You Can (Usually) Survive Merger Trauma If You Keep Your Cool
MARYLYN Rosenblum knows that mergers can create considerable career anxiety.
``I’d love to hear what people at Lotus are saying these days,″ she says about the software maker’s pending nuptials with IBM.
Ms. Rosenblum’s curiosity stems from her own experiences. After Harcourt Brace bought CBS’s book publishing division in 1986, it sold off her unit, CBS Interactive Learning. She ended up leaving and moving her family cross-country to Novato, Calif., to become vice president of education sales and marketing for Broderbund Software. Last year, Broderbund agreed to be acquired by Electronic Arts, although the deal fell apart after several months.
Like most Lotusites, Ms. Rosenblum is eminently employable in a fast-growing industry. Still, anyone involved in a merger must wonder: What will the new management expect? How do they measure performance? Will I fit in its culture? How independent will we be? And most of all, should I start looking around?
``I felt terribly exposed,″ says Ms. Rosenblum of the Electronic Arts deal. ``It gives you some tiny kind of inkling of what it was like to be a slave; you woke up in the morning, and your ownership had changed.″
Idealistic Broderbund employees worried that Electronic Arts, a commercial game maker, wouldn’t appreciate their zeal for high-toned educational software for kids. Also, some duplicate jobs would be jeopardized.
Ms. Rosenblum felt relatively protected _ educational sales weren’t an Electronic Arts strength. And if she had to look for work, her husband’s antique business was portable, she was in a hot industry, and, as a sales and marketing person, she had a broad network of contacts. ``I knew I could turn on that switch if I had to,″ she says.
STILL, SHE reviewed her resume and took calls from management recruiters she had previously avoided. The experience ``changes one’s sense of security,″ she says. ``You come in every Monday morning and wonder what’s going to happen this week. I don’t think that will go away for me.″
Nor will it vanish for many others as merger activity continues to pick up steam. ``You may be a hot property, but you may like the school district you’re in; your wife may have a job she likes,″ Ms. Rosenblum says. ``I was in Cambridge recently and walked past Lotus’s day-care center; I wonder how many people there can easily get up and leave.″
So how do you protect your career when your company is being pursued? Glad you asked. Here is my ``Career Guide for the Besieged,″ or what to do during a merger:
Ms. Rosenblum’s less-than-flattering preconception of Electronic Arts diminished after meeting with her prospective boss there. She discovered they shared more values than she had expected. ``I liked him and felt more comfortable about it,″ she says.
Don’t do anything rash.
The new structure could be custom-made for your style. Or the deal might fall through. Either way, it takes months to sort out. Use the time to plot out what you really want. Ms. Rosenblum says a few people left Broderbund shortly after the merger was announced. Perhaps they all found great jobs, with little relocation and career trauma, but I suspect some are now kicking themselves.
Do some research.
What’s your new parent’s strategy and style? Which product areas are growing and which are being phased out? Why did the company buy you? IBM certainly doesn’t need Lotus’s facilities, it needs its technical expertise, which means it needs Lotus’s people.
Make sure you read the tea leaves correctly.
``I had a guy say, `I got their organizational chart, and there’s nobody who does what I do, so I’m going to be spared,‴ recalls Mitchell Marks, author of ``From Turmoil to Triumph,″ about the aftermath of mergers and restructurings. ``But the reason they didn’t was that they didn’t value what he did; he was one of the first to go.″
This is a stressful time, so maybe you should put off buying that home or car. ``Cut back on other major changes in your life to cut down on stress,″ management consultant Price Pritchett says.
Don’t resist change.
Invariably, says Mr. Pritchett, who specializes in organizational change, many people foolishly do just that. ``It creates tremendous stress for them, puts their careers at risk, is an unbelievable emotional drain and destroys job satisfaction,″ he says. Besides, he adds, ``it’s doomed to fail.″
Don’t expect a smooth transition and quick answers.
``People assume that when a merger’s announced, there’s a plan in place,″ Mr. Marks says. ``The reality is, premerger activity focuses on financials; don’t expect that there is a plan.″
Don’t play it safe.
After a merger, people don’t know where they fit and how their new bosses keep score, so they often do nothing. Big mistake; it’s crucial that you use this time to show your stuff. First impressions are hard to change.
Finally, always be ready to leave.
``If you want loyalty, buy a dog,″ Ms. Rosenblum says. ``I tell people who work for me to take every opportunity to expose themselves to people outside the company so they’re in a position to call and say, `Hey, remember me?‴