Walker, who has taken a lead HR role in 36 acquisitions and three divestments during his career, said that keeping staff motivated and focused in fast-paced and acquisitive environments requires constant communication.
“It’s about ensuring employees are aware of what is happening firsthand; they must feel informed and privileged to receive the information ahead of the curve. Having the CEO as the interface between the company and the employees is critical and ensuring the underlying business continues to perform by keeping a business as usual [BAU] environment with minimal disruption,” he said.
Core components of a successful integration, he said, are to reinforce key objectives, underlying business growth, the bonus plans that are driven by the ‘BAU business’, and making sure that managers are informed and can manage their employees effectively.
Paysafe Group was formed in 2015 when Optimal Payments acquired Skrill for $1.3 billion and, overseen by Walker, the pair rebranded under one banner – a process for which the business won Best Employer Brand Management Programme Following a Merger or Acquisition at the 2017 Employer Brand Manager Awards. The business now employs around 2,500 people in 12 countries and continues to grow by around 20% per year.
“During the acquisition it helped to move to the new brand very quickly and the transformation was impactful and positive for everyone – we capitalised on it very quickly and came up with the mantra 'We Are Paysafe',” he said.
Walker said that by running workshops, attended by 600 employees, to explore what Paysafe meant to them and the customers they had “captivated our audience quickly”. He explained: “From those workshops we devised four key values and two years later those values that were the voice of the employee still resonate today and are fully integrated across the business.”
More recently Paysafe completed its $470 million acquisition of Texas-based Merchants Choice Payment Solutions in July this year while itself being under offer from private equity consortium Bidco, which consists of funds managed by Blackstone and CVC Investment Partners. The circa £2.9 billion deal has now been approved by shareholders although there are several more steps that the company must follow before the acquisition is completed.
“If you work in payments you have to expect to be in a transformational, growth-based, consolidated type of industry,” Walker said.
“From my perspective working in an organisation that is acquiring constantly, growing organically, and also always an interesting proposition to competitors or investors means you have to create an internal awareness that differentiates from the external stuff that’s going on.
“You need to protect staff from the constant change that is occurring and make sure people are directed and that their objectives are aligned to getting things done. Business as usual (BAU) is critical. With a company that is constantly for sale or acquisition, inertia can set in and you can take your eye off the everyday stuff that needs doing and growth can slow.”
Walker said that an effective HR function needs to make sure it engages with and secures senior managers of any acquired company, and this should be done prior to closing the deal.
“It is critical that you have a strong, robust, technology-savvy HR platform and that the admin and process-driven stuff that HR people love to hate is taken care of in an appropriate platform that can scale, is culturally agnostic, consumer-savvy and global in nature,” he stated.
Walker said that the underlying DNA of any business is its people and that it was vital not to forget those among all the talk of numbers, multiples, integration and economies of scale. In a negotiating situation HR should be a challenger on behalf of its people, he added.
“Good HR people have the ability to be the conscience of the company but also to assess skills and culture more so than perhaps their peers would in that situation.
“HR has such a huge role to play in making the grass shoots of an acquisition successful by doing simple things very fast and effectively to make them work from day one," Walker said. “You need to make sure your HR is bloody good unless you want to be reverse-engineered in an acquisition situation.”