Advice for the Acquired

Harvard Business Review

August 8, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

This Week’s Question for Ask the Coach:

Our company is about to be acquired. My friends have warned me that this can spell trouble. Do you have suggestions for professionals in acquired companies?

The standard PR hype that goes with an acquisition sounds something like this, “We are so impressed with management and the direction of the company that we are acquiring that we have no interest in changing them. In fact, we believe that we can learn a lot from all they have done right.”

While the acquiring company may actually believe this message at the time of the acquisition – this love- fest seldom lasts beyond a few quarters.

There is one seemingly obvious fact that an amazing number of employees in acquired companies never get:


o As soon as your company is acquired forget about “us” and “them.” You are now part of “them” – the old “us” no longer exists. They can do whatever they want to do. Once you make peace with this fact, your life will be a lot easier. (If your old company’s management didn’t want to transfer ownership to the new owners – they shouldn’t have cashed the checks and deposited the money.)

o Accept the fact that you are now working for a different company. Don’t make assumptions about the future based upon your history with the old company. Realize that – as a professional – you may well be starting over. Learn what matters most to your new executives and new board.

o Look for the positives in the company that acquired yours. Face it, if you were so brilliant – and they were so stupid, how could the stupid they have acquired enough money to buy the brilliant you?

o Read the tea leaves. If it looks like you are going to have no future, because the acquisition will lead to “right-sizing” in your function, start looking for another job. Realize that the acquiring company may well have more loyalty to their previous employees than to you.

o Revisit how you are working. This acquisition may well bring resources that your previous company did not have. Consider how these resources can be leveraged to help you make a larger contribution than you have made in the past. Take advantage of these new resources to better serve your customers and stakeholders.

I hope that these suggestions are helpful to any readers in companies that have been – or are about to be – acquired.

What is your experience upon being acquired? Send in your comments. Any positives that can be emulated, or negatives that can be avoided, will be appreciated.