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How to survive the trauma of acquisition

PA Consulting Group’s Lesley Uren, a talent expert, is quoted in an article in the Financial Times. The article looks at the possible impact of a buyout on productivity when companies merge — and how this can be avoided.

Lesley talks about her experience of being a member of staff during a buyout. Nearly 30 years ago, Australia’s East-West Airlines was sold to arch rival Ansett. Lesley was then East-West’s human resources director and recalls feeling a sense of despair on learning of the acquisition. She says: “It was a brutal experience.” 

Lesley goes on to explain: “Some people resigned on the spot because they did not want to work for the organisation that had been our major foe. We had been fighting to get a toehold in the market, and to see everything we had built broken apart was a massive grieving process — it felt like someone had died.”

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While many business leaders talk about “synergies”, uniting two companies disrupts working lives and corporate cultures. Lesley talks about her firsthand experience of this at East-West Airlines: “The organisation we were acquired by had a completely different philosophy and was very adversarial.” 

Lesley again draws on her personal experience in response to an acquisition. She left Ansett shortly after the acquisition and many employees involved in an acquisition today do the same. Lesley warns against jumping ship too quickly, though, or taking the first opportunity to present itself.  She says: “In hindsight, I might have been better to have waited a bit longer.”

Lesley points out that staying put temporarily to participate in the integration process can offer a chance to acquire skills, from team building to resolving culture clashes and managing change. “The process of integrating teaches you huge amounts about managing people,” she says. “They are lessons you’ll take with you.”

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