by Benoit Vialle, COO of NakedWines.com
Companies are bought and sold every day. Maybe the acquiring company is looking for a unique technology asset to round out its portfolio. Or perhaps the acquired business seeks an acquisition deal to gain access to a wider marketplace. No matter what the reason, an acquisition tends to shake things up at both businesses.
Sometimes the acquired company’s culture is absorbed without a trace into the acquiring organization. But in other scenarios, the ethos of the acquired company permeates the acquiring business, binding the newly formed team together and giving the acquiring organization a fresh new purpose. So how do you preserve your company culture after an acquisition?
The first step has to take place long before you land on anyone’s target acquisition list: You have to build a company culture that’s worth keeping, an environment that the acquiring company will view as a valuable asset. If your idea of a great company culture is just having a foosball table and Xbox in the breakroom, you’ll be indistinguishable from every other startup with a cool game room, and the acquiring company may decide there’s nothing special about you.
But if your company culture is truly unique and a key business driver, the acquiring company will likely see it as an important asset and work with you to preserve it. For example, if your company engages customers and suppliers in a uniquely effective way, you likely have a company culture that is a core part of the overall business value.
That was the case when my company, NakedWines.com, was acquired. We had a unique company culture that was the driving force behind our ability to disrupt an industry rooted in tradition. Part of the acquisition deal was that our founder would become CEO of the whole group and imbue the entire organization with our unique culture – because that is what made us an acquisition target in the first place.
So if the first step is to create a company culture worth preserving, the next logical step is to define that culture. In the startup world, cultures often develop organically over time, and sometimes the company’s leaders are almost afraid to define it, as if codifying it would somehow interrupt the magic and make it too “corporate.” But it’s essential to define what makes the company different if you want to preserve its uniqueness.
A good way to start is to look at your company through the eyes of a competitor. What is it about your company that would surprise competitors if they could shadow your people for a day? (Hint: It’s not the foosball table!) Take a look at how you handle relationships with customers and/or suppliers. Evaluate your practices in the context of competitors’ business processes. That’s likely where you’ll find what makes your company special.
And finally, it’s important to recognize the role leadership plays in building and preserving a company culture. Effective leaders don’t have to force their vision onto the team – they inspire people to live the company’s values and imbue the company culture into every facet of the decision-making process. Great leaders can sustain a positive company culture through rapid growth, motivating newbies to adopt the same passion and spirit the core team displays.
So there you have it: To make sure your company culture is preserved, first you have to build a culture worthy of preservation. Then you have to figure out what’s special about it, and make sure you have the type of leaders who inspire others to adopt it. When you follow these steps, you’ll increase the odds of extending your company culture, no matter what the future brings.
Benoit Vialle is the COO of NakedWines.com and a seasoned sales and marketing executive, who has spent 15+ years developing tech and ecommerce businesses across the world. He is a dual US and French citizen and is featured regularly as an expert on technology and business.