How I survived a merger

August 1, 1997

Pharmaceutical Representative

One rep transformed organizational change into opportunity.

If you have been in this industry any length of time, chances are you know someone whose company has been acquired by or merged with another organization. Perhaps you've seen the effects of a reorganization effort personally. If you haven't, you may in the future.

When two companies merge, an employee may lose his or her entire line of reporting managers or may feel abandoned and outnumbered. On the other hand, the employee may be able to reinvent his or her future, an opportunity that might never have arrived if former managers had stayed. With change can come frustration or excitement, fear or bravery, failure or success.

I survived a merger - quite well, thank you. And you can too. The process doesn't have to be overwhelming.

Grappling with change

Coping with the initial news of the merger was an important first step. I realized that neither my colleagues nor I could do it alone. It was very important to see and talk to my team members often. No one had all the answers, so we met for breakfast, talked on the phone and encouraged each other. Some of the younger representatives required less assurance than anticipated, and they offered the older representatives a much-needed focus on "the big picture." The value of a positive attitude became evident with time.

Reading everything on the topic that I could get my hands on was also helpful. Books from Pritchett and Associates on organizational change offered good advice, as did "Mental Training for Peak Performance," by Steven Ungerleider. Recreational reading was equally important and provided a much-needed escape from uncertainty.

Other recreational activities took on new importance as I became very attuned to maintaining "life as usual" as much as possible. Family time and personal time became high priorities. Anything that reduced stress was not only helpful but necessary. I even began doing things again that I had not done in years. A memorable event during the early throes of the integration was putting together a paddling and camping trip down the Chatooga River with eight buddies.

Getting in shape for the changes that were ahead required new thinking and almost certainly action. I had already seen many changes in the health care landscape, such as hospitals buying physician practices, doctors aligning with each other in larger multispecialty environments and larger chain pharmacies buying smaller chains. Talking with customers who had survived such reorganization proved beneficial. Even friends who worked in other industries but had gone through similar experiences shared valuable advice.

Taking control

My co-workers, managers and I were suddenly dealing with the monumental question: "What if I don't have a job?" Early retirement was an option for some but not for me. Accepting a voluntary severance package was appropriate for those seeking a reason to get out of a seemingly unpredictable industry. My personal dilemma became: "What if I am retained in the selection process?"

With that, I challenged myself to stay motivated. I realized that I had to abandon some long-term career goals because they added useless frustration to an already stressful life. Resetting priorities allowed me to focus on achievable, short-range targets. Many non-productive activities were eliminated from the work day and my personal schedule. Building personal morale and maintaining it was a formidable task. But I believed that if I pursued projects and tasks that helped me deal with my natural tendency to resist change, I would not merely survive: I would succeed.

I began taking personal responsibility for my part in the reorganization. I established a simple personal reward system. Work day successes were rewarded by taking time to "smell the roses," such as meeting my wife for lunch, playing putt-putt with my son, taking the long way home from my territory and finding reasons to laugh and make others laugh every day. I became more tolerant, more decisive and a better time manager. In short, I began to take charge.

Looking ahead

When my current manager called with an offer for a new job, I was excited and relieved that I had made it through the selection process. But I realized that it was not over. The changes were just beginning. A totally new management team was in place, none of whose names or faces I knew, or who knew mine.

Would the corporate cultures blend? Would things be done our way or their way? Where would I fit in? Would my customers have to deal with change too? Is change always for the better? These are excellent questions and lots of emotional energy could be packed into answering them.

But instead of worrying over the unknowns, I chose to channel my energy into my new position. Rather than mire myself in issues over which I had no control, I tackled issues I could control: What could I offer my new company, my new manager and my new customers?

Letting go of the past 12 years, trusting in myself and supporting a new team has been very liberating. With this new freedom has come an opportunity to redefine myself. Renewing my dedication to customer service and professionalism, experiencing the electricity of building a new team, completing graduate school and comarketing with teammates to launch a new product are just a few of the incredible rewards I have experienced since the reorganization.

Two years after the merger and 14 years after entering this industry, I can say that I have the same enthusiasm for this work that I had when I was a trainee. I feel empowered to handle any changes that may come my way. PR