Defining the Role of the Integration Leader

Mark Herndon headshot
By Mark Herndon
Chairman, M&A Leadership Council
Feb 8, 2017

Governance of the M&A process is a multi-faceted challenge that we will be addressing periodically and from various levels and viewpoints. For now, let’s zero in on one of the most fundamentally important governance questions: What is the role of the integration leader?

A clear best practice among skilled acquirers is the use of a dedicated (i.e. not ad hoc or part-time) integration leader as the principal, day-to-day manager responsible for coordinating, planning, problem solving and implementing all requirements to achieve integration and business results. It’s a huge task, and a very misunderstood role.

"You are not the team 'owner,' but you are the manager, coach and referee.... design the plays, keep score, throw a flag now and then.”

So first, let me draw a distinction between the integration leader and another important governance role we like to call the “deal sponsor.” A deal sponsor is typically the senior-most business leader of the “receiving” business unit or division. In smaller or mid-market companies, the deal sponsor very often could be the CEO or COO. In most larger corporations, the deal sponsor is often the EVP, division head, general manager (or your similar title description) of the division or business unit that the majority of the acquired business will be reporting into. This is an essential and crucially important role devoted to getting the intended business results from the acquired company, setting principal objectives and making key decisions. But this is typically not the integration leader, per se.

The integration leader is also not just a project manager, although that is also a crucially important role. So what exactly does an integration leader do? What Does the Integration Leader Do? is summarized from practical learning over the years in many integration efforts, large and small, in diverse industries and with a variety of “deal-type DNA” or principal strategies.  Here are a few highlights of what we’d encourage you to double check for as you define this all-important role for your organization.

  • Manage the chaos by serving as the principal day-to-day point of contact for all things related to integration, and establishing the overall integration process design, mechanics and protocols to be followed by all participants and executives.
  • Accelerate the process  by helping the executive staff manage the pace and momentum of the integration, and pushing for timely decisions on key issues and providing true accountability for action items and deadlines.
  • Architect success  by continuously providing focus and direction on what matters most, and searching for and highlighting best practices or potential disconnects that could destroy value or create risk.
  • Personally drive the change by being directly and principally involved in the subject matter of major issues so that this role helps manage the “white space” and dependencies by identifying issues, and then coordinating and communicating resolutions to all involved.

One organization characterized this role in professional sports team language. “You are not the team ‘owner,’ but you are the manager, coach and referee in that you have to design the plays, coach the team, keep score and throw a flag now and then. Since you are closer to the game than most folks, you’ll see stuff about to happen on the field and need to go get the right people in a huddle and get a decision.”

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