Empathy for the leader whose company is being acquired

To be a leader planning for one’s firm to be acquired is to be in conflict with oneself: one must both

  • proceed as if nothing will change, as there’s no deal until the deal is complete, and
  • plan the future in which everything will change, rendering the rod that went into “proceed as if nothing will change” entirely moot.

Along the way, especially if one of the groups (acquirer or acquired) is a publicly-traded firm, one must hide the coming deal from all but the very few people who are involved in accomplishing it. This is necessary and difficult and thankless.

Difficult because you have information that you cannot share that will have a sudden and material effect on the lives of people you’ve supported and come to care about. Difficult because the working of the deal puts an awkward gap in whatever plans you have together, and so you must dodge, delay, make excuses. Difficult because if the deal falls through you’ll have to pick up the pieces and paper over breakage caused by these gaps. Few will know why or what happened, just that you were unaccountably ineffective for a while.

Thankless because when the deal does happen all of your vagueness during the gap will be revealed as lies, lies that people won’t understand, lies that hurt to tell as you told them and hurt again as the people you deceived bark at you for deceiving them. Which you had to do.

Thankless too because any negative consequence of the deal, however indirect, is also on your head. Your reputation among those affected will be harmed. And yet it was probably the right thing to have done, to pursue the acquisition, to draw investment toward the idea that you gathered these people together to work on, or you would not have done it. Sad that the result is pain and resentment and blame.