Interview - York Risk Services Group acquisitions

Interview - York Risk Services Group acquisitions

Pete shares the learnings from these integration initiatives

Recently we caught up with Pete Bellisano, SVP of York Risk Services Group. Pete was the executive in charge of the 2012 post merger integration of several acquisitions that effectively doubled the size of the company, an integration effort in which Schaffer Consulting acted as advisor. York is a portfolio company of PE firm ABRY Partners, in Boston. Pete shares the learnings from these integration initiatives.

Schaffer Consulting: Pete, what was the strategic intent of these acquisitions?

Pete Bellisano: There were several key drivers, including the filling in of key geographies, the expansion of our managed care service offering to a national level, and the opportunity to improve service by leveraging newly-acquired scale. Of course we also picked up new customers, leading to even more growth opportunities.

SC: How did you plan for the integration?

Pete: A few months before we closed the acquisition, we began organizing the approach, and sketched out an integration framework, with teams organized by function. We set up protocols for communication and execution. Each of the teams – there were 15 – had members drawn from both companies as well as an executive sponsor to help clear away obstacles. We also had a small project management team managing the overall process. PMO purists may not like this, but we did not go overboard on tools, nor did we have a lot of formality or bureaucracy. The project management team was focused on enablement and facilitation, not governance.

As we got closer to the close, we began thinking about goals. During the due diligence process, we also began discussing our integration philosophy as well as cultural implications of the work ahead, so we had a good sense of the opportunities and ideas about the integration approach. By the time the deal was signed in December, we had laid out the organization, operating philosophy, and financial targets. As soon as we signed the deal, we added several leaders from the newly-acquired companies to our executive team and, within days, we had a goal-setting offsite meeting where we formalized the goals for the integration and laid out our 12-month targets.

It was new for us to focus so intently on the goals before beginning to discuss the way we would implement. In the 1 ½ day offsite, we talked about the 12-month objectives and major accomplishments as though we were looking back on them from the future. This was really helpful to the executive team. We also committed to getting out of “integration mode” as early as possible, with the goal of shifting to business-as-usual by the fall of 2012.

We had five strategic goals for the integration:

  1. Achieve revenue and expense synergies
  2. Avoid unplanned customer losses
  3. Improve voluntary turnover
  4. Have a growth strategy in place and understood by the organization
  5. Establish the One York culture in the combined company

Each of these goals had specific targets for the first year post close. We also had one unspoken goal – to improve our capability to execute on projects like this again.

SC: How did York fare in meeting these objectives?

Pete: We were successful, primarily by staying focused and communicating thoughtfully. After about 9 months, in the fall of 2012, we began to dismantle the integration teams and transitioned all remaining work to the permanent organization. Collaborating closely with the owning managers, we adjusted our transition approach to meet each individual team’s needs. Each team was positioned to complete their goals, but some needed ongoing PMO support, while others were ready to transition at different times. We tailored the timing and approach of each handoff depending on the situation. We have a culture of continuous improvement so, today, we are taking another look at things we can still achieve in organizational alignment, increased efficiencies, and the customer experience.

SC: What have you learned through this experience?

Pete: This changed more than just the way we look at acquisitions. We have embraced outcomes-based planning more formally now. Because of this experience, our executives gain clarity on outcomes before we plan any work. We have a common language for the discussion of initiatives. We also developed a better capability to carve out near-term wins and are not interested in sweeping 2-year projects unless we also can determine what benefit we can achieve in 90 days.

It’s mainly our mindset that changed. We have the right discussions now. We engage each other about what we’re trying to accomplish. We still have work to do to be better at this, but we have definitely matured through this process. That makes us better prepared for the next challenge.

Note: York continues to target strategic acquisitions in the insurance services market, announcing the addition of Axis Loss Adjusting Services in February, 2013.

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