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The Human Side of M&A with Jennifer Fondrevay

George Grombacher January 6, 2023

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The Human Side of M&A with Jennifer Fondrevay

LifeBlood: We talked about the human side of M&A, why so many deals fail, how to manage expectations, and the necessity of addressing the people side of deals with Jennifer Fondrevay, Founder of Day1Ready, M&A Advisor, and author.

Listen to learn why it’s a common mistake to tell people that nothing is going to change!

You can learn more about Jennifer at, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Get your copy of Now What HERE.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher


Jennifer Fondrevay

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Oh wait for this George G and the time is right welcome today’s guest strong and powerful Jennifer fonder. Vai. Jennifer, are you ready to do this?

Unknown Speaker 0:22
I am.

george grombacher 0:24
Let’s go. Jennifer is the founder of day one ready. It’s a consultancy that advises forward thinking business leaders, owners and executives on how to prepare for the human capital challenges of m&a. She’s the author of now what a survivor’s guide for thriving through mergers and acquisitions. Jennifer excited to have you on tell us a little about your personal lives more about your work, why you do what you do?

Unknown Speaker 0:49
How long do you have,

george grombacher 0:51
as long as we need.

Unknown Speaker 0:54
So with Thank you, one for having me on, you already highlighted the book. It’s a survivor’s guide, because I went through three separate merger and acquisition deals. And I was a corporate marketing executive at the time. And frankly, George can maybe guests from my last name, so I’m half French. And my original plan in life was to be Ambassador France. So the fact that I do what I do now, I keep saying to my dad, who is the French part of my parents that I’m just taking a circuitous path to ambassadorship? i Yeah, you know, it could still be possible. But for about 25 years of my career, I was in advertising and marketing and had reached what I thought was the height of marketing career, becoming a chief marketing officer. But it was in that capacity that I went through three separate deals. And these were multimillion dollar deals. So you know, as I’ve come to learn, the bigger the billions, the bigger the bloodbath, but I kept feeling through each of those deals, that there had to be a better way to do m&a, where the value that was being sought for the deal actually was achieved, where you you didn’t lose talent, you didn’t lose productivity, you didn’t have such a significant drop in morale that the company had to strive to even get back to zero. And so it was in that time that I felt, I wanted to write a book about how to how to not just survive it, but to thrive through it. And so, in in that journey, writing that book, I interviewed a number of executives, about 60, CEOs, CFOs, CHR, OHS, middle managers. And it was in in that interview time that I repeatedly kept getting asked, well, what are you doing besides the book? To which I would cheekily respond, well, do you know how hard it is to write a book, I was just planning to write a book, I was gonna go out and be another CMO. But I thought the question after a while was, was relevant, right? I had one CEO in particular say, Well, the book is great. Like, this is important. executives need this, you got to do more to get the book out there. And so that’s why you find me doing what I do now advising, advising business owners, CEOs, their leadership teams, private equity, on how to manage what I like to call the people challenges of mergers and acquisitions.

george grombacher 3:33
I love it. I can’t help think that there aren’t some through lines between being the ambassador to France for the United States of America and helping two companies merge.

Unknown Speaker 3:46
Well, I do in fact, actually, I’m very involved with my graduate school Thunderbird. It’s an international business school, I went there specifically because I wanted to be in this

george grombacher 3:56
is what I’m going to do.

Unknown Speaker 4:00
Thankfully, I had a really good professor in, in marketing research, who asked me one day, so what do you plan to do? And I told him, I wanted to be Ambassador France. And I could see in his eyes, he was looking at me like, yeah, kid. Good luck. And he didn’t say it. But I now realize that he’s thinking, you know, you get a better chance of being ambassador, France, if you make a lot of money and you support some candidate who goes off to be president, and then maybe you’ll get it, which was true. So thankfully, he said, Well, you know, you should always have a plan B, and you you have a knack for this marketing stuff. You should, you should just consider that. And so thankfully, I had that conversation and started my career in advertising. At J. Walter Thompson, and then foot coat and Belding. So again, lucky enough to have been in you know, major ad agencies on international clients. But you’re not the first to say, Huh, well, you could still you could Do it maybe?

george grombacher 5:02
Yeah, yeah, for sure. So the more billions the more bloodbath or something like that, that certainly makes sense. You know, that means there’s probably just a lot more people that are involved in this. And that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s where stuff gets messy. Right, we can sit in the boardroom and talk about all the wonderful synergies and how this is all going to work. But when you actually get, you know, face to face and roll up our sleeves with the other people that this doesn’t always work out.

Unknown Speaker 5:31
Yeah, and what’s interesting, so yes, the you hit the nail on the head, it’s because there’s so many people involved, right, when it’s multibillion dollar deals. A big a big part of that pursuit in doing that deal is finding efficiencies and redundancies. So layoffs, and you know, cutting entire departments tends to be part of how people think of those mergers and acquisitions. But I found in doing the research, I spoke with business owners who were in middle market companies that that 10 to $1 billion range, and they had the same challenges. So people challenges aren’t unique to multibillion dollar deals, because it’s human nature you’re dealing with, and it’s changing uncertainty that people are facing, every time a deal is done. And so, you know, I say, rather jokingly, you know, with, with big billion dollar deals, you can have a lot more chaos. But there there’s changing uncertainty in every instance.

george grombacher 6:38
And that’s probably true at the top of the organization with the C suite. And I’m sure that it’s true for just regular folks.

Unknown Speaker 6:47
Yeah. Oh, yeah. It’s not the and that’s, that’s why I frankly, I did the interviews, I wanted to make sure that the experience that I had through three separate deals wasn’t unique to me, because I didn’t feel that way. At the beginning, I thought, Man, you see a different side of people, when they’re faced with change and uncertainty. And I saw that consistently. Even though I was on all sides of the equation, I had been acquired, I was part of a company that acquired another was then the third one was private equity acquired our company. And in doing those interviews, it became clear to me that you just how you navigate mergers and acquisitions, no one is going to necessarily help you to do that, because they’re figuring it out themselves. And that’s why I wrote the book, I wanted people to understand here’s, here’s how to not just get through it, but but actually find more opportunities, because they are there if you know what to expect. And that’s the hard part. A friend of mine actually jokingly said, I should have called the book, what to expect when you’re not expecting a merger or acquisition.

george grombacher 7:58
That’s funny, know what to expect. So I wrote down human capital change management, these these these these important buzzwords, and massive industries, and rooms full of consultants. From my experience, in what I’ve sort of just paying attention, we don’t know what to expect, because we’re not communicated to so when you talk about helping people overcome expected challenges, like we know that you’re going to run into these things. And if you choose to just ignore them and not skip skip a bunch of steps, it’s going to be painful.

Unknown Speaker 8:39
Right? Absolutely. And, and that’s, that’s the key, they are expected. You can expect them. It’s what frustrates me the most is when in in the research that I did for the book, there was a an article in which a CFO was quoted as saying, you know, what, due to the m&a deal was unexpected people challenges, and I think 70% of the of the CFOs it was the CFO magazine said, Yeah, you know, that’s it. It’s it’s, I mean, obviously, the they there are other aspects of what can undermine the success of a deal, right? Typically, the valuation was off, but it was way bigger than they had anticipated. But the other ones were all people related, right, synergies that don’t appear, or aren’t as easy to achieve as expected, you know, more complicated production, integration challenges, and then people challenges. So, for me, a big part of overcoming that is one writing the book. And that book is geared towards the person going through it, here’s here’s what to expect and how to navigate it. But I use the book as well, when I’m working with executives and their teams to say here’s what Here’s what you can’t expect this is what’s going to happen to people, they’re going to go through stages of grief. For some, it might be significant, right? Because if I’ve identified with a company for years, and now I don’t know what that company is, and I don’t know what it’s turning into, I’m mourn the loss of that company. And that’s, that’s not just me, right? That’s statistically proven through through the research I did, and that others have done and it’s it, it leverages Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s description of what someone goes through in terms of the stages of grief when they’re mourning the loss, right. In her case, she was writing about terminally ill patients, but it has applications for many other things. And I applied it to mergers and acquisitions. And then the other part the other people challenges that people become a different version of themselves. You know, it’s, it’s what I said at the beginning, you see a different side of people when they’re faced with change in uncertainty. And even if you aren’t in a merger and acquisition, your best proof point is think about some of the people you saw during the pandemic, right, where we were all faced with change and uncertainty. And I suspect, you saw a different side of people, people who you thought you really knew act in ways you never expected. And, you know, it’s not to judge people. It’s just simply to say, people when they’re afraid, can act differently, and you need to be prepared for that. Yeah, yeah.

george grombacher 11:29
There’s no doubt about that. That’s, that’s a wonderful way to sort of think about it is, is our behavior during the pandemic, and obviously, with our careers, it’s our financial, it’s our money. So when you mess with people’s money, that’s a really big deal. But it’s also in a lot of ways. It’s, it’s my identity. This is this is what I do. And so, you know, for for us to for to expect that him that I as a person wouldn’t be startled by that and caught off guard. That that’s that’s pretty wild that you wouldn’t expect that. But it’s very interesting. For sure, right? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 12:09
I mean, I went through it. I’m, I’m the reason I wrote the book is in the first acquisition. So Navteq was a global mapping company, digital mapping company. And now maps are ubiquitous. They’re on their fear phone, they’re everywhere. But back then we were we were launching the product globally. And I was the head of b2b marketing globally. loved that job. I mean, I want to be ambassador to France, right? And I’m now I’m based in Europe. I’m helping people get closer. Yeah, it was just amazing. And we were acquired by Nokia, in 2008, for $9 billion. And I thought it was brilliant. I thought it was smart on Nokia’s part, to, to see that through the phone, we weren’t just going to connect talking, but we would connect through mapping and location based solutions. If you have followed Nokia at all, you can guess that that didn’t go well, that acquisition wasn’t successful, but it had such great opportunity. And I thought Nokia was brilliant in doing so. But culturally, we came at things very differently. Navteq was b2b, Nokia was b2c. And as part of that lesson learned, I went through exactly what I described to you, I had been the head of b2b marketing globally, that was important in our company, I provided significant value for Nokia, who what do you do again, it was like, just write these press releases and get them out. And then these press releases, like they would go through umpteen million reviews, because they just didn’t understand how we did what we did. Because we were serving clients and customers. And they were focused on consumers. And so it was just a very, it was a tough lesson to learn. And by my third acquisition, I was like, Oh, this is just how it goes, right? You know, people don’t get what you do, necessarily. And so that’s why I wanted to write the book to say, Here’s how you make sure people understand your value and what you can contribute to the company. Because it may not be the role you had before. In fact, they may not even understand the role you had before it is your duty if this is a company you still want to work with. And that’s a big part of the process, you need to evaluate Is this still what I want to do? Is this company going in a direction that I can get behind? So you need to do that evaluation and then demonstrate your value. So that’s it for me, that was the kind of the clarion call. I wanted to help other people be smart about how to figure that out.

george grombacher 14:47
That makes a ton of sense. And right now we’re seeing firsthand, two of the largest, most famous companies in the world with Twitter and now Disney both Going through their, their their own version of upheaval and change. I wrote down honesty and transparency. And it strikes me that as an employee, I would want to know, at least as much as I could know, from Elon Musk and Bob Iger, here’s where we’re going, here’s where you know why, here’s what you can expect from us and, you know, get on board or, or don’t the kind of a thing.

Unknown Speaker 15:24
Yeah, and that’s, I’m really glad you said that, because that is usually one of the biggest mistakes that senior leaders make is the desire to say nothing is changing, everything is gonna stay the same. This year, you’re, and they do it with the intent. It’s not malicious intent. Most executives, the reason that they do is to keep people calm, right, they want people to, Hey, I just don’t, don’t leave, don’t go with this is nothing’s going to change. But the reality is, everything’s already changed, you’ve already changed the certainty of my future, you’ve already changed how I think about my job because the company is changing. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I say to executives, people, it’s not change that people resist what they don’t like is uncertainty. So if you have prolonged uncertainty, that’s where you run into issues. So we got to make, we got to create as much certainty as possible. But the worst thing you can do is say nothing is changing. And as exactly as you said, I coach executives, and their teams to be as transparent as possible. Now, there’s certain things you can’t share for confidentiality, and legal reasons. But there’s a lot more that you can and painting a vision for, here’s what we’re doing. This is why these companies are coming together, and why both are valued, you need to highlight why both companies are contributing to that vision that you have. So that people on in both companies can see a role for themselves and can see how they might contribute. If you exactly as you said, if you don’t have a vision for where this is going, then you’re going to evaluate it against well, do I have a better opportunity somewhere else, and you, you may lose some of the really critical talent that you need in order to succeed?

george grombacher 17:19
It’s really, really interesting, I imagine. more common than not when, when the CEO say no, no, no, nothing’s gonna change. It’s all gonna be fine. That’s that’s probably just just like an impulse. Particularly if, if they’re a parent, like it’s not, it’s gonna be okay, you know, talking to their kids. Did you think that that’s just sort of an instinctual response?

Unknown Speaker 17:44
It is. And that’s why I highlight it’s not it’s not to paint leaders as negative or, you know, misleading because they really do want people to feel okay, there’s a story that I share in my book that I love. Actually, it was a a woman who was in customer marketing in her company. And she shared that her boss said to the team, and I was probably about 10 people on the team. Listen, I don’t know if they’re gonna keep us, right. They’ve been acquired by a company, they were skilled in understanding the automotive industry. And they were acquired by a company that was focused on telecommunications. And so he thought, listen, we may be kept, because I know they want to get into this the automotive space. But who knows. He said, The critical thing is don’t don’t obsess about your title. Don’t be focused on your job description and the box that you’ve been in, demonstrate how quickly you learn, because that customer marketing team was super smart, right? They researched everything. They were always the group that helped present the statistics at their user groups for customers like they were they were tasked with that. And we’re always well known for the research. And so he said, We need to demonstrate not the industry we know, but how quickly we learn in industry. So that when when they’re evaluating different departments, they see the critical nature of what we do. And sure enough, she said that more than anything, helped them as a team to just stay focused, and no one was let go. They were they were split up for a little while. But she said it was critical, and she’s so appreciated the transparency of her boss to say, Listen, I, I don’t know where this is gonna go. I think the vision isn’t is an interesting one. And we could contribute. But here’s how we’re going to make, make them see what we do value.

george grombacher 19:43
Love it. That makes a ton of sense. Jennifer, thank you so much for coming on, for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage with day one ready? And where can they get a copy of now what survivor’s guide for thriving through mergers and acquisitions.

Unknown Speaker 19:59
Well, Well, I hang out mostly on LinkedIn. I do a ton on LinkedIn. I share articles. I’m a speaker. So I talk a lot about the different companies that I’m speaking with. So certainly look for me on LinkedIn, Jennifer J, founder of A, and then my website. My website, actually, oddly enough, is loads of fun. I have a personality quiz on there. So you can go and find out who you might be working with and your merger and acquisition. Or even you might identify yourself after you take the personality quiz. It’s a little bit tongue in cheek and that’s also where I talk about the different personalities. So Jennifer J founder is where I would say and you can find now what on on Amazon. Excellent.

george grombacher 20:46
If you enjoyed as much as I did show, Jennifer your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas. Find Jennifer on LinkedIn, as well as Jennifer J fawn drove a there I think I finally said it correctly. Jennifer je and N I F er JFONDREVA. Why? Take that personality quiz. Find out a little bit more about yourself and pick up a copy of now what on Amazon also linked that to? Thanks. Good, Jennifer. Thank you. And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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