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THE BIGGER THEY ARE, THE HARDER THEY ARE TO CHANGE
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One can only say that the personal agenda is a problem in big companies that makes things hard to manage.
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Why Things Go Wrong
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Studies have shown that a large percentage of mergers underperform their grand predictions of success. Two large companies that join together spend so much time on operational integration that they end up running on the fumes of their past glory and brand names. What you rarely see are new ideas or innovation. What s behind the merger of Mobil and Exxon As best I can figure out, it s a bunch of accountants and efficiency experts figuring out how to cut costs, gain market share, and boost the stock price. Immense resources and big brand names rarely guarantee innovation. More often, all that tradition and bureaucracy get in the way of any repositioning thinking.
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The Problems Multiply
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Other things that come with a big merger are double or triple the number of employees, products, shareholders, and customers. Managing all this becomes exceptionally difficult. Pretty soon, there are endless meetings about logos, cutting head counts, closing offices, selling off businesses, and figuring out how to put the right spin on all this to customers and employees.
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REpositioning
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Next, there are the problems with keeping the company s best people from taking their egos elsewhere. Pecking orders get disrupted. Everyone s trying to figure out who is up, who is down, and who is out. The actual business at hand is buried in a flurry of rumors and time spent looking for a new job. But what tops all the problems is what they call culture clash, or bringing together two highly complex, large, and not necessarily like-minded companies. Culture is the way we do things around here. This includes participation in decision making, performance rewards, risk tolerance, and quality and cost orientation. All this leads to, at great expense, a great deal of touchy-feely communication and integration seminars. Team building and sensitivity training become the rage, and change management consultants ride into town. That s what happens in U.S. mergers. When you have global mergers such as DaimlerChrysler, all that New Age stuff goes out the window. Could a German carmaker ever integrate with a Detroit carmaker Not likely. You know what those Mercedes engineers thought of those Chrysler engineers Not much. There s no chance that management consultants could change those attitudes. It s no wonder the marriage blew apart in short order.
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THE BIGGER THEY ARE, THE HARDER THEY ARE TO CHANGE
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Stall Points
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If all that history and analysis wasn t enough to throw cold water on getting big, we came across a Washington, D.C., organization called the Corporate Strategy Board. This organization, in association with, of all corporations, Hewlett-Packard, developed a study on the theoretical limits to growth. It studied corporate stall experiences over four decades and concluded that big is indeed very difficult to manage for growth. The numbers are hard to argue with. A $40 million company needs only $8 million to grow 20 percent. A $4 billion company needs $800 million. Very few new markets are that large. This means that the larger and more successful a company is, the more difficult it will become for it to maintain that pace. Interestingly, 83 percent of the root causes of company stall points were controllable. Either strategic factors or organizational factors led to trouble. Translation: it s easy to make management mistakes with giant corporations the bigger they are, the harder they are to manage. (Look out below!)
Bigness Gone Bad
There is no sadder story than that of AIG. Before the great crash, it was a holding company for a network of
REpositioning
subsidiaries engaged in insurance and insurance-related activities, including property, casualty, life, financial services, retirement savings products, asset management, and aircraft leasing. It was the largest insurance company in the world. It was unmanageable. It s no wonder that a 300-employee group in London that was insuring toxic credit default swaps took the company over the cliff. A sad, sad story that didn t have to end that way. Many years ago, we worked for AIG doing some strategy for one of its hobby acquisitions, the Stowe ski area in Vermont. (CEO Hank Greenberg was a big skier.) It became apparent that AIG s real need was to clearly reposition itself as more than just a big general and life insurance company. The obvious idea that we presented was simple but powerful: America s answer to Lloyd s of London. AIG had a strong global presence in this kind of insurance, and, thanks to Hank, it was a far better managed operation than Lloyd s. But it didn t want to hear about this strategy. AIG wanted to get into financial services and everything else. It wanted to be everything for everybody. Well, we know how that worked out. Here s a case where a company chased change to a place where it never should have gone. It should have stayed where it was. But more on that in the next chapter.
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