Banking

Consulting's M&A dealmakers need to get real

Tom Rodenhauser has a bone to pick with the investment bankers and venture capitalists who usher in consulting's mergers and acquisitions. In their haste, he says they fail to provide equal analysis of the problems as well as the potential of such deals.


Shakespeare claimed lawyers propagated society’s ills. With e-consulting, I point my finger at naïve—yes, naïve—investment bankers and venture capitalists.

Two events this week support my theory. First, Novell buys Cambridge Technology Partners. The mother of many e-consultancies, CTP is a shell of its former glorious self. Novell chief Eric Schmidt says “this is exactly what’s needed to propel Novell into a new realm of solutions-based relationships with customers and partners.” In other words, CTP should provide the front-end sales engine for Novell products.

CTP CEO Jack Messman, who takes over the same job at Novell while Schmidt remains chairman, conceded as much in an analysts’ call. Initially claiming CTP would remain product-neutral, he later acknowledged that Novell solutions were the best. Old tricks are hard for newly created dogs.

The ease of turning autonomous consultants into software salesmen is a myth propagated by dealmakers. Novell, like Hewlett-Packard, Sun, and a host of other product companies, has to play the services card. The only way to sell more Novell stuff is to get more Novell salesmen. And CTP was in a box—a flickering former high-flyer that needed to find a future. Messman has the Herculean task of navigating Novell/CTP through the fuzzy world of quasiobjectivity.

By brilliant coincidence, the Novell/CTP merger occurred the same day that Francisco Partners, marchFIRST’s newest investor, pushed CEO Bob Bernard onto the sword. Bernard’s resignation on Monday, along with those of COO Tom Metz and EVP Joseph Bong, is spun as a fresh start for the troubled company. Yes, Bernard and company bungled the merger of Whittman-Hart and US Web/CKS. Yes, they ridiculously claimed “successful integration” within six months of the merger.

But truth be told, investment bankers bear just as much blame in fusing those two companies. The bankers told Bernard the merger would be a slam dunk. Any rational person would see problems in blending the US Web roll-up with W-H’s straightforward business. It’s tough enough putting together two distinct cultures. Try melding 40 plus!

Lest I be accused of smearing my investment friends, note the word naïve in the first sentence. Many deals make financial sense. All we ask is that folks splash a dash of cold water on the dealmakers every now and again…and ask them to provide equal analysis to the problems as well as the potential. Is that too much to ask, or are we the naïve ones?

Heard on the street
Novell’s move certainly puts the pressure on Hewlett-Packard to make a deal sooner rather than later. Rumor has it that H-P and Scient are in merger talks. Then again, different rumors from different sources point to more Scient layoffs very soon. What’s a guy to believe these days?
Inside Consulting is written by Tom Rodenhauser as a free weekly supplement to The Rodenhauser Report. The report informs senior advisors and business executives of consulting trends and best practices. Subscription cost is $295 per year for 10 issues. Copyright 2001, Consulting Information Services, LLC. Reproduction is prohibited. Quotation with attribution is encouraged.

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