Behind the deal, culture lies at the heart

When the sale of FirstMerit to Huntington Bank was announced last year, it was big news in Ohio. As the largest acquisition in the bank’s history, it was especially relevant for Northeast Ohio, FirstMerit’s headquarters, as well as Columbus.

More than a year later, I was able to check in with Chairman, President and CEO Steve Steinour about how the integration has gone, which is this month’s cover story.

Just like many other CEOs I’ve spoken with about mergers and acquisitions, Steinour emphasized how culture is a key component. (President and CEO Rick Miley of BroadStreet Partners, a guest columnist who knows a thing or two about mergers, mentioned the same point.)

When you talk about deal making, dollars and cents — the hard stuff — can be the first thing that comes to mind. Did you get a good price? Is your company worth as much as you think it is? Is it a seller’s market? What are buyers doing these days?

If that’s the case, though, why do business leaders always speak about culture at length? That’s the “real” hard stuff, because it’s intangible, flexible and contingent on people who can’t be defined on a P&L or pro forma statement.

The Huntington executive team’s biggest challenge after the sale’s announcement was winning over the hearts and minds of the FirstMerit employees. The due diligence may have taken six weeks (and involved 500 people), but winning over employees and customers is an ongoing process.

It’s not something that has stopped at Huntington, even here in Columbus. The bank’s planned Gateway Center will be geared toward winning over the younger workforce.

Steinour says it will have a health club, outdoor dinning and meeting areas, yoga, Pilates, a basketball court, onsite medical and a Starbucks.

“It’s a cool facility, and we think the millennials and the next gen people who will be coming into the company to become colleagues some day will really enjoy this environment,” he says. “It’s got a lot of natural lighting. It’s got energy; I love it.”