Captain’s Blog April 2016: Cleo – To infinity and beyond!

April 1, 2016: The acquisition became official, and with it came a whirlwind of EPIC proportions.  No matter how many books you read or how well you think you prepared for change, there will be surprises along the path of a company integration.

As referenced in an early blog entry, the Harvard Business Review’s research places the failure rate of M&A between 70-90%. This process is daunting and navigating the first year is the critical phase to avoid falling into the black hole of failed acquisitions. The key? Take the time to plan so that ALL the new leaders have clarity on the three “Ws” of each initiative: Who, What, and by When.

May 2016:  The Cleo and EXTOL leadership teams have spent the last month collectively developing a plan to cover the three Ws to become ONE team. I was leading multiple departments across the new organization: Support, IT, and Operations… x 2 locations. With the melding of the companies, we now had two main offices in the United States: Cleo headquartered in Rockford, IL and EXTOL headquartered in Pottsville, PA. All of the teams under my care were equally split between both offices, so began my yearlong, weekly rotation between two states.

The goal was simple: what tools and practices will we use going forward and what others would be jettisoned. The hard part was ensuring that in the process of exploration, this work did not turn into an “Us vs Them” turf battle, where many acquisitions get mired with little chance of recovery. The integration team had the clear and purposeful directive – build the strongest organization and create a new way of doing business for Cleo with the best practices and tools – regardless of where they originated.

August 2016:  It has been a crazy 4 months on the road. Clearly the time invested was worth it as this light speed operation was coming together. Having the teams doing the work involved in the decision-making process gave everyone the opportunity to voice their thoughts. Of course, not everyone always agreed. Yet this dialogue built a lot of trust amongst the teams which was paramount for long term success.

As Patrick Lencioni makes clear, trust is the foundation of a high performing team. Because we had established strong trust amongst the teams, we were able to disagree and still commit. Merging systems and consolidating databases is never a simple task. Especially when, if something goes wrong, it will really affect the customers’ experience doing business with the organization. If the company is not aligned, this is where finger-pointing and blame creates divide.

Despite the 1300 miles between many of them, we watched our teams become a family that truly cared about each other. We worked together countless nights and weekends over the next quarter to roll out these changes in a way that would not impact the customer experience. I am happy to report, that with just a few minor hiccups, this process went extremely well considering how complicated it was. I am very grateful for the incredible people that I worked with – they were the real stars in pulling this all together.

April 2017:  A year has passed since the acquisition. The merging of the two companies into one Cleo is complete. Looking back, it is incredible to see the progress the teams have accomplished in this short time. And the whole company was growing with a trajectory towards great things. 

Our next mission? Ensure that Cleo could operate 24/7.  The plan was to grow our operations in Bangalore, India. This was an optimal solution, as the time difference allowed for continuous customer service and support.  I slowed my trips to Rockford and began traveling to India a few times a year.

Again, planning was critical for success. Our plan was clear, we wanted our office in India to be the 3rd leg of the tripod.  Our goal was to develop the office to be able to take over when the US went to bed and then for the US to pick up when India went to bed. We would have development, testing, support, services and IT departments in India. This enabled Cleo to run around the clock and deliver an exceptional experience to all its customers – no matter what time they needed us.

April 2018:  Another trip around the sun and so much has happened. The company is thriving and growing at an incredible pace.  We outgrew the original Rockford office and have moved to a new location in Rockford. The IT team were the superheroes of this move. The company shut down on a Friday night and reopened Monday in the new location with everyone able to come into work and begin their day – like the move had never happened. I want to stress my gratefulness for the IT team specifically, who worked 50+ hours over that weekend to pull this off. It was nothing short of a miracle.  And again, it was taking the time to plan this move that made it a success. A plan that began 11 months in advance of the actual move.

May 2018:  The next move is on the horizon. Just a year after launching Cleo’s India office, the company has outgrown the location. The teams in Bangalore and the US begin planning. With one successful move under our belt, we were even better prepared, and the mission was completed on time, with no service disruption.

Now, just a little over 2 years after the acquisition, Cleo’s growth is at light speed. It’s time to forge a new department – Customer Success. Buckle up… this ride is far from over.

The next chapter:  Customer Success and the Birth of Spudman!

Read the full blog series:

New Horizons and My “Highly Illogical” Road to here
The Engines are Misfiring, Scotty!
Warp Drive to Acquisition: Teams Tested. Lessons Learned.
Captain’s Blog April 2016: Cleo – To infinity and beyond!
The Finality of Infinity and Beyond


Matthew is a Senior Business Advisor at Compass Point Consulting and provides hands-on consulting & coaching to help family businesses close performance gaps; give owners practical, actionable tools that drive growth; deliver training to develop leaders and position the business for successful ownership transition - all on their terms.

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