I was in Las Vegas for the IBS show and was asked to facilitate a meeting with a diverse group of people: builders, architects, remodelers, distributors, and manufacturers. My goal when I get these requests is to make the meeting as meaningful as it can be, mainly by keeping things rolling and helping the group produce a conclusion and/or a task list.
This gathering was different in that many things were in the air that had nothing to do really with the meeting at hand. I always start these meetings with a roundtable meet-and-greet to see who my audience is and make sure everyone feels comfortable about their surroundings. This allows everyone to feel comfortable talking so the meeting will flow.
During the introductions, I noticed the roughly 50 participants had something in common: Most of them were now with companies that had just been part of a buyout, merger, or some other type of consolidation. They were trying to mesh companies together (in one case, merging four companies into a single unit), working through the synergies that you would hope to have with a buyout or merger.
I reached out to several in the group afterward to discuss how they were handling their new acquisition and how that was affecting them and their company. I didn’t hear much worry from the people about the new company and/or their role in the new company. These folks had no fear of losing jobs or responsibilities; they were owners or senior VPs or presidents.
They all talked about how the new combinations would reduce costs as well as promote efficiency by adopting best practices. They talked about what revenues would come from the combination of the customer mix, and they talked about the effect on jobs from the doubling up of the job titles. In other words, they said all the things a high-level manager or VP or president would say.
That’s all well and good. However …
In all of my conversations with more than 15 different people, not one person said anything about the people or the customer side of their business going forward.
Darrell Royal, the University of Texas football coach whose teams won three national championships in 20 years, once declared: “You dance with the one that brung ya.” In his case, he meant you should keep sending into the game the people whose talents had been helping you win. For an LBM dealer, it means this: Great customer partners helped get you to the point where you could merge, so they deserve your utmost attention going forward.
Don’t make a move without considering how they will be affected. If we close this plant and keep this plant, how will this affect this customer base? If we move this salesman from this account and replace him with this one, how does this affect this customer group?
These questions need to be asked about every single move that gets contemplated. Customers everywhere are creatures of habit and slow to change. In the building industry it is even more so. Focus on serving them even as your operations get transformed.
There’s another group in a merger that may be even more important than your customers: The employees who brought you to the dance. Ask yourself the same questions about them as you should with your customers. How will the merger/buyout/combination affect them?
Many years ago—OK, many, many years ago--I was working in a cabinet shop when the lead machine operator said something that I will never forget.
“Now son, this is a fine piece of machinery,” he told me. “And the boss paid a heap of money for it. But it ain’t worth a damn without people to run it.”
Executives always strive to build a great company. But without great customers and great employees, all you have is just a bunch of buildings and machinery.
Dance with the ones that brung you. Make sure the customer knows he is the reason that you are growing and merging; this will make it easier for you to work through the changes with them.
Start, too, with the employee who brought you to where you are. Make sure they understand that without them, you would not be in this place and able to move to the next level. Sure, there will be some fallout with all the changes, and sure, there may be a better customer or employee out there. But I’ll bet the ones that brought you to the dance are very good.