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The Meaning Of Leadership: The Acquirer

Recently, I was contacted by one of my former employees. When we had sold the bar, she had stayed on as the new GM, to help maintain customer relations and assist the new owner–who had no experience running a bar–in understanding the industry.

That conversation led me to the realization that I have a somewhat unique perspective on business–one that could help you, if you find that you are on the acquisition end of a business deal.

I’ve experienced acquisitions from all three ends: First as the buyer of a business, then as the seller, and finally as an outsider watching a new executive take over–though in that case the business itself hadn’t been sold.

As I said in my previous post about the meaning of leadership, introspection and having an understanding of yourself are some of the keys to ensuring that you are a successful leader. If you are unable to look at yourself and the actions that you take, you’ll be blind to the impact that you are having on your team and the business–which brings me back to the conversation I had with my former employee.

When she called me, she was asking for my advice. She wanted to know what I would do if I were in her position and the owner changed my pay without talking to me. She also told me that he had a bad habit of discussing employee issues in front of customers, in front of staff, and would regularly complain to customers about the staff. According to her, he went as far as to tell her that he could easily replace all of them.

Having been in his shoes, I understand what it’s like to take over something that already exists and attempt to understand the existing personalities–as well as the financial realities. When we bought the bar, the old staff had no idea what was happening. When they went to work in the final days of our negotiations, they were greeted with locked doors and a sign that said the bar was being sold…on St. Patrick’s Day—but that’s a story for another time. We chose to have a meeting with them, understand their point of view of the previous owner, and ask them all to be part of our new venture–with the understanding that things would be changing.

Some companies would rather not deal with it, and choose to just hire all new staff members. In fact, there was one such company that was well known in the area. They would buy failing bars, fire the staff, renovate, and then reopen with a new name. That company was (and still is) deeply hated by anyone who knew the name of that company.

After some back-and-forth with my former employee, I told her that it was clear to me that the man had no interest in understanding how the hospitality industry works–and that I saw imminent failure on the horizon. So, I recommended that she hold him to his word. If he felt that they could be easily replaced, then she should speak with her staff, tell them the situation, and invite them to leave with her.

One of her two staff members decided to follow her. The other was emotionally attached to the customers and wanted to stay and do what she could to help keep the place running. Not that the GM wasn’t attached. Half of what I felt she wanted from me was permission to leave. Permission to let the bar sink, and to be absolved of the feeling that she had failed me.

This is my advice to you, as the acquirer: Your first few months are crucial to setting the tone. You must set a good standard. Whatever decisions you make, whatever you let slide, how you choose to handle disciplinary action, how you speak to the staff, what you prioritize…all of that is under extreme scrutiny. You are setting the bar for what is to come–but I’m not talking about mere procedure. I’m talking about company morale.

If you set the expectation that you will not maintain morale, or that you will actively harm it, you will be fighting a losing battle. It could be as simple as allowing your staff to bad-mouth each other under their breathe. It could be ignoring their requests, or remaining quiet for too long when their behavior is unbecoming of someone that you want under your supervision. It is imperative that you carefully and fully consider everything that you do–to the best of your ability.

Your reputation, good or bad, will follow you throughout your time with that company. Make sure you don’t make it harder on yourself.

Thank you for taking the time to read this far. I will be posting my thoughts about the other two perspectives–as the seller, and the observer–in the coming days. Feel free to let me know your thoughts! I’d love to have a discussion.

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