Buyouts/Takeovers…Stay or Start Looking?

When ZF stunned the automotive world with their takeover (or buyout, or whatever you wish to call it), my phone starting ringing off the hook with worried TRW folks asking my opinion about what to do. Now, Bain Capital, of Mitt Romney fame, has strolled in to buy TI Automotive. As a joke, when my phone rang, and I knew, by the Caller ID, that it was someone I know from TI, I answered, “Good morning, Bain Capital Copper Parachute Division. … May I help you?” There was no threat of a heart attack, but I did get a couple of choice words, along with a laugh.

My advice to him was, and still is, similar to most other mergers or buyouts. In quality, unless you really hate your current boss or job, the best move is to stay put and wait it out to see what happens. Yes, you heard me right. A recruiter actually said, “Don’t move too soon.” We all know the old saying, “Patience is a virtue”. And, Warren Buffet would also agree, “Patience usually pays off.”

We all learn lessons from our dads; My father is no exception. He has a degree in chemistry and was working for a local Detroit chemical company for many years. Then, a giant German chemical company bought out his company a couple of years before his retirement. The buyout allowed him to keep his seniority, which also included their (German) health care and retirement plan. Although we see America creeping up on European socialism, there is no doubt that German companies are usually ahead in areas like health care, savings and operating in a conservative manner. My pops is now 82 and is loving life with a now-unheard-of health-care supplemental and retirement plan. He’s in great shape, has high spirits and is still as frugal as ever. I enjoy joking with him: “Hey dad, keep that inheritance coming baby.” “I’m in great health … probably better than you … you ain’t getting crap for a loooong time.” With a monthly co-pay supplemental of $20 from a German conglomerate, how can you not be in a good mood?

When a buyout is announced, however, the anxiety meter starts to soar. And, a good mood is usually in short supply because the future is uncertain and the rumor mills start churning. It is also a smart time to count our blessings that we are not in accounting or payroll—if so, then my advice would be different (publish your own obituary in the next Sunday edition). When we are not in a recession, during my 25-year career, I’ve found that our industry runs a pretty consistent full employment regimen. If you are educated and great at what you do in automotive quality, the only reason you are not working is that you are merely between gigs.

In this same vein, sometimes investment groups, such as Bain, come in, or even smaller companies buy larger ones. You just don’t know what their ultimate goal is. The only ones worried, of course, are the corporate quality folks. If you are in the plant, odds are you are quite safe. If you know the plant is losing money or has serious problems, it also could go either way. The buyer could get rid of upper management, if that is the problem, and turn it around by getting a smart and motivated crew. You are the one who is uniquely qualified to really have a read on the situation. As ol’ Don Rumsfeld would say, “Act on the known known, not on the known unknowns.”
We are in a zero-unemployment niche at the moment. This means that anyone who is excellent is not out of work for long. My advice to you quality folks in the just-got-gobbled-up land: Keep your chins up, scrap down … and Go Automotive Quality!