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Acquisition Lessons: The Importance of Leading with Consistency and Compassion

Acquisition Lessons: The Importance of Leading with Consistency and Compassion

Having grown up in a manufacturing family, I saw many small companies like my father’s get bought up by the “big guys” over the years. I always took pride in our organization’s strength and independence, and I certainly never expected to lead my family’s business through an acquisition.

My father started CNC Software Inc. when I was born. By the time I took over in the mid-2010s, the company had steadily grown; my mom, dad, and uncles were heavily involved in the business, and there was a close kinship among employees. In 2020, CNC Software was at its peak and more successful than ever before.

Mastercam logo Paperless Parts blog

CNC Software Inc. is the creator of the widely used CAD/CAM software, Mastercam.

Acquisition: an Unexpected but Ideal Path Forward

While many of our employees assumed we’d stay a strong, solid, small company forever, I knew we’d require assistance if we wanted to remain competitive. We needed to build on our momentum to continue growing; otherwise, we’d be outspent by bigger shops in our niche.

As I explored options to accelerate our growth, it became clear that the best strategy was to join a network that allowed us to connect with more people, partners, and resources. While we didn’t seek out an M&A deal, I was open-minded when a trusted partner approached us.

Sandvik has always respected us, not just as a manufacturing entity but as individuals. They value our culture and our approach to work and life. We knew joining the Sandvik family would be an ideal fit for us.

Our company was acquired in the fall of 2021. While our decision to move ahead with the acquisition surprised some of our employees, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s the best path forward for CNC Software. Our partnership with Sandvik is already positively affecting our growth, and I am excited about our future.

Key Lessons Learned from Our Acquisition

Still, even the best acquisitions can be bittersweet, and the transition provided many opportunities for me to grow as a leader. I learned two valuable lessons I’ll carry with me for the rest of my career.

1. Clear, consistent communication is critical

Consistency in communication is essential during a time of transition. I ensured our leadership was involved in the acquisition and clearly understood how and why it was happening. Demonstrating alignment in our message and actions allowed us to build trust with the greater team.

We communicated as much information as we could with our employees to help them feel connected to our decision and in control of their own futures.

In addition to communicating what was happening, I also found it helpful to be vulnerable with my team and openly share my feelings. Although I was excited about our acquisition, I also had some fears and concerns.

Many leaders equate vulnerability with weakness, but I believe showing my more “human” side helped me come across as genuine and relatable. It also helped foster a sense of unity. Sharing my feelings allowed me to connect more deeply with our employees.

2. Give people space to have their feelings

As our employees shared their feelings about the acquisition, I learned that I could not control how others felt. While some embraced the acquisition and understood the rationale and benefits, others struggled to come to terms with the news.

When we initiated the process, my goal was to retain 100% of my team. I wanted everyone in the company to believe in their bones—as I did—that this was the best acquisition in the industry and the best decision for our business. But I realized that people process change differently, and some need room and time to grieve the end of an era.

Meghan West Blog for Paperless Parts

Aerial view of the CNC Software headquarters in Tolland, Connecticut.

Our employees feel connected to our company. Even if their day-to-day roles were staying the same, the future they had envisioned was changing. I couldn’t force them to feel optimistic about that shift, even if I did.

Equally important as recognizing that I couldn’t force my entire team to be happy about the acquisition was realizing that some employees’ displeasure with the acquisition didn’t make it a failure.

I had to separate their feelings from my decision—which were both valid. The fact is that 100% positivity and approval ratings are rare. There’s a reason we have the expression, “you can’t please everyone.”

As business leaders, we need to accept that not everyone will agree with our vision and decisions and have the courage to do what’s best for our company—while at the same time making transitions as seamless as possible for our people.

Today, we’re enjoying settling into our new normal. But less than a year out from our acquisition at the time of writing, I know I still have much to learn.

I do know one thing, though. I’m committed to showing up as the leader my team has come to expect—one who’s honest and genuine and will put her team first. It might not always be easy, but allowing myself to be comfortable with uncomfortable shifts will help us continue growing in a positive direction.

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Meghan West is the President and CEO of CNC Software LLC, now a part of Sandvik. Meghan earned her BS in Business from Bentley College and an MBA in Management from Hawaii Pacific University. She grew up around CAD/CAM, gaining valuable job experience inside and outside of the manufacturing industry before officially joining CNC Software in 2009, as Operations Manager. In 2014, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers named Meghan one of the “30 Under 30 Future Leaders of Manufacturing.” In 2015, she was named President of CNC Software. Meghan resides in Tolland, CT, with her husband and two children.