Joe Vietri had a lot of moving parts to monitor as he oversaw the acquisition of optionsXpress Inc. by Charles Schwab Corp. Vietri, a 20-year employee for Charles Schwab, was tasked with leading the integration effort of the two brokerage firms.
“Cultures are delicate,” Vietri says. “You really have to understand and have perspective for what both sides bring to the table.”
The easy thing to do for the sake of expediency would have been to simply force the culture of Schwab onto optionsXpress. Schwab, which has about 13,500 employees, including 300 at optionsXpress, really liked some of the things optionsXpress was doing and was eager to add those capabilities to its own offerings.
Schwab, however, was still the one doing the acquiring and it still had the bigger brand recognition.
Vietri, the man who would eventually become CEO for optionsXpress, knew that simply forcing Schwab’s culture onto optionsXpress would be a path to disaster.
“You can never go down that path,” Vietri says. “As hard as it gets and as delicate as some of these situations are, while that may seem easy at the time, it’s probably the biggest mistake people will make.”
Vietri chose a more collaborative approach. Once the deal was signed, he assembled a team from Schwab and headed to the optionsXpress headquarters. Vietri permanently moved himself and his family and began assembling a team of people from both sides to begin merging the two cultures into one.
“You really get eager to get in there and start bringing things together,” Vietri says. “Hey, let’s come right out of the gate. But without a well laid-out plan and without setting up that strategy, you’re really setting yourself up to be another one of those 70 percent.”
The “70 percent” represents the seven out of 10 acquisitions that studies say don’t deliver the synergies that were the basis of the transaction. Vietri did not want to be another of those failures.
One of the keys to achieving success and developing that solid plan in this case was Vietri’s presence at optionsXpress and the fact he didn’t arrive as a conquering hero.
“The acquiree really needs reassurance and to have the opportunity to hear what the overall vision and end state of the business will be from senior leadership of the acquirer,” Vietri says. “If you have somebody on the ground, they really get to know the people quickly in terms of what they are capable of and whether they are going to fit and work in a long-term cultural environment.”
But it wasn’t just the two groups of employees and their different viewpoints he needed to address. There was a big difference in expectation between Schwab clients and the clients of optionsXpress.
Schwab clients were excited at the potential offered by optionsXpress, a smaller and more nimble brokerage firm that had garnered attention with its technological innovation. optionsXpress clients liked that innovation too, and didn’t want to see Schwab come in and create problems.
“So you have one constituency saying, ‘I want all this capability now; go faster,’” Vietri says. “And then you have another saying, ‘Don’t change a thing.’”
Those sentiments drove a methodical integration strategy that sought to give both sides what they wanted, something that in this case was very feasible.
“The optionsXpress clients won because their experience didn’t change,” Vietri says. “It’s what they wanted. But the Schwab clients who were clamoring for some of those capabilities, they did get access to that early on in the integration and now we’re hard at work on the longer-term integration to where we’ll ultimately bring everything together.”
How to reach: optionsXpress Inc., (888) 280-8020 or www.optionsxpress.com; Charles Schwab Corp., (415) 667-7000 or www.aboutschwab.com