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Acquisition

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Growth Through Acquisition

Acquisitions can be a great strategy for firms interested in growing their operations. They offer the opportunity to add new services, enter new markets, and recruit new talent. PBS&J, Stantec, URS, Jacobs, and Kleinfelder, are examples of firms that have been able to grow significantly with acquisitions. Many Architecture and Engineering industry CEO’s, however, are hesitant when it comes to making acquisitions. Some of them made one or two acquisitions that didn’t work out, and the mistakes were costly. As a result, they’re understandably gun shy. Here are a few things to keep in mind if your firm has had an acquisition that didn’t work out.

Failure is part of the learning process.

Tom Brady was not ready to start for the New England Patriots when he was a rookie. He had to learn how to become a good quarterback and interceptions were thrown before he eventually led his team to three Super Bowl championships. The CEO’s of the firms mentioned above probably have a number of war stories they could share about acquisitions that didn’t work, but that didn’t stop them. The reason why they’ve been successful with many of their deals is that they’ve been able to learn from their mistakes.

Is a particular acquisition in alignment with the firm vision? This question should always be asked whenever a firm considers purchasing another. Acquisition deals fall apart for many different reasons. Many A/E firms have multiple owners with different motivations beyond anyone’s control. Firms that continue to be successful with acquisitions know that some deals will not be successful and look at many potential deals simultaneously to improve their chances at getting agreements that work for them. They know that having three or four prospects in the process improves their chances that at least one will ultimately lead to a successful transaction. Successful deals occur when they work for both parties and this should be the goal in every deal. Some firm owners, however, have unrealistic expectations. Many of them have invested most of their lives into their firms and have unrealistic perceptions when it comes to the value of their firms. It’s important in these cases to put emotions aside. If the deal doesn’t work for both parties, walk away.

Acquisitions and firm strategy should be in alignment.

Numbers count.

Don’t be afraid to walk away.

Identifying what worked and what didn’t work is critical every time a firm goes through the acquisition process. This provides opportunities for improvement in the future.

Review the process in each case (successful and unsuccessful).

John P. Kreiss

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