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Why mergers fall apart?

An Op-Ed piece published in the Financial Chronicle :
Why mergers fall apart?


Roopen Roy


Mergers in professional services firms have failed in the past and 
will fail in the future. What really causes mergers to fall apart? 
Much too often firms are driven by the immediate desire to boost the financial 
performance: to increase the top line and  improve profitability. 
Leaders of service organizations do not pay sufficient attention to 
the strategic and cultural fit. They do not focus enough on synergies 
and challenges of a combination. The inability to integrate and 
culturally assimilate destroy combinations 
To  achieve success, one must carefully study the role of 
organizational culture in a combination. Charles Handy in his famous 
book “Gods of Management” categorized organization cultures into four buckets and he named them after four Greek gods: Zeus, Apollo, Athena and Dionysus. 
“Zeus” is characterized by a Club Culture. Most power is concentrated 
in the hands of one individual. The organization web shakes with each 
move of the “spider”  who is at the front and centre of every 
initiative. Proximity to the boss is vitally important as he 
frequently uses his network of friendships and old boys.   Owner-owned 
businesses, start-ups, investment banks and brokerage firms usually 
reflect a dominant club culture. 
“Apollo” is known for its strong role culture which focuses on 
structures, order and efficiency. Power is hierarchical and clearly 
defined in the company's job descriptions. Decision-making occurs at 
the top of the organization hierarchy. Manufacturing companies usually 
reflect an Apollonian organization. 
“Athena” represents the Task Culture. Power is derived from 
the skills and expertise required to complete a task or project. 
Decision making occurs through meritocracies. People move 
frequently from one project or group to another. Task culture fosters 
a high level of adaptation by focusing on talent, youth, creativity, 
diversity, innovation and problem-solving ---in a team mode. Professional 
services organizations, consultancies and ad agencies reflect a 
dominant Athenian culture. 
“Dionysus” embraces an Existential Culture. Organizations exist for 
individuals to achieve their goals. Employees see themselves as 
independent experts. Decision making occurs by consent of the 
professionals. Universities and research institutions reflect a 
dominant Dionysian culture. 
In reality, no organization has a “pure” culture that is 
exclusively one of the four. Handy himself was quick to point out that 
usually you would see the co-existence of multiple cultures within the 
same organization but typically there would be one dominant culture. The 
ancient Greeks themselves worshipped all four Gods simultaneously. 
A professional services organization embraces the Athena 
culture. Imposing a Zeus culture in a professional services 
organization is likely to spell disaster, although certain parts of 
of a consulting firm may benefit from an “Apollo” way of bringing in some 
structure and processes. In mergers,the cultural assimilation is a subtle 
exercise which orchestrates the multiple aspirations of human talent 
and unleashes innovation, creativity and problem solving. It is the 
delicate art of a goldsmith and not the heavy-handed craft of a 
Little things matter. When Andersen Consulting changed its name to 
Accenture and floated its shares on the market, it did not change one 
thing that was close to the heart of its leaders –the title of 
“Partner”. It did not make any legal sense to call a consulting leader 
of a listed company a “partner” but that is exactly what it did.  The 
pride and entrepreneurship that are at the heart of a partnership 
culture was sought to be preserved by Accenture. In a more extreme 
case, when IBM whose dominant culture is Apollo, acquired a global 
consulting business, it not only preserved the title of partner in the 
acquired business, IBM even embraced an Athena culture in their 
consulting outfit, although their overarching corporate culture 
continued to be Apollonian. IBM’s merger integration was arguably one 
of the most successful combinations in the professional services 
business in recent memory. 
Respect for diversity and the nurturing of a global, mobile talent 
pool are critical to the success of international combinations. 
Unilever was one of the pioneers which sowed cultural diversity and 
has richly harvested its fruits. Often, their territory CEOs came from 
another country. But equally, managers from developing countries like 
India not only had the opportunity but actually joined Unilever’s 
global management team. At consulting firms that embrace meritocracy 
and celebrate diversity, many Indians have reached the top. Rajat 
Gupta led McKinsey globally in a very distinguished manner, Shumeet 
Banerji is the CEO of  Booze & Company  and the US CEO of Deloitte 
Consulting is Punit Renjen. 
In organizations where a Zeus culture predominates, diversity is 
difficult to celebrate. A single hazardous, “black swan event” causes 
panic and triggers the infamous Zeus “huddle”. True to its “club 
culture” Zeus implements a predictable set of actions. It quickly 
implements a “regime change”, brings in trusted “old boys” from 
the headquarters and it ignores the local talent in choosing the 
successor. Trust and loyalty are more important to Zeus than merit and 
competence.  Professional organizations in India with a Zeus culture 
will witness an unprecedented flight of talent and their combinations will 
fall apart at the hinges. 
To preserve the value of combinations, it is critical to walk the 
talk. If a professional services organization is unable to practice 
successfully what it preaches, its credibility will be severely 
dented. If a pharmacist with no hair vends magic potions as a cure for 
male baldness, he will not be taken seriously. Imagine, if a marriage 
counselor himself has a series of messy divorces ---how many patients 
will go to him to save their own marriages. Finally, will you as a 
client , seek out a firm which cannot preserve its own combination to 
advise you on how to acquire and merge successfully? You are in safer hands with a voodoo man who teaches birds to fly.