Questions to ask before an acquisition?
February 13, 2013 8:29 PM   Subscribe

My small company is very likely about to be acquired by a larger corporation. I've been invited to submit any questions I might have regarding the outcome - what should I ask?

I'm planning to ask for as many details as possible regarding salary, benefits, job title and duties, etc, but wondering what else I don't know that I should ask - if you've been through a merger/acquisition before, what did you wish you'd known in advance?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Really what you want to know about is layoffs, severance and buyouts, because a lot of people are going to be leaving the company in the next few months, but I'm not sure that's a great question to ask.
posted by empath at 8:38 PM on February 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

If vacation time (or any other benefits) is calculated using # of years at the company, does your time spent at the acquired company count?

If you have stock or options at current company, how is that going to be changed into new stock or money?

What is the vesting schedule for any money/stock/etc you may be given as part of the acquisition?

Will I be working in a different location? Will you be consolidating office space? Will anyone need to move?
posted by girlhacker at 8:53 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just went through it. So chaotic, it probably doesn't matter what you ask ahead of time because everything will change from day to day once it happens. Do you know if you'll all be getting offers? If not, you need to know about empath's questions. If you are getting offers, you'll need to know everything. First up, find out if there's any negotiation room when you get your offer letter. Then, find out if your hours will change/if they have flexible work from home things/what the culture is like. If they're going to change the location of your office. If you'll get the same kind of parking/transportation benefits you currently do. If you're bonus-eligible. Will you be reporting to the same people you currently do? Is there room to move around in the new company, and how soon before you can. Do you carry over your seniority?

Good luck! It's very stressful, but can be a great opportunity.
posted by clone boulevard at 8:54 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

The first question you need to know the answer to is whether the new management will see your questions associated with your name, because one of the very first tasks of new managers is to identify potential trouble makers.

Asking that question is a delicate undertaking, however, and the only truly wise choice is to assume they will and proceed accordingly.
posted by jamjam at 9:36 PM on February 13, 2013

No matter how things go, do your best to maintain a good relationship with Big Corporation as well as the founders of Smaller Corporation. The founders may not stick around Big Corporation long, or you may want to work again sometime in the future.

You really should expect that you will leave or get laid off in the next 6 months.

If you are not connected with everyone you know at the office on linked in or facebook, do that now. Also update your resume. Pay attention to where everyone lands. Keep in touch with everyone as they leave. Save money starting today. This is especially true if you have an administrative-type job like HR.
posted by empath at 10:03 PM on February 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Don't assume b1tr0t is right on the "acquire customer = keep support staff". The last company I worked for acquired hosting companies as a matter of course and with very few exceptions that meant that the customers were transferred to our platform, and everyone at the old company lost their jobs. At times ONLY support and redundant professional staff would lose their jobs, but as I sit here now I can think of only three companies out of more than 45 that still have support staff of any kind in place.

Start preparing now for the possibility that you may lose your job. Network like mad. On the flip side, be as helpful as you can.

Agreed that no matter the answers you get now, do not count on them. Things change. Be very aware when things start to seem "off" and act accordingly.

The best question you can ask right now is "How can I help make this transition a success?" Because everything else is subject to change.

If, by chance you're in the web hosting or domain name field, MeMail me cause I probably worked for the acquiring company.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:07 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

The only question you REALLY want to know the answer to is this:

How long will I have before I'm laid off and how much will the severence package be?

Don't ask that.

Now is the time to take stock of where you are in your company, and how much overlap there will be in your specific job.

For example. I worked for Bellsouth when we were acquired by AT&T. I was a Data Engineer/Sales Engineer and I knew everything about everything pertaining to local data and local telecommunications. I was no slouch at long distance either, but BellSouth was local, and that was my gig.

AT&T had learned a lesson from their disasterous take-over of Southwestern Bell (SBC). They ditched the local experts right away and it SUCKED because they didn't know what they were doing. Chaos.

So. They decided to keep us on. I went from traveling 26 weeks a year, to working out of my basement 52 weeks a year. I was still making money, hand over fist, so I hung in there. We had until December 2008 to be given a BellSouth package, and I mentioned to my boss that my feelings wouldn't be hurt if that happend.

Miraculously, out of a 13 member workgroup, 11 of us were offered packages. I did the Snoopy dance! Yay! I made it out by the deadline. I got a year's worth of salary, plus some other payments.

Sure, I was out in the worst job market in decades, but I had the opportunity to learn a new skill that I'm exploiting the hell out of now. Bonus!

So, if you MUST ask a question, here's what I'd ask:

"What should I be doing to prepare myself to be a valued member of Acquiring Company? Are there any special skills I should be learning?"

I'm not sure you'll get an honest answer, and really, I have to tell you, when we were acquired, every single member of upper management told us how valuable we were, how important our specialized knowledge was and how important to the success of the merger our roles were.

Then they all left the company.

Don't trust what they say, trust what you see. What executives are departing? What executives are taking on new roles? What are YOU being tasked to do?

Don't panic. But get your irons in the fire now!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:52 AM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

"My small company is very likely about to be acquired"

It's somewhat odd that there is both widespread knowledge of a big possible impending event like this and a forum to ask questions at this point in the process.

Without context about the industry/companies, etc it's difficult to figure out what may happen in your case, but as others have pointed out layoffs are very typical. The odds of layoff increase if you're in horizontal support function (accounting, IT, etc).

I have been part of and close witness to several acquisitions and in the majority of cases the confident assertions of what was going to happen prior to the acquisition ended up being simple wrong. I recall one instance where--in a period of just two weeks-- the story went from "you'll operate just as you have been and be independent" to "oh, scratch that, we decided to lay off 75% of team and roll you into existing org."

So the best advice here would be:
(1) Learn as much as you can about your acquirer, it's organization and business, how it works, who does what (key people and teams).
(2) Make certain you are crystal clear on your current role and contribution--if asked as part of a pre/post acquisition assessment you should be able to immediately and cogently explain what you/your team does and why that's a good thing.
(3) Prepare to find a new gig--I'm not saying be fearful, quite the opposite. If you think through your talents/profile/update that resume detailing recent accomplishments you'll feel better/stronger/more confident about yourself and help be seen as important talent to keep around (see #2 above).

In terms of "what questions should I ask in a public forum," my advice is to stay away from anything about your job or employment conditions (that will be what it is upon acquisition and your questions will have zero impact on that) and focus on questions that lead to a better understanding of your new potential employer's business (see #1 above)--how do they make money? Where do they see new growth coming from? What is their competitive advantage in the market? What are the key things that acquiring your current company adds to the mix?
posted by donovan at 6:55 AM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

What you should ask is "where are you going?" And the people you should be asking are the rockstars with whom you have connected over the last few years.

Nothing you ask a corporate communications drone will matter; truth in response will be more coincidence than anything else.
posted by rr at 7:59 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's a public forum, I'd go with things like "will our time served at LittleCorp count for seniority with GiantCorp?" This can make a huge difference for things like vacation, sure, but also a lot of companies have seniority-based standards for layoff packages. Also, if you have a 401(k), "what will happen to our retirement accounts?" It may be that the mothership will take over your existing 401(k), or it may be that you'll have some window to roll your existing account over into their plan. Or they'll do something else entirely.

Sensitive things, but also not inappropriate for a public forum: asking about how the integration will be handled - when will local HR be folded into (or replaced by) the existing structure at the new company? How about payroll issues, if the mothership has a different schedule than your current company? Changes in health insurance companies and benefits packages? Will that change over at your next open enrollment or some other time?
posted by rmd1023 at 8:38 AM on February 14, 2013

I was part of a pretty big company acquired by an even bigger company. Echoing what others have said, I would add -- do your own research on BigCo -- check out GlassDoor, LinkedIn, the local papers in their HQ town and other places they have major presence. Try to figure out what BigCo is like and how you can best fit in or if you want to.

In my case, my research showed that BigCo was not a very employee-friendly place -- although I tried to make it work for me for 3 years, I eventually left and am far happier where I am now. It's a shame because I loved working for LittleCo, but everything changes eventually...

Good luck.
posted by elmay at 10:42 AM on February 14, 2013

If the soon-to-be parent company has a history of acquiring smaller companies like yours you can reach out to people on LinkedIn who used to work for the acquired companies to find out how it panned out. I agree with others that there are very few things you can ask that will foretell bad outcomes for you in their Q/A forum. In these situations you may be best to let others ask the questions and be a silent observer.
posted by dgran at 12:27 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

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