After 7 M&As in 7 Years, I Thought I'd Seen It All. Then I Completed a Remote M&A Amid a Global Pandemic.
The past six months have ushered in a new way of working for all of us. As someone who previously spent five days a week in the office strategizing alongside my teams and traveling an average of 10 to 12 days per month for business, this new routine from home has been a bit foreign to me. If someone would have told me a year ago that our company of more than 30,000 employees would be fully remote, that I’d help complete an acquisition for our growing $1 billion security business from my dining room and that we’d experience a record year of growth as an organization amid a global pandemic, I never would have believed it. This year has challenged me as a leader, team player and mentor to reevaluate how we adapt in challenging times, continue tracking toward aggressive goals and weather any storm as a united team.
As I reflect on this year, one moment that challenged me the most was completing an acquisition fully remote. I’ve been through seven major business milestones during my time at Carbon Black, including acquisitions on both sides and an IPO. When VMware Carbon Black acquired Octarine in May 2020, the entire process — from first conversations to executive interviews, presentations and official signatures on the dotted line — was completed digitally.
There are four takeaways that stood out for me about how to successfully complete an acquisition remotely, and I hope other business leaders can learn from my experience as they progress toward exciting business milestones of their own.
1. Location no longer matters
At the time of the Octarine acquisition, Carbon Black was a new acquisition of VMware. This meant that the key stakeholders were in three locations: Tel Aviv, Massachusetts and California, creating multiple time zones across 10 hours.
In years past, completing an acquisition between two companies across the world from each other would have been a months-long process of juggling time zones and executives’ travel schedules to meet in person. However, with the pandemic preventing in-person meetings and travel starting in March, our seven-hour time difference and canceled flights suddenly created something in common: We were all navigating the pandemic from home. We quickly learned that we needed to be flexible, patient and open to a bit of an experiment along the way, because the location and in-person meetings were no longer an option. Finding similarities between your team and the one you’re looking to acquire goes a long way. The pandemic made it feel like we weren’t across the world from each other. It created something we could all relate to and ended up breaking down some barriers as we got to know each other and our businesses.
2. Over-invest in people and communication
It’s a marriage, not just a date. Completing an acquisition and folding Octarine’s well-established team into our team without meeting in person was not an easy task. Our executive team spent hours on video interviews meeting the Octarine team, but in this case, we needed to dig beyond just the business benefits of our potential partnership. We didn’t have the luxury of the long-awaited dinner and wine that would follow these types of business meetings in the past in order to get to know each other. It became absolutely critical that we invested extra time during our video meetings to get to know each other and understand what our joint goals were, as well as how we would define success. Without this, I don’t think a strong partnership out of the gates would have been possible from our homes.
3. Flexibility is the key to success
Transforming our M&A process to meet today’s remote needs came with a unique set of challenges. It meant we had to rethink everything we knew about hosting meetings in the lead-up to a massive business milestone like this. We had to adjust on the fly. We had to work harder and smarter to pull it off. While it was intimidating at times, it also solidified the importance of leaning on my team, confronting the hardships and staying flexible. When our two businesses shared a common goal of providing best-in-class security solutions, it seemed like anything was possible. With today’s ever-changing environment, being flexible is critical. We have to let go of expectations of the past and accept change. In my opinion, the pandemic has changed the M&A process for the better. It’s forced us to use our time more productively, really dig into what matters most to both businesses and think differently overall.
4. Lean into your team, relationships and mentors
I’ve completed seven M&As as both acquirer and acquiree alongside my Carbon Black colleague Patrick Morley. I joined him as part of the founding team back in 2014, and it’s this years-long trust and camaraderie that made our remote M&A possible this year.
We know each other’s strengths, and together we’re a team. If this was our first M&A, it would have been far more challenging, without a doubt. For those experiencing this for the first time, I recommend finding someone on your team who has prior experience. Learn from them. Lean into their key takeaways, including both the challenges and lessons. Because I’d done this before, I approached it with a certain level of empathy, which was important. I understand the feeling of someone taking your “baby” when you’ve spent years building a company and a product you’re proud of. That can’t be taken lightly, especially remotely.
The biggest lesson I learned was that completing an important business achievement like an acquisition is possible during a global pandemic and with a remote workforce. We were successful because we were flexible and transparent. We over-communicated and trusted each other. Our company culture has all stayed true while we’re all remote this year. Together, we can strive to meet and exceed our goals, face challenges head-on and continue creating innovative solutions for the industry during a year when security is more important than ever.