The business strategy du jour is the makeover. That’s where a profitable company that isn’t exciting is transformed into a new company with a lot more pizzazz and a lot more profit potential. The ideal candidate is an old-line, rust belt company that makes money, has a clean balance sheet, a lot of cash, reasonable cash flow and—better yet—is near Fortune 500 size. But it’s low in earnings, drama and growth potential. It’s the leader in a market that isn’t going anywhere.
The company’s board comes up with a hotshot stranger whose mission is to bring the firm into the modern age, get earnings up where they ought to be, and be rewarded with some really golden options and bonuses. With the company’s financials, getting cash is no problem and this guy knows what to do with it—buy into the really going industries and into the markets of the moment.
Who could resist? As soon as the news about the business strategy breaks, the share value increases and there’s a lot of excitement about the firm, especially if the new CEO has a track record in turnarounds. Sounds like a sure thing; what could go wrong? Plenty!
For one thing, there’s a reason why anything is for sale. It’s pretty unusual to find anyone giving away good stuff. Making money is tougher than that. Just think about the divisions that are going on the blocks from your firm! And who needs the pain of a turnaround?
Most or all of the incumbent executive staff may need replacing, especially when there are new products and new markets involved. The incumbents may not have a clue to the new technologies and supply chains they’ll need. It’s not at all unusual to find some actually resisting change. So at the very least, the resisters will have to be replaced by more energetic types. But who can be really sure who they are?
Existing customers may not be all that interested, because they are probably not consumers of the new products. So the first order of business is to lure the customers of the acquired firms to the new organization. That may not be easy, especially if the acquired firm wasn’t performing well. Remember, it was for sale! Who ever said it was easy to attract new customers?
So it’s not a slam dunk, no matter what the consultants say. Obviously, the investors ought to be concerned. But the people on the payroll ought to be even more concerned because they have more to lose and less to gain.
Here’s why. First, the chain of advancement is broken. Some rungs in the ladder are gone; there may even be a whole new ladder. New folks are coming in, new technologies are in vogue, and the new guy will bring in his folks. New folks, a new ladder and more people than chairs—what could be more fun than that?
Next, the jobs may have changed, or at least the technologies certainly have, and expertise in something that doesn’t exist anymore isn’t going to help you advance your career.
The expense of adding new divisions and holdings will require cost cutting. That usually means the incumbent employees will take a pay cut. Whether the cut is temporary or permanent depends on whether the acquisitions are as good as advertised.
Investors, become very agile and watchful! Employees, get your resum?in order! Executives, get ready to play musical chairs! You’re about to go through a makeover and it may not be a lot of fun!