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Merger on Speed

A tale of speed, massive restructuring and people. The story of the last two months leading up to an official Visma merger from a Management Trainee perspective.

Merger on Speed
Merger on Speed

I’d love to tell you a little about my latest project. In August 2015 Visma bought Aditro Public, the part of the software company Aditro that deals with public customers. It officially merged with the Visma company Agda already on January 1st. With only five months to officially merge, all extra resources are highly appreciated. To be the Management Trainee given to the project the last two months before the deadline is therefore a very thankful job. Time to roll up our sleeves, let’s get to work.

(We made it by the way, New Years eve came and went with no more noise than you would expect on New Years.)

Taking advantage of momentum

While we are at it, let’s take advantage of the momentum and throw in some other organizational changes. Letting [Visma Agda] + [Aditro Public] => [Bigger Visma Agda] would be, well, less exciting. This all takes place inside the sub-division Visma Enterprise Solutions, where the Visma companies were organized by the products they delivered. The sub-division wanted to start changing this structure into companies that develop products, and those who distribute them. Two new Visma companies were therefore born, Visma Enterprise (distribution) and Visma Labs (development – you know, laboratory). So instead of merging into a bigger Agda, Agda and Public put their development folks into Labs, and the rest into Enterprise. Labs also got a handful developers from another Visma company in the same subdivision, Commerce, just to spice things up a bit. On January 1st Agda and Public disappeared while Enterprise and Labs were born.

Dancing in the Visma merger whirlwind

Being thrown into the last two months of this merger was a rush. Systems and processes were picked apart and put back together, people were moved and  a new organizational structure was built. Our customers certainly weren’t going to wait for us to get the machinery re-wired on the inside. Those of you with a passion for making mind maps  would easily have filled several notebooks. Looking back at my arrows and boxes representing IT-systems, people, organizational entities and processes, it looks like a complex machinery indeed. I can see little dates squeezed into the few blank areas, ambitious deadlines for when these elements should “start talking to each other”, change or “go live”.

In Visma everything happens at a high pace, speed is woven into the fabric of the company. Those who like to make things happen and get things done quickly will love it. Visma is a controlled whirlwind with a continuous sucking force in every direction and a strong driving force forward. The best you can do is grab as much of the valuables that come flying past you as you can and lock arms with all the others who are doing the same. A merger with a five month deadline and Visma as the host is a hefty combo. As I was sucked into new initiatives and tasks I quickly stopped saying, “there must be someone who is responsible for this”. My first task was to “clean up” an excel sheet, yey. However, it turned out to be the list of products that was to be offered by the new company, and “clean up” meant sort, evaluate, suggest and get final approval. Right now. Decisions had to be made and quickly, a complete product list is needed before all the old and new IT systems can communicate. Lesson learned? Don’t assume that someone else, perhaps someone who knows more or has more power, will make that decision later.

My main task was to make the 2016 budget in collaboration with the business controllers from Public and Agda. I got to try one of the most interesting tasks the world of budgeting has to offer, as Agda and Aditro Public originally had completely different budgeting logics. I therefore got to work on both the underlying logics in the budget as well the underlying material to find the right values. As submerged as we were in racing to finish the budget however, to my delight several unrelated issues that needed to be solved came flying past me. In the Visma merger whirlwind you need people who can catch, hold onto and fix the right things as they come flying past. That means to realize when something is off or needs doing, get the right people to talk together quickly, ensure decisions are made, and get things done before rushing to the next important task. I got to play this role and it was a rush. All I had to do was say “I can do that”. There was not a single boring moment.

People and change

Mergers are not just processes that come with lots of opportunities for wide-eyed trainees. Neither just about realizing synergies or re-wiring systems and processes. It is also an uncertain and tiring time for many employees. It takes an extra effort from many employees to ensure a successful merger while keeping business running as usual. It is people moving out of their old office locations, taking their official rounds to say bye to old colleagues at Aditro. New colleagues, hierarchies and vocabulary. New systems and new “how we do things here”. Imagine being an experienced, well respected colleague who was always top of things at Aditro. You knew how everything worked and can answer for everything you have delivered way back. Suddenly you are a new employee for quite some time, finding your way in this new organization while deep down expecting yourself to be as in control and competent as you were just a few weeks ago.

What surprised me the most was that even though the merger was demanding (and still is, fight on guys!), all the people around me have been engaged, driven themselves hard and have consistently expressed very positive outlooks. Public’s employees looked forward to moving to Visma’s open, light and fresh offices. Comments like “joining Agda will be refreshing and interesting”, and “it’s good with a change of scenery, it will be chaotic at first but I look forward to next year” were common from both companies. Many people have worked long hours and will continue to do so well into next year, but complaining is not what happens at lunch. A few exasperated outbursts must be expected once in a while of course. The change affects everyone, and they are all making an effort do it well. This supports a claim by a consulting firm partner I once had the pleasure of meeting, “People are, contrary to belief and much literature filled with big words and few arguments, not inherently against change.” During his years as a consultant he had almost only met employees who spilled over with enthusiasm for changing small and big things for the better. People are willing to work long and hard for periods at a time to support sensible and well-explained change.  

Being thrown right smack into the middle of this merger is was an incredible learning experience and I continue on the trainee journey both humbled and inspired.

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