Interview with Mitchell Lee Marks
Why do clients typically hire you to speak?
Clients typically hire me because of my vast practical experience, my ability to translate concepts into action, and my colorful “war stories” which illustrate the dynamics and practices I discuss. I have been involved in over 100 cases of mergers and acquisitions. So, I have many engaging vignettes that describe what to do—or what not to do—to make a merger or acquisition work.
Audiences love to hear the stories that accentuate the practical advice. My career has been evenly split between academic and business jobs. So, clients appreciate that I present “best practices” within the context of how to realistic apply them. And, clients also appreciate my sense of humor and the manner in which I interject humor into some serious discussion topics.
What is your most inspirational life experience?
My most inspirational life experience is when I see a person who seems to be struck by misfortune smile. For people in difficult situations to smile and maintain a positive outlook on life makes me put my life and my “issues” in perspective. They inspire me to appreciate what really matters in life!
Could you elaborate on why some mergers and acquisitions fail and what makes others succeed?
There are many reasons why mergers and acquisitions fail—sometimes you buy the wrong company, sometimes you pay the wrong price and sometimes you do the deal at the wrong time. But, our research shows that the primary reason for M&A success or failure is the process through which the organizations are integrated. My talks on M&A highlight the specific leadership and management actions that distinguish successful from failed mergers and acquisitions.
Why is culture so important for corporations?
Culture clash in a merger or acquisition is a lot like breathing. You don’t think about breathing, you just do it. You may be aware of your breathing now, because it’s been raised to your attention. If someone came up from behind, cupped their hands firmly around your mouth and nostrils, and threatened your ability to breathe, then you would certainly pay attention to breathing. The same holds true for corporate culture in a merger or acquisition.
People don’t regularly notice their corporate culture, but when thrust into a merger, employees become aware of how their ways of doing things differ from those of the other side. When they feel threatened by a combination—often because they see themselves on the weaker side—employees not only see differences but also feel a sense of vulnerability and fear over losing their accustomed way of doing business. Rather than look forward to the potential of a new culture, they tend to look back and hold on tightly to their old ways of doing things rather than embrace the new.
Just as an organization cannot effectively run with multiple incompatible information systems, it cannot succeed with multiple incompatible cultures. The key is to get people in the lead company to act not like missionaries landing in the new world with the intent to convert the heathens to religion, but like diplomats who are charged with bringing disparate factions together.
With 20/20 hindsight, CEOs and other senior executives say that the one thing they would do differently in managing a merger or acquisition is to pay more attention to culture—both breaking down the old and building the new.
How much does humor factor into your keynotes and other speaking engagements?
Humor plays a huge role in my speaking engagements, as it does in my daily interactions with colleagues and clients. Business topics sometimes can be dry or, at best, matter-of-fact. I have a well developed sense-of-humor that finds its way into my keynotes and other speaking engagements.