Stories are a powerful medium. They have the distinctive ability to connect with people, and people remember stories. So I thought the best way to share perspectives on a topic, often perceived to be a complex, like Mergers & Acquisitions, would be through a story.
Here is a short story from the annals of Cleartrip. Take this with a pinch of salt, as it may not hold true to all M&As. Everything has its own unique purpose and one has to do exactly what is best to meet the purpose one set out to achieve. Here is ours, and the way we did it!
Following Cleartrip’s cross-border acquisition of Flyin, the joined forces of both these organizations meant that we would be the largest online travel player in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with a 60% market share and 1.4 billion USD in gross sales in opportunity. The deal was inked and the canvas open.
There were all possible complexities with business spanning across 5 locations, 4 time zones, 3 regions and 2 brands, even different languages! We now moved into the phase of deal announcement leading up to the Day-1 communication with a unified goal to establish 1 vision.
The challenge: The critical need was to ensure that anxieties were minimized. Compounded to that, there were complexities in terms of the geographical spread: A substantial mass of team in Flyin was in Riyadh, Cairo, and Hyderabad- some of these being countries Cleartrip had never operated in.
Where work started: Well, the seeds of this were sown six months ago during the due diligence phase. While ascertaining the business and financial elements, a great deal of emphasis was placed on understanding the cultural similarities and differences too. And the answers to unravel them lay in the power of asking the right questions “Describe your culture, what is the Flyin story? What do you value most? What keeps you awake at night? What does success mean to you?” But this was just the beginning.
Merger it is: What got unraveled through these interactions was that people took great pride in their brand. A brand that resonated not just with the employees, but also with the minds and hearts of customers and suppliers alike. We actually, shared a similar DNA of being a technology-pivoted organization at the core and were both obsessive about solving end-customer problems. So then, why dilute the brand? While this may technically be an acquisition, it was internalized in the spirit of a merger for both Flyin and Cleartrip. Every aspect of communication was crafted around the spirit of a merger: calling out clearly the why’s and the what’s that leveraged the strengths of each other’s regional capabilities to power our global expansion.
Creating the positive vibe: On the day of the announcement, we set the ambiance across both Cleartrip and Flyin with an aura of celebration. When our people walked into our offices on this day, they were greeted with elements adding to the energy. A lot of detailing and thought was placed in these visual creations to bring forth the depiction of both these brands as equals with the motto of ‘stronger together’. The vibe was given its due importance because often the energy we project shapes our reality.
Technology solves complexity: Technology was heavily leveraged for speed and solving geographical complexity by deploying various mediums to listen to employees, receiving their feedback and analyzing this to gather granular flavors by different geographies and employee groups. Making people feel heard was the core objective. We recognize that not all anxieties can be quelled and trust is built over a period of time with sustained actions. Yet the commitment to hearing people goes a long way. It also helped us converge our conversations with far more precision. The key communication then took shape through multiple channels like dynamic FAQs and town hall sessions. Leaders from both brands were equally represented and lead these engagements from the front. Potential reasons for people apprehensions were identified and concerns were addressed with precision.
After a few days, post the volley of communications, we measured the effectiveness by doing a sentiment check. ~70% of employees participated in the pulse survey with a whopping 91% of them expressing that they were strongly excited about this merger and future opportunities that will emerge. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!
- Understand priorities right: Establish the structure for decision-making and identify what needs to be nailed from the beginning and what can be left loosely coupled for things to evolve. List down processes that need to be integrated, controls that require rigor and definitions, and start from there.
- Invest time: There is nothing that can supplement the investment you are willing to make in people in terms of giving them your time.
- Collaboration begins with you: Before asking how do they do it, be the one to show how you do things in your company and build conversations from there. For example, the conversation can be pivoted on sentences like: ‘This is our tech stack and how our product and process moves, what about you?’
- Get on the road of culture alignment early: Culture is a soft aspect of any organization but a tenacious one. It is important not to enforce it or drum it down. You can’t tell people to behave differently all of a sudden. You need to create experiences beyond the formal meeting rooms to help people discover culture for themselves. In our case, we invited senior members from the Flyin team to be a part of our 12th-year-anniversary celebrations, where they got an opportunity to interact with Cleartrippers in a highly informal setting and soak in the culture. Cultural alignment is a journey and not a one time-exercise.
- Active engagement begins with listening: Listening gives you the priceless advantage of understanding and establishing trust. When you actively listen, then the other party listens to you too.
Every merger or acquisition is about an opportunity. The art to ensuring a good beginning lies in channelizing this as energy and topping that up with an element of fun in the game.