“Learning the corporate development function, you have to be okay with hearing no a little more than most people are.”
Roles to get you closer to corporate development
On this episode of M&A Science, Kison Patel interviews Matt Arsenault, Vice President of Corporate Development at Jamf, about navigating the many different career paths of M&A.
Matt emphasizes that the role you come from is not as important as the skills and expertise that you offer. Different companies have different views of why M&A is valuable to them. One of the first things to do if you want to get into a corporate development role is find a mentor.
A major part of corporate development is selling yourself, understanding the role, and finding someone who will believe in you. Reach out to people within your network, or even try cold outreach.
Aside from the obvious requirements such as a background in finance, strategy, and sales, one of the most critical skills that corp dev requires is interpersonal skills.
You need to be able to influence and interact with team members and different senior leaders.
However, when it comes to an integration role, one of the things that executives are looking for is someone who has strong attention to detail.
You should have the ability to zoom in on the little details and zoom out to understand the implications to the overall strategy.
Check also: 5 Best Corporate Development Courses and Training
Hey Matt, maybe if you just want to kick off with a brief little background about yourself.
I started my career at Ernst & Young, on the accounting side. So I’m actually a very odd M&A leader, in that, I am a CPA, which my chief accounting officer loves, but nobody else understands.
So, I started off at the accounting firm on the audit practice and very early on in my career, I really decided to go more towards the deals.
I moved into our transactions advisory practice four years into my career. Started to do deals as an external consultant until I moved to a Bain backed public company that was doing acquisitions, and they had just bought a large division where I stepped into a finance and accounting transformational role.
Really started my career around those deals on the finance and accounting side, and then worked through a couple of career changes at GE and EMC to get closer to the transactions.
Finally, getting to corporate development at a small public company called Everbridge, and finally moving into the position at Jamf recently.
How to start a career in corporate development?
My path is an interesting one, in that it wasn’t traditional.
Traditionally, Corp Dev resources or either i-bankers, former PE guys or management consultants.
One of the natural ways out of college is to get yourself on one of those career tracks that you go out and you become an i-banker or a management consultant.
I was not one of those traditional paths. The advice that I would give is really get yourself within your areas of expertise, hide towards those transformational or change management type programs within your company.
M&A is really a transformative step and it is really difficult to do within an organization.
Taking your area of expertise, whether that be sales or finance and accounting or HR or IT or product, and finding ways to build in that change management and that idea of acceleration into how you take on your daily tasks – is the advice that I would give to anyone, who’s thinking about trying to get closer to Corp Dev or to the M&A process.
What are the roles that can get you closer to corporate development?
If you think about the main factors of corporate development, it is that change management, it is the strategic thinking and that partnering across an organization.
It’s got an element of sales and relationship building and maintenance, and it’s got the core of finance in the background.
I don’t think that there’s one career path that makes it easier, but having a strong financial acumen and understanding how to build and maintain relationships within an organization is really important.
I think if you’re not going to go one of those traditional paths of an external consultant, you’re going to try to do it internally.
Having a role that is exposed across the organization, people who are kind of program management within IT or HR team for finance teams, or sales operations or product management, the roles where you are exposed to more than one senior leader is really the best places to start, because you’re starting to think cross-functionally and think about how those transactions will influence more than one the department.
Did you think it really matters though? What role do you actually come from?
I don’t think it does. That’s the beauty of this career path into corporate development, is the expertise has to be so broad, that you have to constantly teach yourself different things and different approaches. Different companies will lead with different thesis around why an M&A is valuable.
Some are very product focused, some are very sales and go to market focus, others are really cost focused and can find ways to pull costs out.
Finding the fit within an organization and really knowing or feeling how that organization is approaching M&A is almost more important than where you come from, so that you can build the appropriate skill set to execute on that strategy.
How are you able to make such jumps from different careers?
The thing for me has been that I’ve always been somewhat around the deal. My role at EMC was I was a divisional FP&A leader, but it was for an acquisition that we had just done.
I wasn’t on the upfront deal team, but I was more managing it across the board. My career at GE, I was more on the alliances side and business development and helping to manage some of the GE ventures portfolio companies.
Well, honestly I didn’t really know how to interact with such a large organization as GE.
I think that there’s this ability to round out that skill set by taking on different challenges, taking on different roles.
And I would say not one single step in my career got me there, but it’s building on and rounding out those different talents around what is important in M&A, and making sure that you can build those experiences over time is really important.
I went from being an external consultant, just on the accounting side, to being an internal accounting and operational controller around acquisitions, more to a FP&A person around acquisitions, more to a business development person.
And then ultimately was more on the integration side and have now moved more onto the deal side.
So, there are kind of natural progressions throughout there, so it wasn’t one giant step. It was a lot of small steps along the way.
Is having a mentor important for building a career in corporate development?
Yeah, and a major part of the Corp Dev job is sales, and part of that is selling yourself and saying,
“Hey, I can do this. I’ve been around it. I understand it.”
And finding someone who can believe in it. I think that that’s a really important thing along the way, is having a mentor or two who understands where you want to get to, and can help you round out those pieces.
I had a really strong mentor while I was at GE, and a really strong mentor at Everbridge that really helped me understand what are the pieces that I was missing.
And so that’s really important too, is whether it’s someone within your company or someone that you can meet.
Don’t hesitate as someone who’s looking to get into the community to reach out to as many people in the Corp Dev roles as possible.
Because a lot of us will say:
“Hey, this is how I did it.”
Each of our stories is going to be very different. Being able to understand what you’re missing and get that mentorship is really, really important.
What maybe goes beyond that, in terms of some practical steps to frame relationships as a mentorship, making sure you’re getting value out of it, and it’s also in return for the other person.
There’s the idea of also paying it forward. The idea of being a mentor down the line, so people who are trying to follow the path.
That’s enough for me to get out of it. Others will want to find ways to build relationships with other people and find different paths.
But that’s one of the things about corporate development that is interesting is every conversation with someone outside the company is an opportunity to learn more about a different space, a different approach, or a different way of thinking.
As you reach out, detailing what you have to offer or where you are in your career is, is important because it will help set the tone for the conversation and not just doing it in a way where it’s,
“Hey, can you get me a job on your team?”
“Here’s where I am, this is what I’m thinking about, this is where I can be”
and give that mentor an opportunity to give you feedback and think through that feedback.
Cold calling on LinkedIn is very hard to do, but I think that that’s another skill set that is important in the Corp Dev world.
So how do you approach that message on LinkedIn? How do you approach that overall idea? If you have a common contact in common, it’s always easier.
If someone’s at your company, it’s always easier. Because there’s a mutual way to say
“Hey, we both worked for a company, I really want to learn about the process of M&A.”
What do you do Matt, on a daily basis?
It’s really easy to take those phone calls from someone at your own company, but there’s also alumni networks or relationships that you would have mutual connections with. Leverage those relationships as a way to learn a little bit more, if you can.
One of the messages I got from one of my colleagues was really helpful. It was
“Hey, I’m really interested in this company, Matt, I see that you’re connected with this VP of marketing. When was the last time you talked to them? Would you be willing to make an introduction?”
I think something as simple as that to someone that you’ve maintained a relationship with, really goes a long way because now I feel like my relationship is valuable and my connection is valuable, it gives me an opportunity to touch base with someone who I might not have talked to for a couple of years, see how they’re doing, see what they’re doing in their career.
Laying those types of things out that say
“Here’s why I’m interested in that company or that type of role. I’ve already done the research through your connection on LinkedIn to say, this is the person that I think is best equipped. Can you make an introduction there? And, oh by the way, Matt, if you know anyone else at the company that isn’t connected to you on LinkedIn, would love an introduction as well.”
I know LinkedIn sales navigator let’s you do that sort of detailed search, so you can find that by title.
Even with a LinkedIn premium, you don’t have to go all the way to the sales navigator. If you’re paying for it on your own LinkedIn premium, I think it’s like $600 a year.
Not that they’re paying me to advertise, but that premium function is good because it gives you that ability to search, it gives you the ability to send messages to 40 people a year that you’re not connected to.
So it does give you some of the tools of the sales offering, but isn’t as expensive as this tails off.
We’ve got that, now we’ve got cold outreach, which is my classic favourite. Don’t be shy and play the numbers.
And that’s often like deal sourcing. So, I often say, because people will ask me how many people do you have to talk to before you get a deal signed?
And I say, it’s usually about 20 deals where I’m reaching out to someone, that will result in about five yields, where we’re actually talking to them on a detailed basis where we’ll need an NDA, which will result in about one LOI.
And then you’re closing on hopefully three out of five or four out of five LOI’s.
If you think about that, you’ve got to talk to almost 40 companies, to get a deal done. That practice and that ability to put yourself out there, is actually in an odd way learning the Corp Dev function.
I get told no a lot, and being okay with hearing no, that’s where the sales aspect comes in. You have to be okay with hearing no, a little more than most people are.
How to choose your career path? Was there any other advice that you’d give around that?
It’s really hard to make a two-step move at the same time. It’s also patience in your quest. I’ve been around M&A since 2006, and my first real Corp Dev deal lead position was in 2021.
It’s been a long time where I’ve been around deals, I’ve been thinking about deals, I’ve been finding ways to add deals, put value around M&A.
It’s about patience and persistence in a lot of different ways, and finding that niche where you can continue to add value.
I think that that’s really important as you think about it, it’s not necessarily going from an AE role or an FP&A role, directly to a Corp Dev analyst. It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just hard to do.
Also expanding your time horizon to something, is a way to solve that same problem.
Why do you want strategic operators in corporate development?
It’s really about where you unlock the value.
There are certain companies that a strategic operator would not be of much value, because they have a very clearly defined M&A strategy, that is very product functionality focused.
Having someone who has a product background would be really valuable to a company that’s focused on that.
A company that is really focused on international expansion or sales market share acceleration, maybe looking more towards true sales operations ,or a sales executive beyond the team.
The companies that are looking for strategic operators are those that want to find a balance, and understand that in the long run, unlocking value through M&A is really about managing change and really unlocking the potential of the two companies together.
Companies who are doing M&A in a balanced approach, where they’re thinking about acceleration across both product and market and the kind of profitability or scale at the same time, are the companies that are more likely to look for a strategic operator, versus a banker or an external consultant.
How would you contrast that profile from the classic profile, a corporate development professional?
It has more to do with the internal operations and setting up the internal company for success, than it does the sourcing and identification of deals externally.
In the corporate development world, you always have one foot inside your company and one foot outside your company. It’s a really interesting job in that you’re both understanding the strategy and operations of your company deep enough, but you have to understand the external side of it as well.
The more historical Corp Dev roles have been much more focused on the outside, assuming that someone who comes in, can learn the inside quickly.
And so, an ibanker that has those connections can get field sources much faster, is the theory and has that kind of ability to find additional targets or source additional targets.
A strategic consultant really understands the external forces that are being faced by a company, the different threats and opportunities out there.
And so the idea around a strategy consultant is that they have an understanding of that market lens and have a strong foot outside and who the competitors can be, and what the differences are by different regions.
The strategic operator is really that internal focus that says
“Here’s what we do well, and this is what our differentiation is, and where our risks and our threats are internally.”
And is able to learn those external spaces.
If you take those three different types of people, right?
A strategic operator, a management consultant, and an ibanker, every single one of them has their own strengths and weaknesses. But the ability to learn all three of those things at the same time is really where the value is created.
Someone who can learn how to source deals, someone who can learn how to understand the competitive landscape and what are the points of differentiation in the market, and somebody who can learn the internal processes.
It’s when you get a valuable corporate development team, they can really partner with the organization to think about acceleration of roadmap, acceleration of scale, and can be that additional tool to the organization.
I like that, sounds like diversity is really key.
It is. And that’s where being a part of the broader management team is also really important. A corporate development team of 1500 is way better than a corporate development team of 1 or 10.
Everybody in the organization, sourcing deals or thinking about what those external forces are, is really important to make me successful in corporate development, because you want to make sure you don’t miss an opportunity.
You want to make sure that you’re not turning a blind eye to a thought that somebody in the organization would have.
That’s really an important thing is to build that partnership across every kind of function and every level of the organization, so that you get as much funnel coming back as possible.
How do you see corporate development roles change over the years?
It might be also because I’ve gone from larger corporations to more recently IPO’d companies that are looking to do it. The statistics around M&A have really been out there, so only 40% of M&A is actually accretive when it’s completed.
I think that a lot of corporations are starting to really think about the process of strategy and the process of M&A. How do we set ourselves up for unlocking that value and how do we build it out?
Serial acquirers like EMC was, or OpenText is, are really about setting that process up and repeating it over and over and over again. Smaller companies just don’t have that opportunity.
I think what has changed in M&A over the last couple of years of my experience is really that focus on that change management and that transformational step, and helping to understand how the different pain points and growth points within the organization can be accelerated by M&A.
M&A was kind of traditionally thought of as a way to make leaps, M&A is trending more towards ways to make incremental steps along a journey.
How do you think your peers that have been in the field longer would perceive those changes?
The really good ones have always kind of thought about some of these things all along the way. One of my clients said to me during a project, M&A is not a strategy in itself, M&A is a tool of strategy. And I think that that was a really important thing for me to hear early in my career.
Just buying growth or just buying companies isn’t in itself a value creator.It has to be a tool of a plan, it has to be built into that process of strategy.
And so I think the companies that had already realized that, and had implemented that for people who had been in the field a long time are understanding that.
And I think that that is really coming to fruition because with all of the money out there with SPACs and with different PE firms, finding a deal isn’t as hard as it used to be.
The internet, and Google searching, you can find the companies that are out there, basically across the world.
It’s really understanding which one fits in the organization and not the thought process that even some of the longer standing M&A leaders have been thinking about for a long time.
The idea of fitting it into the strategy and building that plan around strategy. That’s really where the forward leaning M&A teams are.
How have operational capabilities affected corporate development?
It should inform the targeting, is how I would say that. Operational capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses are opportunities to identify things that will help.
So, if a company is really thinking about things like FedRAMP or other security certifications, now when you’re sourcing deals or you’re talking to companies, understanding where they are in their FedRAMP or in their certification, ISO certification process, could become a benefit because it will help accelerate that.
I think that it is really important to understand where your organization is, and each of the functions within your organization. In order to better select the targets and build on that idea of accelerating the roadmap.
When I say accelerating roadmap, it’s not just the roadmap of a product, it’s the roadmap of the HR team.
- Are they worried about diversity and inclusion?
- What is the focus on? Is it internal momentum? Is it hiring?
- Where are they in the process? As you start to think about each of those functions and where they are today and where they want to be in 12 months, 24 months, 36 months.
Now you can start to identify how different targets will fit into that plan for each function. You’re never going to find a target that does everything, but you have to understand where it will have that strain.
And you want to make sure that you’re not straining the same operational team over and over again or it will just become a burden on the organization.
What do you think about the future of corporate development roles? What’s that going to look like?
I really hope that it becomes a bigger piece of the overall puzzle.
And I think what we’re seeing in the public markets right now is more and more companies are trying to do M&A, and they’re really trying to find ways to get that inorganic growth or that inorganic capability and accelerate it.
I think that corporate development is going to become more of an operational enhancement, as opposed to just an adjacency or a market leap type strategy.
Simply because the expense that’s out there now, and the multiples that are out there now, are forcing people to think about the overall risks that they’re taking in each transaction.
Would that come back to just managing some of the organic growth within the organization?
Yeah and really understanding how the organic and inorganic growth play off of each other. It’s simply buying a competitor in a space to accelerate market share, the market is thinking about that.
They understand that you’re just accelerating that growth, unless there’s a story as to why that matters, those kind of market share accelerators or core product pack-ons, those would become less of an interest to investors versus that adjacency.
But you have to be able to explain why you have that authority to step into that adjacency. And I think that that’s where a lot of this operational side of M&A has really started to build out on.
What education or degree is required for corporate development?
I think that that’s the interesting thing here, because Corp Dev is really across multiple disciplines.
The colleges will teach you finance. So they’ll teach you marketing, or they’ll teach you the strategy elements and get a masters, an MBA even, or a masters in finance or a masters in strategy.
But it’s really the idea of putting those pieces together. And a lot of it is learned in the company and on the job. How do you take those lessons and go forward?
It’s not like getting a masters in derivatives pricing and then being the best derivatives trader, because you’re better at the math than anyone else.
There are nuances here, there’s a lot more gray, there’s a field that you have to develop on how to do Corp Dev within an organization.
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As a young applicant coming in, really striving to get into the field, if I want to come in and try to create this undeniable compelling reason why would you want to recruit me and bring me in?
Honestly, I think it’s the approach that you take. Obviously you have to have some level of background in finance, or strategy, or one of the major strategic initiatives that we’re looking at.
The key, if you are someone young and you really want to learn, is more about what you know now, and your resume will tell you that.
But the first couple of conversations have to be more about what you want to learn. Where do you want to go? Why is it Corp Dev, that will get you some of that knowledge and some of those next steps in your career? Because it really is something.
I talked to someone from our organization recently said:
“You know I love the idea of strategy. What do you do to help build that strategy?”
And I said:
“Well, strategy is really a team sport. The board is involved, the CEO is setting vision and tone. How do you set your strategy is always a moving piece with the different contributors that you have.”
So one of the things that I definitely look for in someone who would want to join the team is their ability to team, and influence, and interact.
A lot of the folks who would come into that analyst type role. I’m more looking for cultural fit, and confidence, and ability to talk across different topics and different teams.
Even ones where they would be less knowledgeable to get a sense for how that person would interact with some of the senior leaders, some ability or history of interacting with different senior leaders is also important.
You gotta take that feedback, you’ve got to be able to communicate them in the ways that they’re used to.
Be confident in what you do know and present that. Show an eagerness to learn something new that’s in the different fields of Corp Dev, and show either an ability to, or a history of interacting with senior leadership.
If I were to even take it a step further, really knock out the park. Do I start going through your 10 K’s and Q’s, do I look at your annual report and extract some of those sort of strategic goals for the year?
I had a conversation with a young analyst a couple of weeks ago, and he did. So I think that again, if you show that eagerness and you take that extra step, that is absolutely a way to knock it out of the park. You’re able to kind of pressure test me a little bit on the strategy and why.
That really is something unique that you can take and have that impact on someone. If you go back to the last couple of Q’s, the last K, and talk about what those things are.
- What are the threats that we’re putting into our K and our management discussions?
- How does M&A influence it?
Some of those very pointed questions, really do make people stand out because it shows that they’ve taken the time to really want to be part of that M&A process, not just part of Corp Dev.
What about giving me some ideas? I’m doing this diligence, I’m studying things, and I’m even asking you questions about the rationale on recent deals you’ve done. Should I be able to come at you with some ideas of opportunities out there, or is that getting too far?
I think it depends on the type of role, if you’re trying to slot in an early career as an analyst, probably not. If you’re looking to come in as a manager or a director, those types of things will prove out to be valuable.
Being able to show that you understand what the strategy was, and how the company approaches things.
So, if you’re able to get a conversation with someone internally within product management, or you have a connection with the company, and you’re able to talk through that next step and you’re able to bring that into an interview.
I think that that is something that is extraordinary, to be able to say:
“Hey, have you thought about these different spaces?”
I definitely did some of that coming in at the VP level, to say:
“Here’s an adjacency. Have you guys thought about that adjacency? What are the processes that you’re doing to screen those types of things?”
I think that that is an amazing step. It does show, you said the diligence side of it. It does show both the diligence and that ability to have that understanding of a strategy into an adjacent market. That could be a huge home run.
Anything else to stick out ahead? Sometimes it’s a little regionalized
The Corp Dev community is, and there is some motion coast to coast, there are certainly groupings within industries, especially so at JAMF. I’ve been able to meet folks from the Apple community, and who are doing Apple type transactions.
As a security player, I was able to get into a couple of different security firms and meet their Corp Dev teams. I think that there are these kinds of pods where you’re facing similar problems.
I think that that is also a thing that underlines that area of interest and can be a little bit more targeted. So, if you’re coming from cybersecurity and you want to be in cybersecurity, start to build your brand across the different leaders in cybersecurity.
If you’re in retail and you want to get to e-commerce, build out that e-commerce portfolio. It’s really about that networking.
In this most recent job search, I changed jobs in December. I want to say that I applied to somewhere around 45 jobs through LinkedIn and various different online portals. I think I only got two interviews out of that process.
I did networking where I was talking to people through my network that I knew. And I think I got five or six interviews that way.
Really taking the time to do the networking, get through that original screen where they’re just screening your LinkedIn profile or your resume automatically, is a piece that I would say would help anyone stand out.
So, just applying to a position online is probably not the best way to get a job. Always follow up with a phone call to somebody in the department that you would think would be the hiring manager, or an email, or a LinkedIn message.
Because oftentimes those resumes are at least looked at by those teams, as opposed to the online portals where I may not even get a copy of the resume because it’s screened.
How important is global M&A experience in an M&A strategy role?
I think that that really depends on the company and their strategy. So a US-based company that’s looking to expand in Europe, you have to have some experience doing deals in Europe and understanding what it is. A US manufacturer that has a roll-up strategy for other US manufacturing plants is very low.
So I think it is both industry specific and almost company strategy specific, but I think that having international exposure and understanding the difference of doing a deal in Europe versus Asia Pacific versus Latin America, is important for larger corporate development teams, multinational companies.
If you’re looking to get on a team that’s more of a multinational corporation, having international exposure and international understanding is probably of medium or high importance.
What’s your perception and how do you make judgements on who’s the right fit, hiring somebody on the integration side?
I’ve had to hire a couple throughout my career, I’ve worked on the integration side too.
I always felt like I was trying to throw the ball with my left hand when I was on the integration side, because you have to have a strong attention to detail.
There’s got to be a really programmatic and process-oriented mind that is able to understand strategy.
The more typical Corp Dev roles are strategic minds that have an operational footprint and can learn operation versus the integration role, which is a little bit of that counterbalance that says here’s all the problems that we will have, how will we deal with them and get to a level of detail that is really quite important to the overall process.
What I look for in someone who’s really going for that integration role, is attention to detail.
Someone who has some level of program experience, understands what it means on the interdependencies of various different steps and stages.
How a key finding could influence someone else on a team and can be that kind of point person in the middle of the process who can bring people together.
And I think that that’s really important in any size organization, a legal team that might find a problem with an employment contract may not know the person in HR that is supposed to be dealing with all of the employment contracts or the new employment offer letters.
Those interdependencies, and having somebody who’s able to understand and interact on both sides of that problem is really, really important.
How do you test for that?
By coming through a couple of different conversations that say:
“Hey, if we’re in diligence or we’re planning for integration, how do you think about this type of issue?”
Somebody who’s really focused on a single function will go down all of the different things that would have to happen in a legal department.
- In my example, someone who’s more on that transformational side will say, “Well, did we think about, is this person a key person on the deal? Are they the CEO? Are they the leader of product management?”
- They’ll start to think about what losing that person would mean to the overall characteristics of the deal, or the tone and tenor of the employees.
- They’ll start to think about how we can mitigate that through various different changes in the compensation structure.
- Maybe we would want to have a conversation with that person earlier because it might be an IP assignment issue.
All of those types of secondary issues are actually easy to test for, if someone has that experience.
If you’re hiring someone who’s new to integration, you can use a more standard, project type setup. Where you’re just talking about a generalized project where something goes wrong.
And how do you think about the next steps?
A senior integration leader, you use an integration example, or due diligence finding example.
For a more junior integration leader, you would talk about how some of that project would come off, and tell me about a time when you dealt with an issue that had more than one team that had to address it.
And then go through that example through the different cascades, all the way down to the level of detail of how did you solve that problem?
They need to be able to really zoom in and zoom back out, and see how the pieces tied into each other.
Exactly. And that’s really the key role on the integration side, is being able to zoom and have both the interest and capability to go down all the way to a single step in your work process, all the way back up and say:
“Well, how does this influence the overall value of the deal?”.
Again, as you get more senior in the integration side, they’re able to do a little bit more of that foresight and say:
“Okay, we had this finding, and they’re a really good juxtaposition to the deal team who’s trying to push towards contract sign.”
They’re the side that says:
“Hey, did we think about this? Did we want to move on something different?”
They’re a good check and balance, and that’s why I like having integration management within the corporate development function, they really start to build out the thought process around how to unlock the value.
We get to that point and you’re searching for your integration manager. What are their avenues to creating that compelling impression on you, that sort of gives them the undenied interview opportunity?
Having any experience around, either M&A or a transformational program.
You may not have to have done a M&A integration, but if you’re showing that you’re a leader of the digital transformation of a company, or a major ERP rollout, or a cultural change management program in HR.
Anything that has that kind of transformational idea behind it, because ultimately what we’re looking for is someone who is detail oriented, but has the ability to do change management in an effective way.
Having that skill set is really unique because it is such a broad range of very detailed, very process driven, but also able to take that step back up and understand the overall implications of each of those things.
So somebody who has that experience on a major transformational program will definitely stand out.
Any other practical tips and advice for somebody that really wants to get into an M&A career path?
It’s taking some chances to take on work that may not be in your job description around some of this change. We’ve seen a ton of change over the last 20 years in industry as we’ve come to the cloud, as different things have changed, as different focus areas have changed.
So there’s always this constant ability to adapt and take on some of those new projects.
I would definitely encourage anyone who’s looking to get into M&A, to find ways within their current role to take on a transformational, or an operational project that is truly central to the company’s strategy, because that shows that they’re tied into this idea of how to extend that strategy through M&A.
I feel like there’s an opportunity to create a solution, to help make it more efficient in terms of connecting people. There’s inefficiency because there isn’t a go-to place to really connect.
I think you brought a very important thing. S
o, a company who’s only going to do a few deals this year, or their strategy is really focused on catching back up to the market.
They may prefer someone who’s more of an outsource search fund, where you’re going to pay a percentage of the deal and that person is just going to source the deal for you, get it closed.
There are trade offs in ways that deals become more cyclical. But that’s where I do think that corporate development as a function, especially in the technology industry is becoming more stabilized.
“Let’s get five deals done this year and we’ll do none next year.”
Some of it is industry specific and looking for that type of role that is able to be some more persistent, but I also think that understanding the culture of a company is important.
I’ve had experiences and some of the people I’ve worked with for very long, had experiences where we’ve been offered great roles at companies, some of us have taken them only to have the job disappear when financing or the next funding round didn’t come through.
So I think that some of the lessons that we have on diligence of other companies, as you’re taking jobs, taking the diligence and understanding.
- What is that strategy?
- What are you stepping into is really important?
Because especially someone making that leap into Corp Dev, you want to make sure that there’s that persistence in deal flow and an internal focus and an internal strategy, or you can get subbed out pretty quickly if the deal flow or the deal strategy changes quickly.
How do you solve this?
General inefficiency, I hate to say that you said the regionalized or the industry focused some of the way that it is solved in the marketplaces is the continued conversations, and the knowledge of who’s in the space.
Which is really hard for somebody who’s trying to get in the space.That was one of the things that I struggled with getting my first corporate development role.
When you reached out as just a finance guy to someone, they typically would have four or five people that were Corp Dev analysts, or somebody that another leader of Corp Dev knows that is in transition or looking for something new and exciting.
Breaking in the inefficiency is strong, it’s building into that network that gets you to eliminate some of the inefficiencies.
But I do think that there is an inefficiency in some of this stuff, because again, the M&A lifecycle, the deal life cycle, the deal flow, is so variable that there’s a lot of churn in the community as it stands and solving some of that through an M&A specific type community would be interesting.
In someone trying to come into the roles, I don’t want them to think that that is exclusionary, right?
Somebody even more experienced at M&A than me is going to write one of those playbooks. But if you’re somebody who has a sales background, or a HR background, take the time and actually look at it and see if there’s an area of expertise you can add to that community that no one else can.
You might understand employment law in Eastern Europe, and you can write a playbook on the website or employment law in Eastern Europe.
Don’t feel like you have to have a VP title of M&A, or Corp Dev to be a contributor to that community. Because your knowledge in your current role is valuable to the overall community. So take that step forward and contribute where you can.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen in M&A?
The craziest thing that ever happened to me was when I was a consultant. I walked into the office at 8:30 in the morning, my boss pulled me into his office and said, uh, get the 12 o’clock flight out of Logan, book 14 nights at the St. Francis. We don’t know how long we’ll be out there, but just cancel any plans you have.
We flew out on a one way ticket to San Francisco and we worked basically nonstop for two weeks on a deal that closed. But I think that that’s just kind of the expectation around M&A, it’s that level of flexibility because deals don’t come up every day. And when they do you come up, you have to be ready.
And I think that whether that’s San Francisco, or I had a red eye to Dublin, or a couple of weeks in Bulgaria, I think that that’s the best part of M&A for me. It is not for everybody, but that ability to learn something new, or a new culture, or be immersed in something for a short period of time, obviously pre-COVID was really exciting.
I think that that’s the craziest part of M&A is, a lot of the lessons learned and the focus gets accelerated during a project and you get to learn so much so quickly about both your organization and another organization. That’s why I love it, but there are definitely personal preferences and sacrifices that are made as a result of it.
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