The first acquisition happened to be in Australia.
While it was mainly because Global Television (now NEP Australia) was ready to sell, there were other benefits as well.
He says the company was clearly the Australian market leader and had a fantastic leadership team. (Rabbitt eventually brought the CEO over to become the corporate president and COO.) But it was far enough away that NEP would have to fill in between; there was incentive to continue executing the strategy.
“It sent a real message to the industry that we were serious about doing this, by going that far away on the first one,” he says.
Since then, NEP has done 12 acquisitions, picking up market leaders throughout Australia, Europe, the United Kingdom/Ireland, and most recently a Singapore company that works in Singapore, India and the United Arab Emirates.
“We certainly have most of the globe covered,” Rabbit says. “We can do any live event throughout the world, from that footprint, but we’re still not done at this stage in the game.”
Fitting everyone in
NEP stayed disciplined throughout its acquisition process and turned down companies, like a price discounter, that didn’t fit the profile.
“That has been the No. 1 thing: we got it right at the beginning and we’ve kept it right,” Rabbitt says.
Then, you want to visit the local leader and spend time with them. You interact with them and watch them interact with their people.
The potential acquisition will always present what it says its culture stands for and how it re-enforces it. Rabbitt says he then applies that to NEP’s core values.
“Our core values are central to everything we do,” he says. “It’s part of our acquisition strategy — do folks fit these core values? It’s part of our hiring strategy… It’s part of our promotion strategy, our performance reviews every year.”
NEP also kept the local leadership. Each geography has its own traditions and customs, so it only integrated back office and non-client facing functions.
“We’re leaving in place the local management teams and they’re largely running a lot of the same businesses they ran before, but now with a broader network around them in which to service clients,” he says.
Rabbitt and his chief strategy officer, who worked previously at the same consulting firm, have done a lot of post-merger integrations, so they followed similar best practices.
You have to have a robust communication plan and a dedicated integration team, he says. You also need to focus on the high value areas of what needs to get done from a governance standpoint, while working quickly so you can move on to business as usual.
NEP has gotten to the point now where it can get through the integration in about six weeks — because it has had so much practice, Rabbitt says.
Build with strong leadership
When you have a truly global footprint, you face new realities. One of the biggest challenges is also one of the biggest benefits. You’re in a business where the sun never sets and you’re supporting clients 24 hours, 365 days a year.
“The hard part about that is that myself or our chief operating officer will get calls, or have business to do at all hours of the night, and that we travel on an ongoing basis,” Rabbitt says. “Each of us are on the road greater than 50 percent of the time.”
Fortunately, he says the division presidents are like-minded and everyone enjoys finding ways to integrate solutions together.
“They have all run businesses before, so they don’t require a heavy degree of oversight on a minute-by-minute, day-by-day basis,” Rabbitt says. “But you’ve still got 20 different entrepreneurs working together.”