an email, you put a couple people in the to line, and you put a bunch of other people in the CC line, you can have people who legitimately go, I used to be in the two line. My boss used to write these kinds of emails to me. Now I’m in CC. Maybe my role isn’t as important. And I’ve had leadership literally laugh and say, oh, my God, you’re right. I had someone on my team say, hey, am I not leading these meetings anymore? And you said, no, of course you still are. 


31:25

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Well, you didn’t include me in the two line. I’m in the CC line. Oh, well, that’s because I thought you already knew your role. Well, no, people don’t. They start to wonder, what’s the role that I now play in this? And something as silly as an email and who you include in the two line versus the CC line can have people spinning their wheels about the role that they play. And so I say to leadership, this is not to make you paranoid, it means you just have to be more sensitive. And that’s why I consider M and a leadership a unique kind of leadership. You have to be sensitive to the fact that people are looking for cues and they’re reading into things that you might never expect. 


32:08

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
I had another leader as another example of this, who, after the acquisition, he started talking about a product launch of the other company. Right. That they had just acquired. He was talking more about their product launch than a product that he and one of his teams had been working on. So in a status meeting a couple of weeks later, he asked that team, well, where are we on this? And they said, well, we put a pause on it. And he said, what? Why did you put a pause on it? And the woman who reported to him said, weren’t talking about it anymore. So we understood. We took that to mean that this product wasn’t as important. And so we slowed it down, and we started working on other things. And he said, well, why would you do that? 


32:54

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
And she said, well, you weren’t talking about it at all. All of the town halls, everything. You talked about the other company’s products. And he said, well, I was trying to help them feel encouraged that were really excited about that. But I said, it’s a perfect example, again, of how people read between the lines to interpret what’s really going on. So you have to be sensitive to that. 


33:18

Monica H. Kang
And the fourth angle, of course, is those who are coming from the acquired company but are not in leadership, and maybe they’re learning for the first time, like, wait, what? We’re acquiring another company. I thought I had a clear path in my career. So they’re also flipped over and surprised. What can non leaders who are in the acquisition company team members do because they’re not in the power position to make those decisions. 


33:42

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Well, it’s similar to the advice I gave earlier in that don’t wait for people to tell you the value that you bring. Don’t wait for opportunity to suddenly be presented to you. It is incumbent on you. And it’s a part of the workshops that I do with frontline leaders to help them lead their teams. It’s incumbent on you to know, well, what’s the value that I bring to this? What’s my talent that I can contribute to this? Because the tendency can be to just say, I’m out of here. I don’t like where this is going. I don’t understand. Be patient. Look to see where there might be opportunities, and particularly, you may have had a skill set that can be invaluable to where the direction of the company is now going. Right. Because the metrics for success change post deal. 


34:34

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
So before you jump to another company where you have to start all over again, right. You’ve built up equity in this company. See how you can parlay that. Look for opportunities. Do your due diligence to figure out, okay, what does this vision mean? Where is the company going? And how might I contribute to the company achieving this? Because I will say, you will be surprised at the opportunities you will find when you put your energy into looking for them, as opposed to focusing your energy on all the things you’re losing. Right. I talked earlier about let go of the past and be future focused. That’s the advice I give to individuals. 


35:18

Monica H. Kang
Thank you so much for generously sharing your wisdom with us, not only here, but also through your book, your research and consultation. I think it’s so important that we got a chance to cover some of your original story, as you said, because so many people out there as well, they might go through multiple mergers and acquisitions, or M and A’s and all of that, but at the end of the day, like, what do we do with that information? What do we do with those challenges and opportunities that we face? And so I know folks who are listening will be inspired to know that, hey, they’re not alone and that they can do something with it. So I’m being reminded from our conversation, the proactiveness, remembering the human element on what we can do is so key. 


35:56

Monica H. Kang
Any final words of wisdom that you want to share overall, no matter where they are in their journey? 


36:03

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Yeah. Well, you know, Monica, because your focus is on innovation. Right. Helping to spur innovation. One last thought that I would have. Because unfortunately, mergers and acquisitions tends to kill innovation within companies because they’re trying to figure out how do we bring these companies together. And so that’s why I say focus on the people piece, because you don’t want to kill the innovation. One of the personalities that I talk about that can kill innovation is the know it all. Don’t be a know it all on either side of the deal. Right. Because I’ve seen it on both sides. 


36:40

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


36:40

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
The acquirer says, we already know it all. And the acquiree says, well, if you know everything, then why did you acquire us? But equally, the company that was acquired can be a know it all, right? We know how to do it. Leave us alone and let us continue to do things the way we did. I remind people that for innovation to occur, you have to see what you both bring to this, again the respect for each other. You’re now co creating something new. That’s the reason you both needed each other. An m and a deal doesn’t happen if one company can go it alone. There’s a reason that this deal happened. So if you have respect for each other, you don’t act as though you know everything but actually look for how can we co create new things together? That’s when innovation happens. 


37:33

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
And so I just highlight that it’s such a critical piece and what I see happen time and again that innovation is killed post deal. I’m looking for companies to keep that innovation alive. 


37:45

Monica H. Kang
Well, I know they’re going to listen to this and say we’re not going to make this mistake. And so, Jennifer, thank you so much. It was such a treat to have you. What’s the best way folks can follow up with you and stay in touch with you? 


37:57

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
A number of ways. But first and foremost, I post a lot on LinkedIn. I would say reach out to me on LinkedIn. Jennifer J. Fondrave I am the only Jennifer J. Fondrave in the world. I can say that emphatically. And so you’ll find me there. My website is another place where you can explore what I do. Jennifer jfondrive.com I try and keep it simple. It’s always my name. And you know the book, what I have loved about my book in particular, it’s available on Amazon. It’s called now what? A survivor’s guide for thriving through mergers and acquisitions. But what I love about the book is it’s not just applicable to mergers and acquisitions. It’s about people facing uncertainty, period. Uncertainty in their work environment. And frankly, I think every company that I know of is going through some amount of uncertainty. 


38:49

Jennifer J. Fondrevay
So I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me who’ve read my book and said this book was so helpful in helping me identify either stages that I was in or the types of people who I’m working with and how to work with them. So those would be the three ways. Monica, thanks for asking. 


39:07

Monica H. Kang
And folks, you know the drill. Find all of these good links in our show notes. If you have trouble finding, always go to dearworkplace.com or send us a quick [email protected] dot. We’ll be sure to make sure you have all the links and connect with Jennifer. But Jennifer, thank you so much again for joining us, folks. Thanks again for tuning in for another conversation. We’ll be back again next week and we will see you soon. Thank you. 


39:36

Monica H. Kang
You definitely want to check out her book now what and survivors guide for thriving through mergers and acquisitions. As she has pointed out through her research in 60 plus executives interviews, she’s found a powerful insight and key patterns on how not only you can navigate M and A, but general business decisions that are going to be really key. But this conversation really leads to the bigger picture that its not as easy as it seems. So what else can we do? Well, next week were going to invite another guest who is navigating M and a continuously in a major corporation that you all might love, Netflix. Were going to get a chance to ask him how he navigates, what he does, and how to make better decisions, especially when you were leading M and a within a company. 


40:27

Monica H. Kang
So join us next week and we will dive into another conversation on how we navigate M & A.better. Have a great week and I’ll see you at the next Dear workplace episode. This is your host Monica Kang. Thanks again for joining us. This is your host Monica Kang at Dear Workplace and I’m so glad you are here. This show is possible thanks to our amazing podcast team who has worked with me at InnovatorsBox Studios. Shout out to audio engineering and producing by Sam Lehmart, audio engineering assistant by Ravi Lad, website and marketing support by Kree Pandey, graphic support by Lea Orsini, Christine Eribal, and original music by InnovatorsBox studios, and writing, interviewing, podcasting, directing, and all that jazz by me, Monica Kang. 


41:26

Monica H. Kang
Share us your feedback and suggestions as we continue to look to improve and answer the questions that you have about the workplace. Have a great day and I’ll see you soon. 

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