We interviewed Annette Burns Young, the Executive Director of eumom, about eumom’s recent merger with Zahra Media Group. She shares her thoughts on mergers in general and this one specifically.
Q: What kind of prior experience do you have with mergers?
This is my first proper Merger! In my corporate publishing career in London I was used to getting calls from the executive suite with instructions “to make room in your division” and then having to onboard teams with very little notice or even information. I have also been responsible for buying companies or brands in a previous Managing Director role and then rolling out the integration process. This venture was certainly my first merger in its truest sense and while the spirit of a merger is very different from a buy out or a takeover, some of the lessons learnt in terms of successful (or not!) integration were really useful.
Q: Many potential mergers never complete. What was the factor that ensured a successful merger in this case?
One of the advantages of the eumedia/Zahra merger was that it was a very straightforward decision-making process. There were two directors on both sides so we were able to establish interest and intent quite quickly and then bring real focus to making it happen. Our approach from the get-go was, I believe, the single most key factor in ensuring a successful completion. Instead of going straight to the numbers i.e. the commercial benefits and possible downsides, we focused on a vision for our combined Group.
Over 5 weeks we held workshops at my kitchen table (the most discreet place) and mapped out our potential future. In that time we explored all the possibilities we could think of, probed & dealt with potential obstacles, got to know each other’s experiences and skills, all the while building trust along the way. By the time we came to do legals /financial structures etc, we were all in: committed and unwavering and we were much less susceptible to being thrown off course by any legal or financial challenges. Looking back on it now we were working as a team before we actually were a team!
Q: What are some of the benefits of this merger?
Right from the start we understood and appreciated what each company brought to the venture. At eumom, we had built up one of the most engaged and dynamic membership communities in Ireland. We could immediately see the fit in merging with a company that not only understood and served the parenting market but also had a huge capability around food content and production – it was a terrific opportunity to widen our offering to our members. We were also impressed by the Zahra Customer & Content agency; by merging our skills and capabilities we will now be able to offer a richer mix of skills to a wider market.
Q: What have been some of the challenges of merging these two companies?
As creative companies our people are our most important asset. While we have well-established brands with longstanding heritage it’s the work our talented and innovative teams do every day that keeps those brands dynamic and relevant. Most of our worries around the merger concerned the smooth transition of the eumom team into the Zahra offices in Bray and then, the integration of all our people in the new Venture.
Because the eumom team were physically moving place and also would be reporting to a different MD and CEO, we were conscious of communicating and handling any concerns around this in advance. So we took our management into our confidence a couple of weeks before the team announcement and they then created a plan to make transition as smooth and as anxiety-free as possible. They have been leading from the front and on the ground in our post-merger world ever since!
Knowing in our hearts as Directors that this was a really exciting opportunity for all of us made facing the inevitable challenges easier. There was a lot of hard work and good humour required by everyone to make this transition as smooth as it could be while delivering really good work as usual. That’s the biggest challenge with mergers – you can’t stop the train to do them!
Q: What lessons have you learned from this merger?
The importance of picking good partners to go into business with. We don’t agree on everything for sure, but we have shared values and most importantly, we trust and respect each other’s contribution. We are only 10 weeks into transition and I am amazed about how much has been achieved and progressed. I have always believed in the power of team; and this has only reinforced how when you work with the right people, the possibilities are endless.