Mergers and acquisitions can be daunting tasks for any organisation. Sabrina Zolkifi finds out how Canon and Océ managed when the two companies merged in 2009, and learns more about the important role communication played in the integration process.

Few things can be more different than east and west. Even in today’s global business world, a merger of two companies from opposite ends of the world can be a challenge for the most seasoned leaders.

However, when Canon acquired Océ in 2009, the transition provided more learning opportunities than challenges.

“Thankfully, we did not encounter any major operational issues with the integration,” says Michael Sak, vice-president of Canon’s regional business imaging solutions product group, who was heavily involved with the process.

“An obstacle that we all had to collectively undergo, however, was the implementation of a new software system, but interestingly enough I believe this obstacle became a source of cohesion for the new working team.”

Jason Hon, Canon’s senior director of human resources and general affairs, says mergers and acquisitions can be challenging because “they do not only concern human resource policies, but also the integration of other aspects such as differing corporate cultures and business strategies”.

“Difference in systems was a challenge and HR had to work closely with all the different stakeholders to ensure a smooth integration. This covered areas such as integrating all job roles and optimising manpower,” Hon says.

The physical integration of the two companies in Singapore did not happen until January 2013, a result of the organisations deciding to take a more “steady, well-calibrated and planned integration” approach.

An interesting practice that was undertaken in the early stages of the integration was that the senior management from Océ were given roles to play in Canon.
“This brought both Canon’s and Océ’s leaders into the fold before the staff followed, which turned out to be highly successful. I was thus put in a better position to bring my staff on board the new organisation,” Sak says.

The employee workforce was, of course, a huge area of focus for the company during the integration period.

Senior management leaders were all highly involved in the process, and were given important decision-making roles, which increased their engagement levels during the merger.

“From the onset of the merger and acquisition exercise, the management, together with HR, worked very closely to facilitate communication with staff, and constantly kept them updated on the integration process,” Hon says.

“To better manage their expectations and alleviate their concerns, both the management and HR also conducted several town hall sessions, where information on upcoming changes and how it would impact them were shared.”

Having open channels of communication and feedback also helped with managing psychological barriers.

“Overcoming it required significant dedication on the part of the management to be attentive to the concerns of all the stakeholders,” Hon says.

Sak says one of the most invaluable takeaways from the integration was the importance of focusing on the people within the organisation.

A fixation on systems and processes without factoring in people can easily lead to failure.
“A right level of focus on the people aspect, however, will help see that everything else falls naturally in place,” Sak says.

Hon adds that keeping members of the staff looped in on the integration plans helped smoothen out the transition process.

“Staff from both sides came together on several occasions to collaboratively discuss the potential challenges and how they could jointly overcome them to facilitate a successful and seamless transition,” he says.

“Most importantly, the learning and development department from the HR division had helped organise an induction programme as well as some team-building activities to enable former Océ staff to better assimilate into the new environment.”

Sak says at the end of the day, the onus is on companies and their leaders to foster a culture of open communication.

“This does not necessarily have to involve large-scale efforts; it may just take the form of informal and simple fortnightly sessions between leaders and employees. These initiatives can only be made possible if management leads by example and fosters a culture of open communication,” he says.

“Most importantly, they need to have their hearts in the right place rather than simply going through the motions.”