M&A activity is shaking up the global language services industry as ambitious LSPs buy and sell to capture market opportunity - but what effect does this have on agency employees?
The translation and localization sector has experienced rapid consolidation in the last five years, with unprecedented levels of M&A activity:
LanguageWire purchased Xplanation.
Technicis acquired AAC Global.
Straker Translations added Eule prior to their recent IPO…
In the mid-market, multiple deals are published each month.
Anyone with a broad network in the space will know someone whose company was bought out or merged with another LSP, and plenty more will have seen their company management in talks with potential buyers or private equity investors behind closed doors.
While for shareholders this rush of deal-making can mean exciting new opportunities to grow quickly and generate profits, the impact for employees affected by corporate restructuring can be different.
What managers describe as the ‘integration’ period following a deal often translates into months of uncertainty, rumours, meetings, re-trainings and stress over job loss.
So what can you do to make sure M&A doesn’t detail your career, and what opportunities can it bring?
Look for opportunities to upskill
Even when two companies are not formally merged following an acquisition, M&A inevitably brings about change within both the buyer and the seller as the two companies interact.
While this change can be intimidating, it can also be a great opportunity for learning and personal development.
Whether it means a new direct manager, working with new regional offices, adapting to new corporate cultures or working to support a new client base, the environment created as a result of M&A is usually one that opens multiple doors for ambitious professionals looking for ways to broaden their experience.
Often acquisition brings together two organizations with contrasting strengths, and this opposition offers plenty of scope for employees on each side to learn about the other’s domain.
Explore your new environment
Employees have two options when it comes to how they react to M&A: waiting in a state of perpetual nervousness, following rumours about office closures and speculating on the outcome of closed-door management meetings, or meeting the situation head on and looking to see how they can benefit from the situation.
For those being acquired, opportunity can mean becoming part of a larger parent company with more extensive resources and a bigger global structure. It can also involve working beneath new leadership teams, often with decades of industry experience and expertise. It can include learning to work with new technology platforms, or customer markets.
Although layoffs and downsizing can be part of creating an efficient new organization as two businesses merge together, acquisitions also create new business needs and can provide chances for promotion, retraining, travel and more.
Focus on what you can control
A lot of the tension following the announcement of M&A deals stems from employees not being fully informed of the changes that lie ahead. This can be deeply frustrating – loyal and long-serving team members may worry that their jobs are at risk, and as much as management may wish to calm fears by keeping everyone looped in on evolving plans and discussions, there are lots of moving parts to a post-acquisition integration and leadership can only responsibly share what is certain (rather than what is ‘likely’).
Sage advice in this scenario, from Adaptive candidates who have been through disruptive M&A integrations, is to concentrate on the elements of the situation that you can control and avoid wasting energy worrying about the parts you can’t.
In practice, this means doubling down on doing great work and making a positive impact to the business.
Delivering results, projecting a positive attitude, building networks and working to close skills gaps are all positive steps that position you optimally to emerge in a good situation from any change, and if you are impacted by something outside your control – such as a restructure or layoff – then these things will carry with you into you next career step.
Keep your network warm
Although there is often a lot of positive opportunity that comes with M&A, it may not work out perfectly in every case.
It’s better to be prepared than surprised, so it can sometimes be helpful to refresh contact networks in case the changes resulting from an acquisition make your position uncomfortable or untenable.
You may not see eye to eye with your new boss, may find yourself bumped onto a new team, or may simply not gel with the newly-established corporate culture the change brings about.
Although it’s always best to give the new situation a chance before jumping ship, leaving it too late can also be costly.
You may not be the only person thinking about making a move elsewhere - if multiple colleagues all decide to take the same route, you don’t want to find that the best jobs locally have already been filled by the time you start applying.
Learn from the market
Along with the micro-level impact that M&A can have on individual careers, acquisitions do offer insight into broader trends of where management and investors perceive value in the industry to be.
Although short-term adaptation when your company is bought or sold may be all about survival and making the best of an uncertain transition phase, there are long-term lessons to be learned in many M&A stories.
Why was your company acquired, and why did investors find it attractive?
What is the vision for the future of the business, and what kinds of skills will team members need to excel in delivering that vision?
Look at who’s staying and who’s going as teams are re-engineered – who keeps their place, or gets promoted, and why?
Responding to these clues can help you build your professional profile to weather future storms and ensure you have the upper hand in guiding your career trajectory.
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