It was an exciting day when the private equity backed company I worked for, announced we had been purchased by a global consumer products giant, until the anxiety set in. My team was assembled in our local conference room to hear the announcement. Immediately, I felt uncertainty in the room as people quickly jumped to concern for their jobs. As the closing process progressed, to keep us up to date, the company did a fantastic job of holding regular town hall meetings with senior leaders. I would hold similar meetings locally to brief the team and provide a relaxed atmosphere where they could ask whatever was on their mind. I answered as many questions as I could, but unfortunately, didn’t have many. The team understood as I committed to share information quickly and as soon as I was able.
The deal closed in September and I learned of my new role to lead the combined team in October. Everyone else would be informed of their role in December. The teams were in two different locations, Rogers and Bentonville. I clearly recall my first visit to meet my new team in Rogers. Here I am the guy that was leading the team for the company they acquired and I am now their boss. It was awkward at first, but it quickly became a discussion about business opportunities and challenges and how we might be able to leverage our strengths to win. It was refreshing to be able to talk with whom once was a major competitor, only to find out we both faced similar challenges, and neither was perfect, as each had believed.
It was now time to have the teams meet and begin the integration process. We held the meeting in Bentonville and as you would expect it was uncomfortable. For the first time, people were sitting in a room staring at the person that did the same job they did for the other company. Once we broke the ice and the “sizing up” subsided, we started to share plans, war stories, opportunities, and challenges. I was shocked to see how quickly the two teams became one and started to problem solve. It was at that point I realized the faster I got these two groups under one roof the stronger we would be as a cohesive winning team. We had space in the Bentonville office so I asked the Rogers folks to move; again this was prior to anyone but me knowing their future with the company. Move-in day was a technical nightmare. Evidently competing company’s firewalls don’t appreciate being in the same location. We quickly got through the IT problems and everyone was settling into their new offices. It was business as usual and the teams quickly gelled.
The company decided to operate two separate business units by category. At the time, the other unit was still located in Rogers under a different leader. Office space was secured in Bentonville to bring both business units under one roof, which clearly was the right thing to do. The challenge was telling a team that had already been through quite a bit, they would be moving to a new office and an open concept. In both locations, 99% had offices with walls and doors and now they were about to move into a completely different environment. Did I mention we still had not announced roles?
December came. Roles were announced, the team was in place, and we were waiting for the new office to be completed with a target date of July. The team operated like they had been together for years. As I look back, they have been working that way from the beginning. They never got caught up with who was working for whom and who they needed to compete against. They simply became a TEAM.
We headed out to our first combined national sales meeting as one team, with a theme of “Better Together”. I have been to many national sales meetings in my career and have seen a lot of themes. Most are words, but this one hit home, and was completely relevant. This group is clearly a better together cross functional unit, and I am proud to be a part of it.
*Global Vice President of Customer Development – Laundry & Homecare, Walmart & Sam’s Club – Henkel of America
*Title and company of the author reflect their position at the time article was written.
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