What to Do When Your Company Is Sold


August 4, 2009

by Marshall Goldsmith

The business landscape is changing dramatically as many companies are being acquired and/or merging into others. This can be very stressful for the employees of the acquired company who worry about their job security, financial stability, and so much more.

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 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: They own you. You must remember that fact, and realize that it has the potential to change just about everything. Here are some things to keep in mind.

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 and control to the new owners, it shouldn’t have cashed the checks and deposited the money.)

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, no matter how much experience you had, or credibility with the former owner. Learn what matters most to your new executives and new board.

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

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.

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 these suggestions are helpful to any of you in companies that have been—or are about to be—acquired.