Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Acquisition FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt): Part 1

Last Tuesday morning, as I was getting my kids ready for school, I checked my calendar to see what my day was going to be like at work. I had taken the previous day off and wanted to see if there was any unplanned meeting I had been dragged into. First thing I noticed was that my boss had double booked me for an event I knew nothing about. This was unlike her so I decided to see what this new event was about. Turns out, the "small" company I have worked for for 16 years had been acquired by a much bigger company...you might have heard of them...Booz Allen Hamilton! Yeah, that behemoth.

Needless to say the past week has been very eventful, very hush-hush and filled with a lot of FUD. I get that in acquisitions of this magnitude ($250M to be specific), secrecy is of utmost concern. I also get that CEOs typically don't send an email saying "Hey guys, we are shopping the company around". So by their very definition, these things will always come as a surprise. However, this was a very big surprise. I had heard some rumors that the company was being sold but that was months ago and I figured the rumors were untrue. Boy, was I shocked to read that email.

I got to work and of course this was the topic of conversation EVERYWHERE! Anywhere there was 2 or more employees (especially those from different teams), you can bet they were talking about the acquisition. What will happen to Aquilent? Will we have to wear suit & tie? What about our non-billable coworkers...we know big companies don't like to double up on cost center resources. What about benefits? Will our 2017 open enrollment elections carry over? Why did we just spend 2 weeks on open enrollment when we have to do it all over? Will our accrued PTO time carry over? Will our PTO accrual rate be the same? There were so many questions and very little answer.

Personally, I felt like the news wasn't well handled. Again, I get the sensitivity of the transaction but I felt like BAH has done enough acquisitions to have some ready made materials from Day 1. But all we got was an email with a promise of welcome letter to come on Day 2 of acquisition.

Day 2

This is the day. We'll get that welcome letter that'll explain everything. Check Outlook; no letter; ask colleagues if anyone has received a letter; check Outlook; do productive work; rinse & repeat. Right around COB, I got my welcome letter. Pretty generic except for 3 piece of information:
  1. New level on the career ladder within BAH (mine: Lead Associate)
  2. New title (mine: Software engineer)
  3. New 2017 salary (mine: lol nice try)
See how the level says "Associate"? Yeah that was the source of interesting questions throughout Day 2. For most people, "associate" has a junior connotation to it. So imagine the consternation of people who were "Senior Consultants" with Aquilent finding out they are now an "Associate" at BAH. This actually caused some confusion amongst 2 of my direct reports. The senior one was given an "associate" while the junior was mapped to "senior consultant". 

The welcome letter laid out a couple of introductory meetings that'll happen the week after acquisition wherein BAH people will be onsite. They had multiple sessions planned but I, like everyone else I talked to, registered for the first available session. I felt like the ground was changing under us, we needed this information and BAH was giving it to us in very small portions.

One feeling I got was that there's a silent "for now" at the end of every statement/promise:

  • Everything will be the same...for now
  • The Aquilent culture will remain...for now

Day 5

Today was the first introductory meeting. It was held in our biggest conference room and it was packed. First up was our company's CEO. He spoke about how this is a great opportunity for Aquilent, how BAH was a perfect fit with Aquilent and how they value the same things we value at Aquilent. Now this is a guy that's spoken before the entire company several times; he does the yearly all-hands meeting with good and bad financial reports, he talks at the annual office parties...bottom line he's a good public speaker. But I could tell he was nervous. And that made me wonder why he was nervous. In addition to being the CEO of Aquilent, I think it was common knowledge that he has some money in the company. So no doubt he was going to make out like a bandit on this deal. Why the heck is he nervous? More on this later. But he himself acknowledged that he was nervous.

Once he finished speaking, the top BAH guy stepped out and gave an overview of his division within BAH, how his division fits into the bigger BAH picture and how Aquilent fits into his division. He talked about the new innovations in technology and seemed legitimately excited about the stuff. Then we had a parade of BAH people (I can't even remember any of their names except one was called Gio). 

Finally, time for questions and boy, did we pepper them with questions. Here are some of them:
  • How does BAH calculate tenure for employees that leave and come back? 
  • Answer: If the time spent away is less than 5 years, all is forgiven 😊
  • How does BAH calculate utilization (salient question: will be punished for taking PTO and engaging in non-billable activities)?
  • Answer: [took about 3 executives to answer this] They call it something else and there's no monitoring of individual utilization. However, there's an expectation of what the number would be for an entire group. 
  • Is there a dress code (salient question: are we expected to dress formally)?
  • Answer: [laughter] No dress code. "Dress for your day" concept. One of the execs said their most recent acquisition before Aquilent in Charleston SC really dresses down; so from what they see today, we at Aquilent should be fine.
  • Follow up: I, since I asked the question, explained to them that we dressed up for them 😊 (which was true. I had noticed that a lot of people were dressed up today....for Aquilent anyway).
Overall, I think they did a good job answer questions. Some questions were really tough and you could see them hemming and hawing through it.

So why was our CEO nervous? He spoke at the end of the sessions and I think his words showed how significant this sale was to him. Yes, financial he'll be alright (fine maybe more than alright) but his words revealed the truth: he wasn't nervous...he was emotional. He was there from day 1 when the company was bought out from the Commerce One trainwreck and years later, he's selling to BAH.

Day ...I've stopped counting the days

A lot's happened since Day 5. The deal with BAH hit a snag. Because of some conflict of interest with my project, the deal with BAH had to be postponed. There's a long version of this but the bottom line is my project was sold off to a 3rd company (Octo Consulting). This was required to resolve the COI with BAH buying Aquilent which develops and operates an acquisition portal for the Navy. More from the press release.

Because of this, the past couple of weeks have been very interesting. Everything was hush hush but the word was on the grapevine that something was happening. But we didn't know what. That led to a lot of FUD and nervous anticipation. As for me, I didn't think there was reason to be scared. We were all billable and it wouldn't make sense for a company to fire billable people. Even CommerceOne didn't do that in their crazy last days.

Last month, I had worked 16 years for Aquilent
2 weeks ago, I was going to be a Lead Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton
This week, I am a new employee of Octo Consulting (title: Senior Manager/Lead Software Developer)

In Part 2, I'll write about my experience moving from Aquilent to Octo. It's been a surreal experience.