You might not think, at first, that the mergers-and-acquisitions game has anything to do with other games, especially bowling. But you’d be surprised not only by the number of parallels between the two, but what the pins-and-ball sport can teach you about the art of acquiring companies—specifically, the internet technology or IT angle.
To understand how bowling compares to M&A activity, consider the two broad types of bowlers: Casual bowlers, and professional bowlers. There’s an astonishing amount of difference between the two. The more you understand these differences, the more takeaways you’ll gain for M&A.
The casual bowler
The casual bowler is the person who drops by the lanes for a little fun. Sure, they’d love to win, but they take a simplistic view of the game: Grab a ball. Throw it down the lane. Aim at the pins. Knock down as many as you can. It’s deceptively simple (just like golf is “knocking a little ball into a hole”), but anyone can bowl and enjoy some success. That’s why there are so many kids’ birthday parties at bowling alleys.
But break down what the casual bowler does—and does not do—and you’ll understand more. Bear in mind, we’re setting up this description so we can contrast it to the professional bowler. And we’re doing that to compare these two types of bowlers to—you guessed it—two different types of acquirers.
There’s not much equipment when it comes to bowling: Just a ball and shoes. The casual bowler will rent shoes from the front desk. They’ll grab a “house ball” from the rack.
They don’t know much about scoring; some even struggle with today’s automatic scoring machines. They simply run up to the foul line, toss the ball, and hope for the best.
There’s a ton that they don’t know. They don’t understand form. Or “approach.” They don’t understand the mechanics of the ball going down the lane. They don’t realize that the lane itself has actually been oiled, making the front part slicker than the back.
They’re also unaware of the shortcomings of their limited equipment. Those house shoes, aside from being ugly and smelly, don’t provide proper support. That house ball? It’s “ambidextrous.” Which means it’s okay for right- or left-handed bowlers—yet good for neither. It might be damaged (it sure gets abused a lot) or even defective. The casual bowler doesn’t know, or care.
In other words, the casual bowler proceeds blithely, frame by frame.
The pro bowler
The professional bowler, like the casual bowler, wants to win. But the similarities end there.
The pro approaches the game with a purpose. They’re looking for every strategic advantage they can find to win. They approach the game holistically, not frame-by-frame.
Every detail matters, a lot, to the professional bowler. Take their shoes. They’ve researched the proper fit. They’ve gotten customized shoes made for them—shoes that are actually modular, meaning that the bowler can swap out the heel or the sole, on the fly, depending on things like their stance and gait. They know that the shoe is the foundation for everything they do.
The same attention goes into the choice of their bowling ball. They’ve researched the different types of balls and ball construction available. They know the different resin cover stocks that are on the ball—and how they will perform in different oil patterns. (Of course the pro bowler knows all about oil patterns!)
We said “ball,” but it’s really “balls,” plural. A pro bowler will usually bring a minimum of two balls to a game: a “strike ball” and a “spare ball.” They may even bring up to ten, giving them different types of performance based on factors as seemingly unnoticeable as the elevation.
The balls they use are not ambidextrous. They’re custom-drilled to optimize what’s called the “positive access point,” so when it drops, it’s in harmony with its weight and spin.
Whereas a casual bowler will simply walk up to the line to throw, the pro bowler’s approach is measured, practiced, and perfected. Their feet don’t follow parallel tracks; rather, they follow a single track, like a tightrope. This gives the ball a clear path of travel off the backswing. They’re measuring “rev rates,” or how fast the ball spins as it goes down the lane.
The pro bowler studies the oil pattern. They adjust their game before they even start, with test throws to determine where the ball “breaks,” so they know where to stand, how much strength to put on the ball, where it will track, and how best to hit the “pocket” that will maximize their odds of a strike.
Finally, they don’t go it alone. When bowling on a team or in a league, they know their teammates, and have studied the competitors. They rely on multiple coaches and advisors, and will spend hundreds, even thousands, of hours practicing.
From bowling to IT in M&A
Surprisingly, there are a lot of corporate leaders who approach an acquisition (and its IT component, as we’ll detail), the way a casual bowler approaches a set of pins. They’re just “tossing the ball,” without establishing a clear picture of the overall goal, nor the strategy to achieve it. They’re not maintaining accurate scorecards.
As in bowling, you need to assess the IT side of an acquisition holistically: the infrastructure, the data architecture, the governance, procedures, controls, IT organization and HR factors, the entire project portfolio. Once you’ve positively identified the goal, then you can get technical. But IT—in either the acquiring company, the acquired one, or both—is often left in the dark. That’s a game-breaker, since IT is critical to every business function in today’s workplace.
You can even drill down to bowling-level specifics to find eye-opening inspirations:
- In bowling, the shoes are your foundation. They help you take the right path. In M&A, your people are your foundation. Your run-books are your path. But as with modular shoes, you often need to adjust.
- Successful bowling depends upon execution: The approach, the swing, the release, and the follow-through. After every frame, the pro bowler consults their advisor. So, too, with IT in post-merger integration or PMI: Smart acquirers realize that their in-house IT teams are not only stressed trying to keep the lights on, but they lack the specialized expertise required for PMI. So they turn to an on-call tiger team, such as Ensunet.
- Pro bowlers strive for continuous improvement. Frame-by-frame, they aim to lift their game, even as the game changes. They fatigue. Their fingers swell. Competitors try and follow their track line. So they’re always adjusting, based on data. PMI works the exact same way.
- The pro bowlers know the other players on their team. A savvy acquirer does the same: They understand the influence of “players” such as finance, legal, R&D, sales, and operations. They want to leverage IT to keep them all at peak performance.
- In bowling, there’s that oil pattern that makes the ball so difficult to control. In the IT world of M&A, we’d liken that to cybersecurity—an equally slippery challenge. Just as different bowling alleys—and even lanes—have different oil patterns, different companies—and even lines of business—have their own levels of cyber threats and maturity. The pro bowler takes pre-game practice shots to “find” the oil pattern. The smart acquirer does things like pen-testing (“white-hat hacking”) to seek out vulnerabilities.
The final frame
At the end of the day, an acquisition is about creating value. Not all M&A activity results in a win; the “pros” beat the “casual bowlers” every time. The right strategy, tactics, and professional guidance translate to knocking down those pins.
Bowling is a game. PMI is serious business. Find out just how good Ensunet is at it—and how we can help you, too. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation initial consultation.