Shifting gears Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

Jay Mandel and his company, Tri Star Metals LLC, had never worked with a public relations firm before, until he, along with other shareholders and external partner Hagener-Feinstahl, bought out the company’s three founding shareholders.

While no negative changes were made, Mandel and his team knew there would be some worries from employees at the company, which produces and distributes stainless steel and aluminum products. So they hired a PR firm, which, along with an outside consultant, helped in the transition by preparing Mandel and his team for questions they might be asked.

“Those were two incredibly valuable assets,” says Mandel, president of the $40 million company.

Smart Business spoke with Mandel about how to prepare employees for an acquisition.

Q. What lessons did you learn from the outside help?

Those of us who were deeply involved in the transaction, we had it in our head why we wanted to do this and the strengths. We really needed to be able to effectively communicate those ideas to everybody, whether it’s the people working on our shop floor, to the people in accounting, to our salespeople.

We really need to be able to explain to them what the benefits are so they could effectively communicate it, not only to themselves and their families but to our customers and our other suppliers.

And our management consultant, the other thing I think he really did was he did spend some time to sit down and say to us, ‘Here are some of the weaknesses each of the individual, key managers has and areas you need to work on.’

Q. What advice would you have on managing through an acquisition?

First and foremost, you need to spend time trying to anticipate what your employees’ needs and concerns are.

You really need to sit down and try to put yourself in their position, what are going to be their thoughts and concerns and how is it going to impact their life. It’s really easy for companies, when you do a transition like we have, to sit there, look at the big, macroeconomic benefits and look at the synergies and the strengths that it is going to bring to both companies. But it’s more important to sometimes also sit down and say, ‘OK, how is this going to impact our employees and what thoughts or concerns are going to come up for them as we go down this road?’

Q. What advice would you have on how to anticipate employee concerns during an acquisition?

Going outside your organization and sitting down with experts who have gone through these transactions before is definitely a positive.

The other thing is I think you get so busy closing the deal and meeting with the banks and the lawyers (you need) to spend some time with your employees. Sit down with them on a one-on-one or each department group basis and have an informal setting where you can really sit down and talk about thoughts and concerns in a very relaxed atmosphere.

Q. How do you set up a relaxed atmosphere?

A lot of our key managers and employees we went out to dinner one-on-one before the announcement was made and told them on a one-on-one dinner or lunch what was going on. In that environment, it’s relaxed. The person is getting a lot of attention, and we made sure to try to talk as little as possible and listen.

Q. How did you determine the employees you took out to dinner?

We based it on a couple of factors. We wanted to make sure the managers of each department were brought into the loop before we made the general announcement, so they could be prepped then to answer the questions and concerns of all of their people that work underneath them in each individual department.

We also looked at the people who had been here 10-plus years and really had a lot invested in Tri Star. We felt we owed them the special attention and more time because they have got a lot invested in this company and, therefore, they really should be included in the group and have a chance to bring out their thoughts and concerns. And that whole series of lunches and dinners brought out a lot of questions and concerns that we were then able to answer for the rest of the employees.

We started about a week and half before the announcement so that we had enough time to take out all the key managers and top salespeople. We made sure we did a dinner or lunch with each personal one. It was Dan (Buba, Tri Star’s CEO) and I at the dinner. Most of these dinners end up being two- to three-hour affairs because most of them were pretty shocked and then a lot of questions came up, and it also gave us an opportunity to explain to them why we saw this as a good opportunity.

How to reach: Tri Star Metals LLC, (800) 541-2294 or www.tristarmetals.com