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Neil Mortine led Fahlgren’s acquisitions with a detailed plan Featured

8:01pm EDT March 31, 2011
Neil Mortine led Fahlgren’s acquisitions with a detailed plan

Neil Mortine needed to show people that he had a plan. It was something he needed to do three times in 2010 as Fahlgren Inc. made three acquisitions to its business.

“You have to be able to convince people that you’re taking them somewhere good, somewhere that is a better place,” says Mortine, president and CEO at Fahlgren Inc. “You have to have clear goals and plans of where you want to go and what you want to achieve. Then it’s not that hard.”

Mortine’s 160-employee public relations firm has added Edward Howard & Co., Grip Technology and, most recently, Sabatino Day Inc. to its organization in 2010. One of the biggest challenges that comes about in acquiring a business is integrating the two cultures.

Fortunately for Fahlgren and the companies that were joining it, cultural integration was part of Mortine’s plan in each case.

“Culture is king,” Mortine says. “It is the primary driver for what we’re doing. … If the culture is not solid, I don’t know how it all hangs together.”

Mortine initiated the creation of cultural integration teams that would be made up of employees from both Fahlgren and the company it was acquiring.

“We wanted to have people involved that really understood our culture,” Mortine says. “We didn’t want it necessarily to be the senior executives. We wanted it to be people that had spent some time here, maybe some of the ones who had come to us just out of school but were still young in their careers, up-and-comers and overachievers. We purposely put those people on the team on our end. We asked the executives at the other company to do the same.

“The executives are always talking before, during and after. But we wanted the rank and file to be talking to each other just as fast as possible. We put the teams together and introduced them.”

When you put together teams for anything, be it cultural integration or some other special project, you need to empower that team to do its job. It can’t just be for show.

“Give people the ability to fail and the opportunity to be heard and to go out there with ideas and not be afraid of failing,” Mortine says. “Empower folks and act with a sense of urgency and give guys a freedom and authority to take action and influence change. We support that. We give them tools and resources they need and the confidence to stand up there. Part of what I need to do is build leaders that can move this thing forward after I’m done with it.”

You’re looking to convince people, especially the ones at the company that you are acquiring, that you’re not simply imposing your will on them.

“We told them it wasn’t going to be our way or the highway,” Mortine says. “We were looking for recommendations to make us even better and stronger. We didn’t want to force anything down anybody’s throats.”

Make sure the team members meet on a regular basis and feel free to check in on their progress. But for the most part, let them do their job.

“We gave them parameters of what to look for,” Mortine says. “But the ones we selected, we knew their credentials and we knew why we wanted them on the team. They would dig for information, they were collaborative and they were our overachievers.”

If your team comes back with ideas that you’re not sure about, don’t just reject them without consideration. That power and freedom to fail is something you need and your people need in order to achieve success.

“That’s what life is all about,” Mortine says.

Reach out

Neil Mortine has been on both sides of the table when it comes to business acquisitions.

“Fahlgren acquired my company eight years ago, so I know what it’s like to be acquired,” says Mortine, president and CEO at Fahlgren Inc. “I know what it’s like personally to be part of a new team.”

With that experience, Mortine also knows what it’s like to be the CEO one day and an employee at someone else’s business the next.

“It can be pretty emotional,” says the leader of the 160-employee public relations firm. “Try to work through the title and roles and responsibilities very early on to see if they are interested. ‘Here are some new areas you can work in that can be exciting now that you don’t have so many administrative responsibilities. Can we take advantage of all that you’ve learned and your relationships?’”

If the person seems open to working with you, do yourself a favor and listen to what he or she has to say in terms of ideas for the business.

“I tend to come off a lot smarter to people if I’m quieter and just listen as opposed to just putting my opinion out there on day one when people meet me,” Mortine says. “People want to work with me a lot better and a lot more closely if I give them the lead and let them talk a little bit and give their point of view and ask questions.”

How to reach: Fahlgren Inc., (800) 731-8927 or www.fahlgren.com.