The search for buyers
Hardly a day goes by without a mention of a “search for buyers” in the press and other media.
But what are they talking about and what exactly does it mean? And why does the operation work or fail depending on the case? Is it a question of luck?… by no means!
WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?
The search for buyers practice, already applied by large companies in the 1980s to avoid the closure of factories that no longer corresponded to the needs of their manufacturing network, is now becoming increasingly common in Europe.
Showcased in France by the Ayrault government since the creation of the “Ministère du Redressement Productif”, (performance enhancement department), the practice is called for, and even required in certain cases, by government authorities, management and unions, and employees. Unfortunately it has been denigrated and over-simplified in the media recently by series of companies that have made the headlines.
There are two responsible solutions offered to the management of large companies faced with the harsh reality. Either they have to close down one or several site(s) and lay off the employees, or try to find an alternative solution by selling the site for an attractive price, saving as many jobs as possible and preserving the social and economic balance of the area:
The search for a buyer
The reindustrialization of a site
The first solution – “search for a buyer” – presupposes that the issue be taken in hand as soon as the probable future of the site is known, well in advance. In other words 6 months, even a year, before the closure plans are announced and take effect. In most of the cases, the procedure is confidential.
The time allowed for the continuation of the existing activity allows them to provide the buyer with a trained and skilled workforce that is immediately operational, a quality tool, and above all a subcontracting business. This solution is attractive for two reasons:
It allows the buyer to set up his own activity, progressively and under optimal financial conditions;
It allows the workers reemployed in the framework of the new project not to be laid-off, therefore to maintain the same work contract and to preserve their seniority as well as their professional environment….
This, of course, is the solution that is preferred by employees and government authorities…as well as by corporate officers when it meets the needs and expectations of all parties involved.
This solution, if it is decided upon well upstream, allows companies to avoid time-consuming and costly restructuring plans (in particular in countries with strong social constraints such as France, Italy, Germany or Spain), to avoid strikes, which are often highlighted in the media, and also to protect their corporate image while they apply their divestment strategy and meet deadlines.
The second solution – called “Reindustrialization” – has entered into the arena only in the last several years. It is linked to the legal imperatives of the countries concerned. The term “buyer” is still used but the buyer takes over only empty or partially-equipped premises. The employees are not guaranteed a job after they are laid off. However this solution avoids creating an industrial wasteland that would be intolerable to those who play a central role in local economic development and job creation, and allows the local economy to remain intact. In France, this solution is regularly imposed by the government and has become a key part of restructuring plans.
THE CONDITIONS FOR SUCCESS
Why, in certain cases, is this solution applied and why is it successful?
For over 15 years, In Altum Consulting’s founders carried out a series of missions on behalf of a leading HR consulting firm focused on restructuring issues. These assignments, which involved the search for buyers, were remarkable both in their duration (3 months to 2 years) and complexity (the division of one site into two distinct entities), the sale of several sites in different countries in Europe, the number of jobs saved, i.e. from 50 to 500…
Too many takeover projects have been carried out blindly, without distinction, with unscrupulous buyers, “bounty hunters”, who were more interested in the subsidies they could get than in the real value presented by a responsible industrial project… and who offered no guarantee of long-term sustainability.
In each of these cases, the success of the project was based on:
The trust our customers placed in the advice that was given. Because most often, it is the people at the corporate headquarters that must be won over. Together, with local teams, we draw up an estimate of the cost of the different scenarios as well as the timeframe of their implementation.
Our unshakeable determination to try to come up with a solution that we feel is lasting and sure. Because we are convinced that what is most important for our customers, for the employees, and for us, is not the impact of the announcement, but the sustainable and reliable solution that is implemented. This is the reason why the takeover project study that we give our customers is guided, first and foremost, by the quality of the industrial project (or R&D unit, depending on the case) of the buyer.
We have always tried to strike a fair balance between employee expectations and our customers’ goals. When only solutions involving partial divestment are required, we recommend them rather than encouraging full takeovers that are bound to fail either because they do not ensure economic balance or because the industrial projects are unsuitable to the size of the units to be bought out.
We recommend that you:
Prepare for the divestment well upstream…before it’s too late;
Study the possible scenarios and their costs in order to ensure that the solution proposed is neither more costly nor more time-consuming to set up than a simple closure of the site with the lay-offs that go with it.
Assess the sites beforehand – with complete confidentiality – to find out exactly under which conditions of cost and timing a sale, rather than a closure, could be achieved.
Not to mention, of course, the setting up of a project team in which the corporate management is included…