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Updated: June 21, 2021 know how

A virtual acquisition: Takeaways from a first of its kind

As CEO of blumshapiro, I worked side by side with our partner group through the extensive due diligence process of our team members joining the national firm CLA (CliftonLarsonAllen LLP). Navigating the process of one firm joining another is an intricate, detailed effort even under ordinary circumstances. But as we all know, these are – by far – not ordinary times. 

Joseph Kask is the managing principal of business advisory firm CLA New England, which merged with blumshapiro in January.

With all the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person meetings were nearly impossible to conduct. All negotiations and discussions that brought blumshapiro under the CLA umbrella were accomplished entirely virtually, with conferences held via Teams, Zoom, WebEx, and telephone.

During its history, blumshapiro had engaged in a number of acquisitions – and the in-person approach always worked well. Meeting in person provides a greater sense of who people are. Just as you can’t discern a tone from an email or a text, a video image does not provide the same perspective as an in-person meeting. You can’t read body language in a video, you miss the room’s reaction to what is being said, and you’re concerned you may not be seeing the whole picture.

So, how do you negotiate a task of this magnitude almost entirely virtually? Each side should ask truly probing questions and listen carefully.

A discussion starting with “What’s in it for our pocketbook?” is rarely productive. The numbers part of the discussion – the debits and credits – is important. But it’s vital to also understand the foundation of why the two parties would be better together.

It was important for us to see people on both sides were genuine and passionate about the opportunity of joining forces. For us, the benefit of joining CLA would provide greater opportunities for our employees, clients, and community. For CLA, the incentive was its desire to grow the New England market.

Although both organizations had a deep understanding of the importance of financials, we recognized – even virtually – this was about much more. Our discussions focused on the importance of our firm cultures, and how closely we shared a common purpose centered around our people, client service, philosophy, and commitment to the communities in which we work and live.

As a $1-billion company, and the eighth largest accountancy firm in the U.S., CLA understood the importance of having a strong presence in New England and recognized blumshapiro’s strong establishment in the region, stating, “You have the brand and the magic. Let’s build New England together.”

From our first formal meeting on Zoom, it was clear we had something very special. CLA’s then-CEO Denny Schleper and current CEO Jennifer Leary were obviously passionate about their company and clear with its vision for the future. We all could see the power of coming together, and our discussions quickly moved from the why to the how.

As we enter into our new normal, we will once again have the opportunity for in-person meetings and traditional negotiations. But because of our recent forced dependence on virtual technology, we now have a better understanding of how it can play a vital role in the process. For companies looking to acquire, or be acquired, virtual technology can work. Along with the rest of the former blumshapiro partners, I am personally thankful for how this technology helped us step forward in joining CLA.

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