The Art (and Science) of Acquisition Integration

Companies worldwide closed or announced $3 trillion worth of acquisitions in 2017, with North America leading the transaction value by more than 50 percent, followed by Europe and China. It was a bumper year for mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and the new tax laws passed in the United States are encouraging companies to repatriate more than $1.5 trillion in stranded cash from overseas accounts, which is further expected to increase the M&A trend in 2018 and beyond.

Experts are attributing the increasing trend toward M&A to technology and business model disruptions that are taking place, from the retail industry to industrial sectors. The same experts also predict that approximately 50–70 percent of these transactions will fail to add shareholder value. Beyond the strategic intent of doing a transaction, acquisition integration (AI) plays a big part in the success of a deal.

In the recent past, many deals have failed, rather spectacularly[1], to achieve value committed during the transaction phase. Value creation work and integration planning does not start when the deal is announced. In fact, it starts when a company’s CEO and board members first start discussing a potential transaction.

A strong board will ask all the tough questions starting with the big “why.” Why are we considering this transaction? How is this going to add value to our current portfolio and customers? How does this transaction fit into the overall strategy and vision of the company? Finally, how are we going to integrate this new company, and who will manage the integration process?

The AI process consists of two parts: One is the tactical element of integration (science), such as making sure employees get paid the first month after the deal closes. The second element of the AI process is the strategic element (art) of achieving the intended purpose of the transaction and adding shareholder value. This article deals with that second element.

Leaders and organizations that are adept at change management thrive in the M&A world. In the past, the realm of M&A used to be the big blue-chip companies, but today, the M&A process is ubiquitous and senior leaders are expected to know the tricks of the trade. What used to be the big corporate M&A team consisting of dozens of professionals who help the business unit presidents acquire and integrate, has typically whittled down to a very small team. The presidents and general managers are now expected to pick up both the front-end deal negotiations and the back-end integration process, with limited help from corporate.

After spending a decade in corporate development roles in large industrial companies integrating and managing cross-border deals, I have come to appreciate what it takes to integrate a company. Further, I have been on both sides: acquiring and acquired. I have experienced mergers, divestments, de-mergers, reengineering, restructuring, reorganization, and the creation of tax-efficient models. Throughout all these corporate ventures and adventures, one thing has been constant: change.

There are a million things to consider during the integration process, but if you are the CEO or a board member of the acquiring company, I recommend that you first concentrate on a few critical factors that will have a disproportionate effect on value — both positive and negative. Let me highlight below the top three considerations in the art of AI where you manage the strategic elements of the AI process.

  1. Managing Value Creators and Value Destroyers

When a deal is presented to the board for approval, the presenter articulates the strategic value of the transaction. In all cases, a dollar amount is attributed to these value creation ideas. In M&A lingo, these value creation ideas are called synergies. Typically, these synergies are sales synergies (top-line growth), cost synergies (profitability growth), and sometimes, negative synergies, where you might lose sales synergies because of certain market conditions.

Instead of allowing attention to get misdirected and bogged down by a dozen synergy ideas, I recommend that the integration leader list the top five value creators with tangible values and assign it to specific individuals to plan and deliver. One example of this could be the two merged companies jointly bidding on active large projects by pulling in each other’s products and services to increase the probability of winning a project.

Every transaction is accompanied by a host of risks, and if the risks are not managed properly, they start to erode the value. Again, the CEO and board should request a list of the top three value destroyers and manage it effectively to avoid or mitigate unforeseen risks. An example of this could be loss of sales because of a potential new customer who also happens to be a potential competitor of the acquiring company.

In an example of a similar situation, the CEO of a large industrial company personally visited its impacted customers within the first 30 days of announcing the deal, to assure them that they would be served with the highest level of integrity and that any information provided to them would not be used for any competitive reason other than serving them. The CEO was able to retain at least 80 percent of the business, although the company still lost some because few customers wanted to diversify the supply base.

  1. Integrating Culture and People

Once you get past the equipment, intellectual property, and various other line items on the acquired balance sheet, the most important asset that comes with an acquisition is people. Understanding the culture of the acquired company during the entire deal process and getting to know the senior leadership of the acquired company is an important task – not simply for the human resources department, but also the entire senior management.

What do I mean by culture? By its simplest definition, culture is how a company operates and does things on a daily basis. It can be as mundane as putting up (or not putting up) Christmas decorations in the lobby. One has to study the cultural dissimilarities between the two companies and prepare the combined team to deal with potential issues, both big and small. These factors need to be addressed early in the integration process to avoid any long-term damage to the combined culture.

As an example, in one of my previous companies, we had zero tolerance when it came to legal compliance. Through a series of events, we discovered and terminated the head of sales on Day 1 because of compliance reasons. Despite the impact we knew it would have on first-year sales, we were sending a powerful message to the entire organization about our values and beliefs and how we wanted to manage the combined company going forward.

When the first rumors of a merger-in-the-making come out, they send shock waves through the organization. The first question that comes to employees’ minds is whether they will have a job after the deal is closed. The level of uncertainty and ambiguity that surrounds the deal process will have huge psychological effects, and those can and do affect people’s performance. It is vitally important to have a formal communication plan that keeps the teams updated on the deal progress and to be intentional about killing any rumors that are affecting the company negatively. The one piece of advice I have often given to my team to alleviate their fear and ambiguity during a deal process is “Keep doing your job and use the merger to create personal growth.”

The senior leaders of the acquiring company should spend a disproportionate amount of energy addressing the people issues; that critical task should not all be left to the HR department. Having open and transparent communication, building trust during interactions, managing power struggles, avoiding leadership ego trips, and preventing the loss of key employees becomes one of the most important leadership accountabilities during the early stages of integration.

  1. Addressing Change Management

A big part of AI planning and execution is about the change management process. In my observation, many senior leaders are ill-prepared and trained to effectively execute a change management strategy.

There are various change management models, but I have successfully used this self-developed simplified three-step process—what I call the three Ds—:

  1. Discovery Stage: Understand the need to change and build a baseline on what to change and how fast to change.
  2. Developmental Stage: Build a business case for change by including the stakeholders. The plan needs to have a starting point and an ending point with measurable metrics.
  3. Deployment Stage: Launch the plan with open and transparent communication, seek buy-in, and manage resistance at all levels. Finally, measure the progress, and continue to revise the plan and re-deploy it where necessary.

I was involved in a change management process where the company wanted to reorganize the business from a regional structure to an end-market-structure. The CEO invited 90+ senior leaders from all over the world for an intensive, hands-on workshop where we launched the three-stage change management process described above. It was highly effective as we were able to manage resistance in the breakout sessions, come to agreements on change priorities and timelines. By the time, 10 days later, the leaders went back to their regions, they were able to effectively and consistently communicate and cascade the plan to the next level. This was a costly and time-consuming exercise, but as we demonstrated, when done properly, it delivers solid results.

How Do You Know It When You See It?

In terms of the Acquisition Integration process, the senior leader(s) who sponsor the transaction manage the critical steps and they are actively involved through out the deal process. Success demands that the leadership clearly understands the value drivers and value destroyers and prepares the team to address them in the early stages of integration. The CEO or Deal Sponsor can articulate the acquisition rationale in simple terms, and the leadership team knows where and how the business will be integrated well before the transaction closes.

It is my observation that High-performing companies and serial M&A dealmakers hire general managers who have not only executed transactions but have successfully integrated them. They don’t use a generic integration playbook for all the deals; each plan is carefully customized to each transaction, with the value drivers clearly identified.

Between the steering committee, deal sponsors, external advisers, subject matter experts, functional leaders, regional leaders, and the teams — from both the acquiring and acquired company – the size of the integration team can, at times, be unwieldy. Smart companies keep the team size to a manageable few who are directly involved in delivering results. Further, they seldom use outside consultants to come up with synergy estimates, and it is all done internally with the help of the chief commercial officer (CCO). Off late, many companies are hiring CCO who manage all aspects of growth from strategy, marketing, e-commerce to M&A/Integration.

When, at the CEO and board level, leadership is focused on strategic aspects of the integration and regular reviews are held to make crucial decisions, you start to see value creation at work. Synergy assumptions are tested and retested during the entire deal process, and when the assumptions are wrong, the leadership is bold enough to drop a synergy and pick another synergy to replace it. The leadership team keeps a close eye on cost synergy, which is the controllable piece of the synergy book, which is executed flawlessly according to the plan.

Synergy goals are well articulated and driven to different business units and regions with clear execution plans and defined milestones on the way to achieving the results. Activities are prioritized, such as finance closing the books, so that the resources are effectively deployed to deliver value. Leaders keep a hawk eye on the value creators and destroyers, and they come up with contingency plans quickly if something is not working.

A good acquisition integration plan is simple, measurable, and executable, and delivers the intended value. In the art of AI, the senior leaders concentrate on the value drivers and destroyers, culture, and people, and build capabilities around a change management process to create value for the business.

The Bottom Line

Simplicity is the soul of efficiency. —Austin Freeman

[1] A few examples are Daimler–Chrysler, AOL–Time Warner, and HP–Compaq.

You are who you are, so be who you are.

Look famous. Be legendary. Appear complex. Act easy. Radiate presence. Travel light. Seem a dream. Prove real.


The New Year is right around the corner, and some of you must have started thinking of New Year’s resolutions, from losing weight to making more money to being happy.

The pursuit of happiness is the greatest goal one can strive for, but it is an elusive state of mind that keeps changing with time, place, and circumstance. Trying to achieve happiness by being someone other than your authentic self is not only short-lived but also painful. Perhaps, one of your goals for the coming year ought to be your true self.

Bill Bryson in his famous book A Short History of Nearly Everything articulates how trillions of drifting atoms had to come together in an intricate and intriguing manner to create a human being. The combination is so specialized and particular that it will happen only once.

This process was billions of years in the making, and all elements of the cosmos—pressure, temperature, chemical composition, and time—have to be in perfect sync to create a human. In this sense, every person is unique and distinct in many ways. Despite this uniqueness, some people try to hide their true self and go about life being someone else, thus missing out on the magic of creation and creativity.

When I was growing up, the monks in my school drilled into us that each soul is potentially divine. Without getting into philosophy, I’ll just say that we learned that every human is uniquely gifted and we have infinite energy to accomplish anything we want in life.

We spend more than a third of our life working in different organizations, with different people, with different values and cultures. Being authentic and injecting your true self into your leadership style will help you gain a bigger following—and I bet you will be happier by being yourself.

Leading companies are going to great lengths to make diversity and inclusion (D&I) a key part of their culture, but inclusion is the secret sauce that binds D&I together. Creating an inclusive culture that makes room for and engages people with different leadership styles is key to creating an innovative company.

A recent study shows that approximately 30 percent of ethnic millennials consider changing their ethnic names to something Western sounding to blend in with their colleagues. Changing your name does not change your true self, and I encourage you to maintain your personal touch and a level of authenticity that makes you, you.

Certain behaviors, attitudes, and actions are not acceptable in a working environment. For example, openly and vigorously expressing views on sensitive subjects such as politics or religion at work is not acceptable.

There are at least three ways to express your uniqueness. While working in organizations, you are always on stage, and people are observing, drawing conclusions and building an image of you. The question becomes how you will manage to be your true self and remain authentic while balancing all the other nuances.

Physical Image

This is the visible part of you, and how you show up to work or a meeting says a lot about your unique tastes and self-expression. Looks can be deceptive and people should not judge a book by its cover, but they still do.

If your work environment requires a formal dress code and your preference is to be informal, then wear funny socks with your suit to show a bit of your true self. If, like me, you like wearing Buddhist beads on your wrist on Fridays, go ahead and do it—it is not a deal breaker.

I recently had a meeting with a senior HR leader from a large industrial company. She was dressed informally and sported a tattoo on her wrist, but that did not make her any less professional. In fact, I enjoyed talking to her and she came across as authentic. It also reflected the inclusive culture of the company.

Irrespective of your desire to be your true self, being smart about the situation is important. Don’t show up to work in a brand new sports car if you plan to announce cost-cutting initiatives or disrespect your customers by not being professionally dressed for the occasion.

Mental Image

You project your unique thoughts by how you speak and how you verbally articulate your ideas in the workplace. If your talking style is direct and straightforward, you can expect different expressions and perceptions from your audience compared with someone who speaks soft and slowly.

During a leadership program, I made a couple of strong statements in the team discussion to kick-start the conversation. The feedback after the session was that I had been both provocative and unifying. Words when spoken (or not spoken) have a powerful way of projecting your self-image. Strong leaders who exhibit executive maturity know how to modulate their tones and words to get the desired effect.

If you are the kind of person who likes to cut jokes all the time, don’t stop—but do it in moderation.

There is always pressure to conform to certain norms, but in today’s world, there is more flexibility in the workplace to express your views professionally.

Action Image

Actions speak louder than words. You have almost certainly heard the adage that only 7 percent of face-to-face communication is attributed to the words spoken; the rest is about body language and how you say those words.

Further, some people lead from the front and some from the top, but others stand on the sidelines until they are called. Depending on your actions, you can be perceived as a go-getter, power player, team player, or bystander.

If you are the kind of person who likes to take the lead, be proactive and make your intentions known to others. Being consistent in your actions is as important as the action itself. As the saying goes, “Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.”

People higher up in an organization have earned the power to be truer to their true selves. They also have earned the right to exhibit their idiosyncrasies. However, there are professional boundaries one has to manage. Being too open, transparent, or informal in a workplace setting is not helpful for your personal growth or for your career progression.

Bringing it all Together

Building an inclusive culture where different kinds of leadership styles are encouraged helps an organization build an innovative and thriving enterprise. When an individual becomes part of an organization or team where the personal and organization values and culture are aligned, it will be a win-win combination for both. Becoming a strong leader is also about being authentic and being true to one’s true self.

The Bottom Line

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Pillars of Building a High-Performance Team. Part 2

In my last article on building a high-performance team (HPT)[1], published on LinkedIn on October 23, 2017, I explored the subject from the foundational elements of respect, trust, and loyalty. In this article, I continue to explore other elements of building an HPT and, more importantly, nurturing it on a sustainable level.

The classic definition of a high-performance team is an organization or a team that is highly focused on its goals and achieves superior results – against all odds.

Most leaders would agree that it is easy to motivate, engage, and drive a team to spectacular performance for a short period. The real challenge is to do it day-in and day-out while maintaining high energy levels and focus.

In a quick online review of the subject, it appears that the concept of an HPT has become such a cliché that sometimes people take it for granted and don’t fully appreciate all the basic elements needed to build and sustain a performance culture. To achieve superior results, the accountability rests with the team leader who needs to have energy, passion, and drive.

Developing one’s own leadership qualities is a journey. Personally, I continue to explore and experiment with leadership concepts that build strong team spirit and deliver superior performance.

The four pillars of an HPT that I describe below are concepts that I have implemented in the past with great success. Although they might look very basic on the surface, the key to success is to implement them on a consistent basis for a long period. The question becomes whether you have the energy and passion to build and sustain them.

Here are my 4 pillars of building a high-performance team:

  1. Alignment on Goals, Objectives, and Roles

Whether you are leading a complex business or a functional team, as a leader, it is crucial that you put some thought into your team’s vision, strategy, and operating rhythm. One can’t expect different results by doing things the same way.

What makes great leaders is their uncanny ability to convert vision and strategy into tangible goals and objectives and communicate them to their teams in a meaningful and measurable way. Put differently, even the best strategy will not jump out of the PowerPoint slides and implement itself. By articulating goals at the beginning of the fiscal year, when they align with the budgeting process, it is easier to match the initiatives against both short and long-term goals.

Be mindful of the number of goals you pick and how you allocate capital, both human and financial, as it will determine the team’s overall success. One thing I have found particularly helpful is maintaining a transparent operating rhythm and holding the entire team responsible for delivering the results.

Finally, the leader has to clearly define and agree on the team purpose and the role of each individual on the team. That may sound simple, but often people look at each other when discussion of an action comes up in a meeting, unsure who is responsible for implementing next steps. Clearly defined roles and a decision-making matrix are paramount to building an HPT. When conflicts arise, which they invariably do, it is the job of the leader to take a proactive role in resolving them.

  1. Communication and Engagement

When it comes to building a cohesive team, the advice I have is to communicate more than you think you need to, and use modern technology to your advantage. More importantly, the content, frequency, transparency, and media with which you deliver helps bridge communication links between senior leadership and the working team.

In one of my previous role, I had the opportunity to spend several hours with just six employees in one of the world’s fastest-growing countries. In this meeting, I presented and discussed the corporate and regional strategy and how the team could make a difference. This one session energized the team so much that we started seeing new growth ideas that had not been captured before.

Mathew Syed, in his book Black Box Thinking, says openness is not an optional extra but a useful cultural add-on to create an environment of learning from mistakes – including your own. Be open and talk about issues, challenges, and values that matter to you as a leader. And because an engaged and informed team is a productive team, remember to reiterate your strategy and the progress the team is making on key initiatives.

Employee engagement is a broad topic and I have had great success hosting activities ranging from holding a company picnics to doing a community-based activities. These events were planned around company values and done purposefully, which helped build a solid and cohesive team. The events created an opportunity for me and other leaders to interact informally with the employees and feel the pulse of the organization.

Finally, consider conducting skip-level meetings with key individuals two or three levels below you to seek feedback on how they are being supported in achieving both personal and company goals. As a leader, your goal should be to continue to influence and build new leaders at both the top and working levels.

  1. Performance Discussions and Feedback Loops

If you have more than six people reporting to you and some of them are matrixed into other functions, doing a formal performance review becomes a mini-project in itself. But that is not an excuse for not doing it.

Some progressive companies are moving toward dialogue-based performance reviews and away from the forced ranking system. I’m a strong advocate of this practice. In fact, one that comes to my mind happened in an airport lounge where my supervisor gave me feedback and openly discussed successes and failures with an eye toward making me a better leader. It takes maturity and the foundational elements I discussed before to have such a crucial conversations.

Finally, during these sessions, I have asked my team members how I can be a better leader. Speaking from experience, you’ll be surprised at how much valuable feedback you can gather from your team.

  1. Celebrating Success

This one may seem less relevant, but remember all work and no play also makes a dull team. Great leaders celebrate small wins that culminate in a big win. Irrespective of an employee’s level within the organization, a well-deserved thank-you note from the team leader goes a long way.

Consider if it is possible to include your customers in your success story, as it is even more powerful. Last year my team hosted a customer celebration day as part of a trade show. We thanked our customers for the trust they placed in us, acknowledged their accomplishments, and built strong relationships in the process.

Goodness of Leadership

What brings this all together is the goodness of leadership. My definition of the goodness of leadership is being authentic, inspiring, empathetic, and having the courage to take personal responsibility. Finally, the leader acts and manages the team with integrity. Great leaders bring out the best in their team while acknowledging and supporting the personal and professional aspirations of their team members.

What I’m suggesting is akin to combining the leadership qualities of Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs (throw in Bezos and/or Musk, if you like), and Mother Teresa – all in one individual. That may sound daunting, but who said leadership is easy? If you can take one or two good leadership qualities and internalize them, it will have a positive effect on your team.

How Do You Know It When You See It?

Building an HPT starts with the leader. A good leader comes with a plan, converts the plan into effective, tangible, and measurable projects, and communicates the plan to the entire team.

The leader has mental maps of the various steps required to implement the strategy and holds the entire team accountable for delivering the results, including him or herself. The leader is not afraid of reallocating resources in the middle of a project or even admitting mistakes and completely shutting down a nonperforming initiative.

These leaders don’t shy away from team conflicts, and they go above and beyond to make sure the team is fully aligned and engaged with the plan.

The team is aligned on the goals and aware of the role each member plays within the team. Team members have developed and agreed to a mechanism to sort out issues with a clear decision matrix. The team functions as a single fighting unit and is aligned to such a great degree that it doesn’t need much of the leader’s attention on a day-to-day basis.

The Bottom Line

Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. —Henry Ford


Home of High Performance Team

Foundation for Building a High-Performance Team: Respect, Trust, and Loyalty (Part 1)

Respect, trust, and loyalty are some of the most powerful words in the lexicon of leadership and team management. Quite often, these words are thrown around loosely without context or thoughtful consideration for the people involved. As I’ve experienced and will explain, the meanings and implications of these words tend to change with the people, the situation, and the culture in which we operate. As a way to strengthening your leadership skills, being aware of the norms around these words can allow you to build stronger teams.

Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Very often, when a leader takes a new role, the team comes built-in with the job and the leader starts the journey of bringing the team along with a new mission and vision. It would be wonderful if all the team members were loyal to the leader on day one and, of course, were trustworthy and respectful to each other at the same time. Unfortunately, it seldom works that way. The leader needs to start building trust through respect, which ultimately creates loyalty.

In my most recent leadership roles, I was thrust into a situation where I had to lead a highly diverse team spread across many countries – each with unique cultures. It felt challenging in that I started the job without an onboarding process, leading a team that had previously being led by several leaders in a short time frame. With advice from my mentors, I started the journey of building a high-performance team by creating a culture of respect, gaining members’ trust by working along with them, and finally, building followership (loyalty) toward a shared purpose. The result was spectacular as the team achieved and exceeded the commitments made to the business and the local community.

Earning Respect

Although respect looks and feels different for different people, in general, it is about admiring or giving special attention to a person or something. For instance, a person in power may feel disrespected if someone questions his or her ideas, yet, if considering generational differences, a Millennial leader[1] may want that person to challenge her so that she feels engaged and heard. In certain cultures, following orders from a supervisor without pushing back is a form of respect, and anything short of it is considered treason. Being aware of the norm for the organization and its culture becomes an important first step for a new team leader.

The basics always matter and active listening is one basic. Respect people when they speak by allowing them to complete what they are saying, and give weight to their ideas. Acknowledge any differences respectfully but be transparent about where you are coming from. Appreciate the local culture and norms, including that of your organization, because that is important to building a mutually respectful team.

In a blog post in the Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Deal[2] makes the point that when it comes to respect—or disrespect — “what you tolerate, you promote.” As leaders, you set the trend and the boundaries of a respectful culture.

To make that more personal, in meetings with my leadership teams, I would set boundaries by saying, “Within the family, it is okay to throw food at each other occasionally, but you are not allowed to throw knives and forks.” It set expectations and the tone lightened the mood creating a healthy and productive culture that encouraged open debate and welcomed diversity of thoughts whilst still maintaining a professional environment.

Gaining Trust

Trust is an unwavering bond between individuals where one believes in the other without any prejudgment. As Jon Mertz says in one of his articles, “To gain trust, we must be believable so that others will have confidence in our ability to keep our word, do our part, and follow through on expectations set.”

Gaining trust starts with small steps and it is cumulative: the more you do it, the more you make deposits into the trust account. Trust is built on a foundation of honesty and transparent communication. If you lack either one of those, it will start eroding the trust factor in your relationship with others. Finally, trust is about consistently delivering what you say you are going to deliver.

John Blakey (, founder of the Trusted Executive Foundation, is a prolific author and thought leader on this subject. He talks about trustworthiness having three components: ability (coach, deliver, be consistent); integrity (be honest, be open, be humble); and benevolence (be kind, be brave, evangelize). He further makes the point that although people can deliver on promises day in and day out, if they are dishonest or cruel, others are unlikely to trust them.

The fastest way for leaders to build trust within their team is to roll up their sleeves, get into the trenches with their team members, and help them accomplish their goals. Leaders’ actions then get amplified; making promises and acting on them helps significantly improve the trust quotient. However, failing to do so bankrupts their trust account.

Returning Loyalty

Loyalty is a strong feeling of support or allegiance to an individual or an organization. Loyalty is the result of a respectful relationship built on trust over a period of time. As a team leader, avoid encouraging blind loyalty from individuals because it may lead to mediocracy trap, which would be hard to unwind later. It further leads to a bad working environment and does not motivate other team members to give their best.

One cannot buy loyalty, but one can buy a dog that will be loyal. In the political world, loyalty is considered an entry ticket to a job; in the business world, loyalty is earned over time.

Don’t be in haste and question someone’s loyalty without clearly understanding the context of his or her words or actions, because it will take twice as much effort to rebuild the level of trust that was established. Finally, don’t expect true loyalty to occur in the early stages of a relationship; it takes time to build respect and establish trust before seeking loyalty.

How Do You Know It When You See It?

How often do you attend meetings where one person speaks the majority of the time and other people just take notes, make some cursory comments, and leave the meeting without any actions or follow-up? This shows a broken system where respect, trust, and loyalty exist on a superficial plane.

When leaders create an environment where issues are vigorously debated and diverse views are respectfully heard, you see a team atmosphere of mutual respect. When people are not branded for their views or politically castrated for pointing out obvious things, their leaders are building a trusting team. When people complete the process of grinding through the issues in a setting where their views have been given a hearing, the leader makes the final decision and the team follows through on the actions because that leader has earned the loyalty of the team. It is the leader who sets the trend in earning respect and gaining trust, and if it’s done thoughtfully, honestly, and consistently, that person will earn a loyal followership and team members will go to any length to achieve the vision.

The Bottom Line

Respect is earned. Honesty is appreciated. Trust is gained. Loyalty is returned. —Anonymous



The DNA of a Growth Leader; Do you have it

When I was a young engineer developing global power projects, I went to see the VP of Global Sales. Right behind his desk was a big plaque that said, “Without sales this place comes to a grinding halt.” To this day, I remember the saying and the importance of growth for companies, individuals, and society in general.

That brings me to a question: who drives growth in your organization? You may have heard the saying “Growth is everybody’s business,” but few individuals within an organization are held accountable for growth. What traits should these people have? Is growth a function of innovation or is it also a result of the intangible skills of those leaders who can create opportunities in every aspect of the business cycle?

When General Electric (GE) was firing on all cylinders, the company had a set of five core values for growth leadership: (1) focusing outward, (2) showing expertise, (3) practicing inclusiveness, (4) thinking clearly, and (5) taking risk. Leaders were measured on these values, and there were hard metrics tied to them. When I was a GE employee, I particularly believed in focusing outward and thinking clearly, two foundational elements of growth leadership.

I sometimes ask why some companies or some individuals within companies are much more adept at looking for growth than others. How much of this growth is related to the personal traits of the leaders and how much is related to innovation, where the product or service sells itself because of its competitive advantages. I believe leaders at all levels within an organization can make a big difference in growing their business, irrespective of the market conditions.

During my career as a Mergers & Acquisition (M&A) professional working for industrial companies, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with entrepreneurs all over the world. I was able to experience firsthand their growth leadership traits and their passion for building something new from nothing. These entrepreneurs built successful companies with formidable products and services, competing against large companies and against all odds in the marketplace. Ironically, it was my job to persuade them to divest their business and then articulate how my company could do a better job of growing their business after the acquisition.

To expand on the GE framework and from my personal experiences, here are the three traits I believe are most important for growth leaders:

Passion and Persistence

You can’t teach passion or force people to be persistent all the time, but passion drives performance. That being said, people generally are passionate about something in life, and as leaders, it is our responsibility to align their values and passion with those of our enterprise to achieve the best results.

It all comes down to picking the right leader for the job during the recruitment process and rewarding the right actions and behavior within the company. Passion can’t be hidden, and passionate people are self-motivated and driven to achieve success in life. During the interview process, specifically the behavioral interview process, look for energy and passion in an individual. Passionate people proactively seek environments where their ideas and energy can be put to use, and creating that environment within your company becomes very important.

When I was recruiting for a business development role for a large business in the Middle East, I interviewed a candidate who came from a war-torn country. During the interview, he passionately discussed how he had worked for two years to sell mechanical products for a prestigious project in Dubai. Against all odds, he had escaped from the war-torn country, gotten his education, and succeeded in his career. After getting the job, he used the same passion to drive significant growth initiatives within our company, and later he went on to take a global role with another large industrial company. As I would say quite often, growth leaders have fire in their belly.

Externally Focused and Customer Driven

External focus does not mean traveling all the time, but it does mean thoughtfully and purposefully engaging external stakeholders of the business. Although your customers are one of the main stakeholders, don’t forget to connect with your supply chain, sales channels, and industry influencers, all of whom can give you valuable insights to grow the business. From my experience, I found out that growth leaders spend more than a third of their time engaging external stakeholders, and they go where the action is.

How often do you pause in your operations meeting and ask what your customers need? Growth leaders fight for their customers and drive the internal machine to deliver value to them. In the early part of this year, I invited half a dozen customers to our internal town hall meeting so that they could meet our team and observe our customer-driven culture. After the meeting, our customers said they appreciated being part of the team and gave us valuable feedback on product positioning and building service capabilities.

Here is a question to consider: When was the last time you hosted a growth day where you invited your customers to help you think creatively about growing your business? Growth leaders are not shy about partnering and engaging with customers, which will only help increase the level of trust in the relationship.

Entrepreneurial and Visionary

More than 50 percent of start-up businesses fail in the first year, but the ones that succeed are based on a solid vision of the founder. Growth leaders dream big, and they rally their teams behind a simple vision with a simple story. Leaders with entrepreneurial spirit are relentless in their efforts to take a vision and convert it into a profitable growth engine. It is not easy to be entrepreneurial in a large firm where there are multiple priorities and stakeholders. But growth leaders don’t easily take no for an answer. They are persistent in their efforts to align the multiple stakeholders to deliver substantial value for the enterprise.

Build a culture where ideas are passionately discussed and debated, and take calculated risks on promising ideas. There is always a place for good ideas in this world, and if you don’t embrace them, somebody else will.

Growth leaders come from all races, colors, nationalities, genders, and ethnic backgrounds. Growth leaders can be extroverts or introverts. They can be quirky, and they may even carry pocket protectors. But they all share some common genes that hinge on passion, persistence, outward thinking, and being visionary. Whether your business is a product company or a software company, you need a good mix of growth leaders on your team. A good growth leader is also a good operational leader and they deliver on what they promise. If your company is hungry for growth, design your recruitment process to bring the right DNA into your talent mix and then build a culture that nurtures entrepreneurial spirit.

Hire for passion and persistence, train for knowledge and leadership, and retain for growth and value creation.

Industrial Services as a Growth Business

The classical definition of a services business is one that provides intangible products, such as, accounting, consulting, banking and repairing. This definition gets a bit murky when you start talking about services in an industrial sector and many industrial companies are challenged when it comes to investing and growing the service franchise.

Whether you are the head of a power plant or an owner of a finely German-Engineered automobile, at some point in the life of the asset, it needs to be serviced, fixed, repaired, upgraded or overhauled. The company that provides this service before you know it needs one through Predictive and Preventative tools has the key advantage over their competitors. If you analyze your current business model in depth, there might be somewhere a service component that can be your next growth engine.

As business models evolve, capital equipment providers are creatively thinking on how best to continue the current relationship with their customers after the original sale is done. Think about the rotating equipment manufacturers (e.g. gas turbine) who have successfully launched back-end servicing capabilities for their equipment that continues to generate a service revenue annuity for many years.

As customers are cutting their CAPEX spend and continue to operate their assets for longer periods, it creates an opportunity to increase the service growth. Typically, the growth rate for the service business is approximately 2x of original equipment growth and this growth comes with higher gross margins of at least 5% to 10%. When companies neglect the service side of the business, third party vendors have provided that service and taken over the customer relationships from the OEM. This becomes acutely important in Emerging Markets where companies do not have the necessary infrastructure to serve the customers and they end up with a coopetition situation where your channel partners sells your products and services to them.

As a starter, here are three important considerations in your pursuit to build a world-class service franchise as part of your current offering:

Creating a menu of service offering

If you don’t have any service offering today, do a bit of data mining on the historical installed base of your products to determine the size of the opportunity. It is amazing how many companies lack this important information, which could potentially be a gold mine for creating service revenue annuity in the future. The scope of a typical service offering could be so broad; it helps to map out where your company has competitive advantage over third party firms and create a set of offering around these advantages.

Map out the company’s service offerings end-to-end and seek customer input on the desired service levels to find your sweet spot of offerings to a particular market segment. For a typical industrial company, the offering can span from field installation, field services, consulting, parts, upgrades, repairs, overhauls, software upgrades, calibration, training, and the ultimate model of managing the asset for the customers through predictive tools. Smart companies have introduced remote monitoring and diagnostics of assets with condition-based service models. In this knowledge based service model, the customer and the company will share the risks and rewards of maintaining the assets based on certain performance metrics. Some companies are talking about using the Big Data to transform information to revenue and growth, but this model is still in its infancy. Until one can prove definitively the economic benefits of the Big Data to the customers, they are unwilling to open their wallet.

Generally speaking, a big portion of service offering is replacement parts. For the critical and expensive parts category, companies can partner with the customers to manage their inventory and share the risks and rewards of maintaining an optimum level of parts inventory. Consider creating a menu of service offering so that customers can pick and choose the service levels. There are situations where a company may give away certain aspect of the offering (e.g. software) in order to capture value through pull-in of other products and services. Another creative model is to be a full scope service provider where you not only service your products, but also your competitors’ products. Of course, this has inherent risks but if you have the technology edge and the customer is willing to work with you, this could be a unique offering. The ultimate service model is total asset management on behalf of the customer and this has the highest risk and reward equation.

Measuring and delivering service

Companies who have excelled in the service model have created a dedicated service team to manage the scope. Additionally, just as with any product sales, there are key service metrics that are measured, evaluated and delivered to achieve total customer satisfaction. Some of the traditional KPIs’ for services are first time fix rate, field service utilization, on time delivery, parts availability and lead-time.

There is always this creative conflict of selling a service offering vs. selling a new product to solve customer issues and you can address this situation by asking the most fundamental question: What is the best value for your customer?

This leads to the universal dilemma on whether sales for services are kept within this group or combined with the new product sales team. In order to create a seamless growth organization with clear metrics, it is recommended having a dedicated sales team being part of the services organization. This model can help break down silos as the team still needs to collaborate with new product sales team and the engineering team to provide the full breadth of offering to the customers.

Companies who predominantly serve the customers through indirect sales channel have difficulty managing the service business. If you are using channel partners to provide services, it is important that as an OEM, you follow up with the customers to keep the direct link to your customer base.

Building a world class service team

One of my mentors used to say, “service people are not wrench turners; they’re top-notch professionals who take care of our customers 24/7.” I wholeheartedly agree. Building a world-class service company means fostering a culture of pride in serving your customers. As I have seen first-hand, these people go beyond their normal work schedule to delight their customers. The service business is “people business” and as such, the trust and bond between this team and customers is important. This trust is built over years of impeccable service.

A service team that looks sharp, communicates professionally and tackles the customers issues thoroughly will help build a strong brand for your company. Invest in your service team by training them both technically and commercially and create a unique reward system that rewards the service culture within the company. Pick a service leader who is both customer centric and hands-on, and make sure this leader has a seat at the management table. To sustain a service culture, it is important to create a strong career progression plans for service professionals so that it becomes an attractive career path for new and young professionals joining the company.

In my last two roles in the Emerging Markets (Middle East and Asia), we created a brand new dedicated service organization. In both cases, we started seeing incredible results six months after we launched the program. The service leader reported directly to the head of the business, and this team was housed in a separate service building adjoining the service shop. In addition to service specific metrics described above, we measured typical KPIs’ of safety, quality and delivery on the operation side and booking, sales, margins, and working capital on the financial side of the business.

The best way to find your next customer is to serve your current customer to the maximum extent.

Getting High on High Growth Markets

In a world of anti-globalization where Brexit, troubled Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and changed North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA) exist, it is important for business leaders to re-think the approach to their non-traditional markets. Free trade is moving towards fair trade and getting the formula right is important for the future of any enterprise.

From the perspective of living in developed countries, if looking at the phenomenal growth of international markets, you wonder how to best penetrate these high growth markets (HGM). Some call them emerging markets, but for the people in those markets, they have already leapfrogged into the new economy growing at least 3x-developed economy GDP growth rate. These markets are attractive, fragmented, political, risky and challenging, but they shouldn’t be ignored. Entering these HGM markets should be a deliberate strategy, and it’s certainly not an undertaking for leaders who are faint of heart.

If you’re already operating in these HGMs, and your growth is in the low single digits, and / or your market share is less than 5% to 10%, you either need to get out or think about taking drastic actions.

If you are growing at high single digits and your market share is between 10% to 20%, you need to refine your business models in order to become more competitive.

Finally, if you are growing at double digits and your market share is north of 25%, congratulate yourself and continue to defend your market share and grow profitably.

For those of you who are looking to fuel growth, there are few tricks to succeed in these HGM’s. Unfortunately, implementing them and getting the entire organization to support it can be a challenge in any multi national companies. There are companies, who, decades ago, ventured out of their traditional markets, and are now reaping the benefits of their investments. However, it’s important to note that the senior leaders and board members in these companies had the necessary international experience to deal with the challenges of the HGMs’.

After living and working for industrial companies in 5 countries, I’d like to share 3 important considerations in your pursuit for growth:

  1. Right Mix of Products and Services – One frequent mistakes some companies make, is to push all products and services to all markets, without considering carefully enough customer preferences, applications, branding, channels, and profitability.Unfortunately, there are certain markets that still have No-India and No-China procurement policies. Getting the voice of customer to determine the optimum mix of products & services, including local delivery – is key to success. The front-end missionary work needed to influence specification on engineered products is key to value selling for those products manufactured in these markets.

Product localization is moving towards Product regionalization where products are designed and manufactured in HGM for a broader customer pool to achieve economies of scale. Branding and pricing decisions have a big impact on how you sell and profit from these markets. Be careful localizing your highly engineered products when customers are still willing to pay a premium to import it. Differentiating your offer by having local servicing & process engineering capabilities can improve your chances of winning against the growing domestic competition.

  1. Customer Segmentation and Channel Strategy – This is where your local sales team can make a big difference in identifying the right customer segments and then figuring out the optimum channel mix. I’ve observed how companies can get caught up between Direct Channels and Indirect Channels without paying close attention to what it takes to sell an engineered product. Smart companies allocate the right mix of selling cost between these two models to achieve optimum sales. Channel management is another core competency of successful companies; proactive channel management and channel support is needed to achieve accelerated growth.
  1. Super Matrix & Super Talented Organization – No matter which way you organize yourself, you cannot avoid forming a matrix organization to connect the business units (BU), which own the intellectual property, the customer sales points (Regional Sales) and the functional support (HQ/Local). The key to success is not the organization, but the collaboration and partnership needed to make the enterprise work. Progressive companies use collaboration as a metric with their senior executives to achieve the synergies between the working units.

Building solid competencies and capabilities within the local teams, empowering them to make faster decisions and holding them responsible to deliver customer value is key to success. Cross-pollinating leadership & technical talent between regions and BU will help build the competencies needed in the field.
Finally, it’s critical to create a fast lane to decision-making centers so that important decisions are not languishing in the field for a long time.

Now, none of these are new ideas but to operationalize them, you need alignment on the culture, strategy and leadership – that combination drives success.

As John le Carre once said, “a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world”.

Venturing out into these new markets to meet your customers and more importantly, your team in the HGM, will help craft your decision on growth. Do not be afraid to take calculated risks with your business model. Listen to what your team is saying in the field because these men and women, who represent your company, feel the pulse of your customers and competition daily.

You Can Be a cEo

Many corporations around the world typically have one CEO—a chief executive officer. From being strategically minded to exhibiting tremendous energy, these leaders have worked their way up the steep organization ladder by displaying exceptional leadership traits. But what if I could tell you how to be another kind of exemplary cEo—a chief energy officer? Being a chief energy officer does have its benefits, and who knows: it could lead to a chief executive officer position when you exhibit characteristics and traits that are important in any organization. I have personally seen leaders who exhibited cEo qualities later becoming CEOs.

When I first got a break in my career to manage a complex operation acquired from an entrepreneur in the Middle East, I was fortunate to be mentored by the owner who sold the company to us. His first piece of advice to me was not to spend too much time in the office, but to be out with the customers and on the factory floor. He advised me to avoid writing emails and preparing presentations during office hours. More importantly, he encouraged me to engage our employees at all levels. I have compiled below a set of best practices from my experience on how to be a chief energy officer in a company or community.

  1. Tie the company’s values to employee engagement programs

How many times have you seen well-written company values posted on the company website, in the annual report, or in the foyers of the company lobby? Very few companies tie their values to programs that have a meaningful effect on their customers, employees, community, and shareholders. Leaders who figure out the right formula with the right programs and engage the employees and other stakeholders start to build positive momentum and energy within the company. Xylem, a leader in the water industry, has a corporate social responsibility program called Watermark where they build drinking-water towers in remote areas of developing countries by involving employees, customers, and the local community. This has an incredibly powerful effect on all the stakeholders. Other large companies engage in similar activities, from engaging with Habitat for Humanity to cleaning up inner-city schools. You can take the lead, participate, collaborate, and become a cEo.

  1. Empower employees to deliver results by focusing on their natural skills

Humans are bestowed with qualities and skills that are unique to each person. Identifying those unique skills and combining them with business goals will allow you to not only motivate and energize your teammates, but deliver spectacular results with natural energy. In my previous job, our administrative assistant exhibited skills in public speaking, customer care, and employee wellness. While she kept her administrative-assistant job and did it very well, we encouraged her to take a larger role in employee engagement programs. She set up a Toastmasters Club within the company that drew more than twenty participants, and two of our employees became accomplished Toastmaster leaders. She helped organize a Safety Marathon to bring awareness of employee safety in the workplace to the community. With continued support from others and me she went on to take a much bigger role in the company and finally ended up being the human resources leader for the organization. As a cEo, I suggest you look for your teammates’ natural skills and encourage them to harness that energy while continuing to perform in their current position.

  1. Be active and go see your employees in their natural habitat

If you want to become a cEo, be externally focused and spend more time outside your office. Meet and engage your employees in their offices and locations. Positive energy has a snowball effect that gathers momentum along the way to create value within your team and the enterprise. A cEo does not spend long hours in the office writing emails and preparing presentations; they engage with their teammates energetically during office hours while allowing them to focus on achieving personal and company goals.

You see, anybody can be a cEo, and with hard work and a bit of luck, you might end up becoming a CEO. You can’t fake personal energy . . . Be authentic and you will have a following.