Selling Your Business

Overseas acquisitions: How to make everyone a fan of your culture

5 min read

14 December 2018

The Supper Club's entrepreneurial members laid bare their thoughts on managing acquisitions.

Communication is necessary, they stressed, both for the existing team and those who have been acquired. Regular updates will instil everyone with confidence and ensure a vision is crafted and followed.

“Members also observe that integrating complex back-end systems and processes is the biggest challenge and recommend bringing in contractors or outsourced support if necessary to maintain business as usual,” Alex Evans, the guide’s creator, said.

“Customers may not want to migrate if it’s a hassle, and if values appear to be at odds with what they have come to expect, so members advise that you invest in maintaining front line sales and customer support (and meet personally with big clients).”

Partners of The Supper Club parted with words of wisdom as well, suggesting that due diligence be completed before making any changes. Employees affected by the change need to be regularly updated.

When an acquisition leads you across the ocean

The guide highlights the numerous considerations when it comes to acquiring a business. Merely clicking your fingers won’t do the trick, especially if the company is located in an overseas market.

Patrick Eve, MD of ZigZag Global, has undergone such a venture.

Before life at ZigZag, he co-founded TranslateMedia and created an ambitious strategy to establish the business in the US.

“We had been on the ground in the US for about four years before we did our first acquisition, primarily to scale the business to build our client base,” he explained.

“What we learned was that there were not only going to be challenges integrating the business with the UK culture, but also the culture across the US teams as well.

“We had a very specific culture in our New York team. To then acquire an Austin business and integrate it in North America was harder than we thought.

“One of the biggest headaches was moving people to an open plan working environment. There was also a lot of resistance from some individuals in becoming more client facing, which is something that cropped up as we tried to implement our preferred working practices.”

A smooth integration is often rare one, they say. But there’s a way to make sure everyone is happy with the business’s culture.

For Eve, it came down to allowing different offices to create their own culture. These were, however, based around customer service levels, working processes and KPIs that united the business as a whole.

How can companies get it right from the get-go?

Talking with Real Business, he advised: “As you start to develop a new team and culture in an overseas market, try and strike a fine balance between respect for the company’s previous traditions, brand and culture whilst asserting your company’s values.”

You can do so through the introduction of staff from the head office, or local hires who will help mould the new era and dilute any form of “us versus them” environment.

“It is always important to find a blend of local knowledge and company process and culture,” he said. “If you can complement local hires with staff transferred over from head office then it makes a massive difference and is well worth the investment.

“It is always worth aiming high in terms of the seniority of the staff member to transfer over and even better if it can be one of the founders so as to truly implant the DNA of the business in the new outpost.

“Prepare to localise your culture overseas and especially make sure you recognise the celebration of local holidays such as Singles Day in Asia and Thanksgiving in the US.”

It’s always important to recognise that it will probably take twice as long as you think, Eve explained. The more complicated the internal and external messaging and branding around the business, the harder it will be.

“Use your international expansion plans as an opportunity to significantly condense your values, brand and mission statement so that it is easily communicated in multiple languages and cultures and that the values stack up in those markets,” he said.

“Prepare to repeat them often and ensure they are communicated to all new employees as you grow. Also ensure it is a feedback loop not just an outbound broadcast from head office.”