Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

You’ve Bought It, Don’t Break It


In the run up to the Iraq war, the then Secretary of State Colin Powell was quoted as invoking the “Pottery Barn rule” – You break it, you own it – in assessing the risks of an invasion. I thought about Powell and the Pottery Barn rule during a recent lunch with an executive friend of mine.

He’s a business unit leader who has integrated an acquired company into his organization over the past year. His company has grown a lot through acquisitions and his CEO always says to his execs “Don’t break it,” when they’re folding the acquired company into their operations. Unfortunately, as the Harvard Business Review reports, the failure rate of mergers and acquisitions is somewhere between 70% and 90%.

So, when he was charged with integrating an acquired company, he was determined to flip the Pottery Barn rule on its head. He had bought it so he didn’t want to break it. Almost a year later everything is going great. He’s done three things to beat the odds. Here they are:

Do Your Homework: When he learned that he was going to be in charge of the integration, my friend set aside a few weeks to talk with the senior managers of every unit his company has bought over the past few years. He asked two big questions in those conversations – “What did we do right when we bought you?” and “What did we do wrong when we bought you?” He built his integration strategy on what he learned in those conversations.

Provide Air Cover: My friend decided early on that his most important job was to provide air cover for the group he was integrating. He had learned through observation and conversations that the historical pattern was for the corporate staff to start making requests and changes that quickly stripped acquired companies of their competitive advantages. He’s kept his new unit competitive by positioning himself as the go-between so he can head off counter productive demands at the pass.

Stay Close to the Customer: When his company bought the new unit, my friend made visiting with their key customers one of his top priorities. He learned what they appreciated most about the team he was acquiring and got some very clear messages that they didn’t expect things to go south when the acquisition was complete. That knowledge has given him a ton of ammunition that he’s been able to use to protect his new team from counter-productive requests and distractions.

What’s been your experience with integrating a new company or team into an existing organization? What went right? What went wrong? What advice do you have for other leaders facing that challenge?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.