Your Career: Making the Most of Mergers & Acquisitions

Feb. 9, 2010
Mergers and acquisitions are unpredictable; you’re best bet is to remain flexible.

Mergers and acquisitions have an image problem, and rightfully so—they are disruptive forces. Forbes recently reported that the Pfizer/Wyeth and Merck/Schering-Plough mergers each are expected to result in nearly 20,000 layoffs. Nowhere have mergers and acquisitions been more prevalent lately than in pharma, and the trend is expected to continue, much to the chagrin of workers whose companies are viewed as targets.

For the first time ever in our annual job satisfaction and salary survey, we asked you about your M&A experiences. While M&A’s usually lead to layoffs and upheaval, you told us that they can be a blessing in disguise. More of you felt that your M&A experience affected you positively than negatively (see Tables).

“I had to take a demotion,” one of you said, because the new parent company required a PhD for a position that previously did not. “But I tried to learn as much as I could and focus on my job, and it paid off.” In this case, the worker moved on to another company and found a more rewarding position.

Alex McClung, senior director of QA at Pharmaceutics International, was once employed by a startup company that was acquired by Amgen. “I saw it as an opportunity to learn from the masters,” he says. At another job, he was laid off following an acquisition. “It was uncomfortable, but it turned into an opportunity,” he says. “It gave me the chance to say, ‘What would the right job look like?’ “

It’s usually no secret when a company is “dressed to be sold,” says Harvey Yau, Americas product manager for the scientific division of the staffing firm Kelly Scientific Resources. Once the merger or acquisition is in process, the uncertainty and worry escalate. Be willing to ride it out, Yau advises. “And ask plenty of questions instead of just listening to rumors,” he says. The more information you can gather, the better you’ll be able to anticipate changes.

If M&A workforce decisions are made top-down, they won’t realize the synergies that are hoped for, says Gregg Gordon, senior director of manufacturing industry marketing for workforce solutions provider Kronos, Inc. Employers must seek input from employees—“in a structured environment, so that it doesn’t become a lobbying effort”—and employees must do whatever they can to be part of the process.

There’s no way around the unpredictability of a merger or acquisition, says Rich Kneece, CEO of Massachusetts Technology Corp., which runs the and web sites. “Be resilient, be flexible, and develop your networking skills.”

And never be caught off-guard, adds Megan Driscoll, President of PharmaLogics Recruiting. “When you hear inklings of a company being bought or merged, there’s usually something to it,” she says. “I’ve always advised people to not be the last one standing on a sinking ship. Start looking for a job before you need one.”

How many times in your career have you experienced a merger or acquisition of your company?

0 28.1%
1 23.1%
2-3 34.0%
4-5 10.9%
more than 5 3.9%

If you've experienced a merger or acquisition (or several), how did it affect your career? (Check all that apply.)

I didn't affect me much at all. 30.4%
It improved my career and gave me more opportunities. 29.1%
It opened my eyes to new ideas and corporate practices. 25.3%
It was difficult in the short term but not in the long term. 23.6%
It hurt my career and gave me fewer opportunities. 21.5%
About the Author

Paul Thomas | Senior Editor