This old-line manufacturer was acquired from it’s original parent company with several other consumer-based companies. The acquirer was in business to business products and wanted to re-sell the company as soon a possible.
When a large company gets acquired, this signals to the management team in the acquired company that change is about to occur. Many managers take this as an opportunity to leave. For this manufacturer, the entire top level of management left all at the same time. There was no one left at the helm and the acquiring company worked fast to second one of their executives to become the new president. But who was going to move into management operations? The new president went out to talk to the remaining employees and hand picked four middle managers promoting them to the top spots in the company. Their top selling sales person became the VP of Sales. The controller became the Group Manager. The manufacturing manager became VP of operations and a young woman in the marketing department who had a lot of creative ideas became the VP of Marketing.
In a company used to getting promotions based on seniority, the new president’s choices left a lot of disgruntled long time employees fuming on the sidelines. Was the company ready to be sold?
We were asked to come in and turn these new recruits into a leadership team who had to become responsible for chopping costs, shrinking the product line, staying competitive and forging a growth pipeline. The reward for doing all that? The team was told they would either be saved from the chopping block and kept as a unit for the conglomerate or spun out once again.
The team had no ability to work collaboratively. In this culture, the sales person had never visited the manufacturing floor. The people who made the product he sold did not know him. The marketing department had never gone to talk to the distributors who sold their product to understand the huge variety of target markets they worked with. The manufacturers had not talked to the distributors to see what types of products were in demand. The controller had never led a team or run a meeting. Collectively, they did not know how to make the decisions expected of them. The pressure was intense, the time frame short.
We worked individually and as a group with each, showing them how to change their attitudes and approaches toward building relationships across functional lines, with each other and with the market place. We challenged their thinking and entrenched methods of doing things in the same way and getting poor results. We focused on how to have the kinds of conversations that create rapport and results. Over a year period, this group of people dealt with downsizing, competitive threats, internal strife and the constant uncertainty about their future and found it in themselves to collaborate on all issues.
The manufacturing VP visited distributors. The VP of Sales got to know the guys on the factory floor. The marketing VP learned how to work with multiple target markets. The controller faced his limitations and steered the group through the quagmire of issues anyway.
Within 18 months the team had achieved their goals. The conglomerate was impressed. They had turned the company around and now were prime candidates to be sold. This irony was not lost on the team. With the great results they were now an attractive business and yet faced an uncertain future yet again. The company was acquired quickly and the conglomerate achieved their return on investment. And in the end, history repeated itself: only one member of the leadership team stayed on with the new owner.