Published in The Wall Street Journal January 13, 2013
When Pittsburgh-based Alcoa, a manufacturer of aluminum, and BHP Billiton, a mining company in Melbourne, Australia, decided to merge their money-losing distribution units, Jack Smith was contracted to help with the human-resources transition. His job involved deciding who would stay on to work at the new company or be offered a severance package.
“In many merger situations, the decision on who to keep can be pretty clear,” says Mr. Smith, who is now president of Sanford Rose Associates, an executive search firm in Milwaukee. “But there was one employee who wasn’t the obvious choice to take over as an executive VP. Two other people had better credentials for the job. This guy worked very hard at anticipating the organization that would be needed to pull off this transition. He made a case for the people that he knew and about the roles they might serve. He was smart, did his homework, so we gave him the job.”
Few events are as stressful for employees as news of a merger or acquisition. Regardless of how brightly the “marriage” of two companies is presented, jobs will be lost. But mergers can also open new opportunities for employees who may end up succeeding their laid-off boss. Survival just takes some careful planning. Hopefully, you’ve picked up on some reliable early scuttlebutt about a possible merger. If so, formulate a survival strategy and act quickly. Depending on the size of the company and if the merger has to be approved by governing bodies, the merger process can take a few months to years. Just don’t wait until the merger is announced to update your résumé, LinkedIn profile and personal pitch. The human-resources department might already be working behind the scenes to prepare for staff changes.
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