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Private Equity More "Hands-On" Than Ever

David Hinkel, Senior Consultant, Towers Perrin
Tuesday, 16 Jun 2009 | 8:54 AM ET

Today’s private equity environment is the most unusual that I’ve seen in my 20 years of consulting.

The approach to private equity investment is shifting as firms struggle to find a clear exit strategy for their investments. The days of investing and flipping are on hold - perhaps for good. In some ways, private equity has gone back to its roots, to the days of long-term value investing, and in that sense is faced with the challenges - and tremendous opportunities –inherent in fully unleashing the long-term value in the companies they acquire.

Today’s private equity environment is more "hands on" than it has been for the past two decades. While the key to short-term success is capturing hidden cost synergies that produce a quick return on investment, these cost savings alone probably won’t generate a long-term return on investment. Long-term growth is achieved by aligning the entire workforce with the business plan to ensure that all employees understand the part they play in the success of the organization.

This means that private equity firms today must unlock the power of the workforce.

This often means asking the workforce to do things differently from before and perform more efficiently - sometimes with new managers or team members. It means asking them to become more engaged in their work - to consistently put forth discretionary effort and contribute more of their energy, creativity and passion to their job. Improving employee engagement, especially during or just after an acquisition, often requires a comprehensive change management process. Both management and the human resource executive must be central players in driving this change. In fact, Towers Perrin research showsthat leadership directly affects employee engagement.

The following are seven areas of critical value that private equity firms considering a transaction in today’s environment must consider - and pay particular attention to - in order to ensure success:

1. Leadership. Select, retain and equip the right leaders for the company — leaders who are capable of delivering on a new business agenda that may be different from those of either legacy company.

2. Culture. Create and sustain a corporate culture that is aligned with the new business strategy.

3. Communication. Create clear and compelling communications that support employee engagement and maintain focus on driving business performance.

4. Workforce Deployment. Translate the company’s business plan into a detailed workforce plan that projects the number, mix, skills and cost of employees needed to meet business objectives across job families and locations.

5. Staffing and Selection. Rationalize the workforce to achieve required cost savings while retaining and engaging the right employees for the merged organization.

6. Total Rewards. Align compensation and benefit programs to generate desired performance from key talent and other employees.

7. HR Service Delivery. Align the HR function with the needs of the company while balancing day-to-day operational needs.

The success of a private equity transaction goes far beyond a successful closing. Senior leadership must be able to manage both the human capital and business risks at each stage of any transaction - today more than ever.

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David Hinkel is a senior consultant on Mergers and Acquisitions at Towers Perrin, a global professional services firm. He is located in the firm's New York office.

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