How to be an attractive acquisition target

Mergers are a fact of life and how you approach your job could make a difference if your employer is bought out

Mergers and acquisitions have become a way of life across many industries. With vendors, competitors and sometimes their own companies consolidating at a rapid clip, IT managers and staffers at all levels have to stay on their toes in order to ensure job security.

Three attributes will help IT workers at the turn of the decade: agility, the ability to learn new technology, and a thirst for knowledge about not only their own jobs and those of their co-workers but also those of their peers at other companies.

Take it from someone who has been through a few mergers. According to Barry Libenson, CIO at Ingersoll-Rand, in 2010, IT workers’ value to the company will be based on how well they use and build on their IT skills, across their own companies and industry-wide.

“If I’m a $100 million company and I’m an acquisition target, I want to be as valuable as possible, even the most valuable, to the acquirer. [To become that worker] it’s a good idea to build skills around mainstream, standard or next-generation technologies. More contemporary and less legacy is also value-added.”

In financial services, it takes a lot of work for an acquirer to integrate the IT staffers from a target company. At UBS, a Zurich-based financial services firm with offices worldwide, juggling the needs of an expanded IT staff while integrating systems with existing business priorities is “a struggle”, according to Seth Osher, a director at the company.

“In terms of staffing, [M&As] can increase the pool of workers, but it can also mean that you’re first shackled with trying to redeploy displaced workers that might not meet your team’s standards, instead of going outside the company [for their services],” says Osher. “In my experience, this is the single greatest challenge: maintaining existing focus and delivery while coping with the integration problems.”

Although there are some upsides — such as increased developer efficiency — short timelines and coordination across many systems and business functions further complicate the process, he says.

This is a challenge across industries, says Glenn Cullen, an analyst at Forrester Research. The business manager plays a crucial role in helping to attenuate difficulties in the post-merger entity, he says.

In the banking industry, a worker is valued based on how much he contributes to keeping the organisation in the black — always key in financial markets, says Carlton Ahern, testing infrastructure architect at Zions Bank in Utah.

“A lot has to do with where you’re strategically aligned in the organisation. How do you contribute to the bottom line?” Ahern says.

Across the banking industry, mergers and acquisitions are done in part so companies can acquire technology or market share. “You have to understand where in the organisation you are and where you stand on the balance sheet,” Ahern explains.

Make sure you continually build on your knowledge, network with your peers, and keep an eye on global technology development in your industry. By making those efforts, you’ll ensure that you’re valuable to any voracious acquirer.

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