Welcome to the age of merger mania. In 1996, corporate mergers hit a record high for the third year in a row with $663 billion in activity. And And this feeding frenzy is not likely to stop. For the first two months of 1997, $128 billion in merger transactions were posted, up from the $89 billion posted last year for the same time period, according to Securities Data Co. in Newark, New Jersey.
In the 1980s, many mergers were prompted by companies scuttling about for funds. But today. corporate marriages are being driven by a search for new customers, markets and talented employees. Yet, however promising these deals may be for shareholders and customers, all this corporate gyration is leaving employees in a lurch.
Those workers most threatened are in human resources, accounting and data processing, areas that may overlap when the two companies come together, says Dave Jones, vice president of Career Management Services at Personnel Decisions International in Minneapolis, Minnesota. But, he adds, there is hope for employees in areas such as sales and information systems.
Robby Boyd and Delbert White saw new opportunities after merger talks between their employer, Office Depot, the No. 2 office supply company’ and Staples, the industry leader. “I knew with the merger more salespeople would be needed,” says Boyd, a senior account executive in Minneapolis. “With the possibility of an $11 billion company to leverage, I saw it as a great opportunity, maybe a national account.”
For White, a manager of technical support for point-of-sales systems in Delray Beach, Florida, the merger also meant the forging of new ground. “We have a very robust IS network, so I knew the challenge would be to grow and take care of the 1,100 stores that would need technology to support a common platform.”
Even if your prospects may not be as good as Boyd’s or White’s, you can still take advantage of the situation and use it to get ahead in your career. Employ the following tips if the threat of a merger looms:
Understand your emotions and uncertainty. Know that you are going to have fears. You will go into a self preservation mode, but keep it in perspective.
Watch your attitude. Stay positive and look for new and exciting opportunities in the reconstituted company.
Be open to change. Uttering the phrase, “This is how we have always done it.” is the kiss of death. Don’t assume that the acquiring company wants to maintain your status quo. If you are rhapsodizing about the old company, what good will you be to the new organization?
Keep your ear to the ground and stay visible. It’s a natural tendency to recede into the woodwork during times of chaos. Wrong move. Cancel your vacation plans. Communicate with your manager in a non-confrontational way and ask, “What’s next?”
“Company people” are survivors. Attend all meetings and functions. Introduce yourself to all members of the new team. Helping on a project, no matter how trivial, goes a long way in raising one’s workplace visibility.
Control your own career