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 Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


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