Over the years, we’ve done work for many corporate clients that have gone through organizational changes. With one of those clients currently undergoing a merger, we got to talking about similar situations we’ve been through prior to our lives at d.trio. They reminded us of how universal change can be, and also how stressful it is to be staring at a big pile of unknowns while still having to show up every day and do your job like everything is normal. It was also a good reminder that, in the end, things usually turn out okay. See for yourself with our stories.
Back in the 90’s, I was the Director of Marketing for a small, commercial/executive and professional-focused bank in Saint Paul. We were first merged with a larger bank in our holding company and then acquired by a larger, regional bank.
It became clear to me early on, that my position was redundant and being from the smallest company, would likely be downgraded or eliminated. So, I put on my networking cap and contacted two people from my past, one a former colleague who had become a bank marketing consultant and the other a former marketing services vendor. I suggested they start an agency that specializes in working with banks, as that seemed to me to be a vastly underserved segment.
These two quickly established just such an agency, Bank Direct, and hired me after just a few months of existence. We proceeded in fairly short order to build that from scratch into a thriving, mid-sized agency. It is there that I met both my future business partners, Maureen Dyvig and Megan Devine, and together we created and launched d.trio marketing group in 2000.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Early in my career, I worked for a cable TV company in Wisconsin called Marcus Cable. This was in the early days of the internet when dial-up was king and broadband was an unfamiliar thing to most people. However, a thing most people were familiar with was Microsoft Windows. So, when news hit that Marcus Cable, along with Charter Communications, was being purchased by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, my coworkers and I soon became abuzz with excitement, fear, and speculation about our futures.
At that time, we occupied only a tiny corner of the cable television world, serving about 300K customers and were enthusiastic about the prospect of having a bigger footprint and more responsibility. At the same time, we wondered about our fate as the “new guys” started sniffing around. Many working lunches, long meetings, and happy hours were spent discussing and wondering how things would shake out. The stress was real, but we knew we could only do our best and wait for word from above.
Fortunately for me, when the deal was complete I had an offer to stay on in a new role with more money, more responsibility, and even some stock options, which I happily accepted—I was young and ready to dive in. I stayed on for a year and worked a zillion hours a week, especially in the beginning. But when an opportunity arose to take a job at an agency in Minneapolis, I jumped at it. I learned a lot working in the trenches at Charter, including the fact that corporate life wasn’t for me. But I wouldn’t trade those days for anything. It’s all part of who I am today.
My merger story has three parts. I was working at a medium-sized creative agency where one client made up the bulk of our revenue. That client was purchased by another large company with alternate advertising resources and processes. Our billings declined rapidly over a two-year period resulting in several rounds of layoffs, which I survived by taking on increased responsibility and learning new skills as needed. As that client relationship was drawing to a final close, the owner of the agency announced that he was selling the agency to another mid-sized company, still marketing-focused but with a very different niche and company culture.
Those of us who remained took on the task of dismantling the physical assets and equipment of an agency that had been in existence for 25 years and moving what we needed to a new location. The people there were nice enough and tried to be welcoming, but the focus of the work and general business philosophy was very different. I became valuable to the new company because of the range of skills I brought along with me and was enjoying my time there, despite remaining something of an outsider.
About a year later the agency was sold (or merged – we were never quite sure) with another company that had a different focus. The owner of the new company was interested in expanding his service offerings to creative services and was also eager to take on some of the client list.
At this point I was the final remaining employee from my first agency, and once again, we packed up and moved to a new location. Again, the new had a different culture, was production-focused, and it was in a smaller, outlying community. That meant a long commute to a job with a company I didn’t really believe in.
As new arrivals, we were viewed as outsiders and had a difficult time fitting in. The fact that many of us were doing new kinds of work than had typically been done there didn’t help with integration. After enduring another move to the new location, I realized that staying put was doing me more harm than good. My prospects for doing work I was interested in and for advancement in the company were limited. It was time to move on, and so I did.
I’ve been through three mergers, each with a very different story.
Carlson Marketing Group: When I was with CMG they acquired a promotion/incentive company based out of Ohio with the intent of transitioning all operations to their Minneapolis base. The new client business opened up additional job opportunities, so I interviewed and was hired for a management position, which was a huge promotion for me.
I was part of a transition team that spent four months in Ohio learning the business. I was quite young and it was a lot of fun. Since we were all from MN and in an unfamiliar place away from our normal lives, we formed a tightknit group and spent all our free time together. Although we felt bad about taking over jobs from the Ohio people, the acquisition plan had been clear from the start and the people were mostly welcoming and helpful.
First Bank and U.S. Bank: Minneapolis-based First Bank Systems acquired U.S. Bank out of Portland. The new organization took on the U.S. Bank name and the corporate headquarters stayed in Minneapolis.
As a result of this merger, new branding was developed and the new organization needed to update all existing marketing materials and send important merger communications to all customers. This is where I came into the picture. I was hired on as a marketing contractor in Direct Marketing to work on these initiatives.
I was part of a large team all working towards the same goal and it was a fun and exciting time. This was my introduction into financial services marketing. I went on to perform other job roles within the organization and stayed for about three years. The experience was invaluable and I met a lot of good people.
U.S. Bank and First Star: This merger was more typical in terms of how you would expect people to react to a merger of two large organizations—iinitial surprise, then acceptance followed by fear, uncertainty, anxiety and stress. It was a tough environment. Work still had to be done and deadlines met.
The end results were mixed. Some people lost their jobs and others got promoted. Some people’s benefits were diminished while they improved for teammates. In this particular merger, the company cultures were extremely different. There seemed to be clashes over almost everything, large and small. I was fortunate to survive the cuts, but it took a significant time for the newly formed organization to achieve cohesiveness and establish its new identity.
In my career, I have experience helping clients through their mergers and I have gone through mergers in corporations several times. Here are some experiences and insights that I gained:
Change is going to happen to every business and career. A merger is just one way my career was affected by change. Each experience gave me an opportunity to learn about myself, about change management and how to navigate unknowns in my world personally or professionally. With the merger between Fair, Isaac (FICO) and DynaMark, I played a role in helping the Fair, Isaac sales team understand how DynaMark’s data and analytics service could help their clients. Fair, Isaac was based in California, so there were some differences in client approach (they being more formal than we) and we learned from each other. We learned a bit of sophistication and they learned how authenticity can really create engagement.
As the merger moved forward, Fair, Isaac took over the sales arm of DynaMark, where I was working. I had additional opportunities to speak at their large annual client meeting (that clients paid for) and hone my skills by presenting to their large corporate clients—all invaluable experiences. As the changes continued to happen, I learned something at every stage. As an entrepreneur, I’ve found that I’ve used the foundation from what I learned about mergers, change management and how it affects employees to help me navigate the ever-shifting world of my business within the marketing agency world. Plus, I learned:
The grapevine is filled with conjecture about what will happen and most of it is just that, conjecture. Listen to the people who know what is going on and let go of the rest.
You can only control what you have in front of you, so I found it really helpful to focus on my job and look for other things that I could help with. It gave me new things to work on and a great experience working with new people in the process.
Embrace the differences; it’s interesting to see how different companies are structured, what their strengths are and how departments interact.
I learned more from change than I ever did from the status quo. If you keep yourself open to the opportunities, you never know where you’ll end up. In the end, I decided the jobs available to me in the new sales organization were not what I wanted to be doing and moved on to a business where I met my two future business partners. And, my participation in helping transition the organization was recognized and rewarded by the management team sending me a nice bonus after I left the company.