The SCUBA world was abuzz yesterday as the news came out that SSI was acquired by Mares. ‘Buzz’ really seems like an appropriate description to me as I travel the internet looking at the various social media conversations that have surfaced.
As an SSI dive pro working through an SSI shop that does not currently sell Mares products, I am understandably curious about what this will mean. Not just for me but for the dive community at large. Having said that ‘curious’ doesn’t mean despairing.
My family sold a business to a publicly traded corporation in 2000 so the acquisition of a one enterprise by a significantly larger one is something I have first hand experience with.
Just a head’s up… this is a relatively long post in order to provide some context that is important and relevant.
Fear is the Mind Killer
One of the costs companies pay during an acquisition is that of public perception. You can already see the bills starting to stack for both brands in the tenor of some of the social media commentary not twelve hours after the announcement.
- SSI shops will have to sell Mares products which some people apparently don’t care for
- PADI shops that sell Mares will be forced to go SSI or take on entirely new product lines
- SKuba Steve will have to buy all new gear
- SSI should be independent of manufacturing (yes I must admit to having this run through my head too)
- Mares will sell SSI to PADI
You can dig through the offerings, financial position etc. for both companies and create all sorts of business rationales. They’ll sound like they make sense in the absence of more data. Most of them anyway – some of the comments have me baffled but let’s face it some stuff on the internet is just baffling. Like Nyan Cat and My Space.
Been There – Done That
Our company; Directed Energy (now IXYS Colorado) designs and sells niche scientific instruments and products.
In the late 90’s we entered into negotiations with IXYS (IXYS… NASDAQ: IXYS) to develop a custom silicon transistor. During the course of those discussions we managed to get ourselves acquired.
Fourteen years ago I would have told you that my career at Directed Energy was over. I didn’t want to sell the company, not really. My plan had always been to buy the rest of my family out and take over. With a few strokes of a pen I felt my future disintegrating under the inexorable waves of change. Change I didn’t want.
- Would we have to buy all IXYS components for our pulse generators?
- Would IXYS absorb the transistor portion of our business and liquidate the pulse generator product line?
- Would I keep my job?
- Would we all have to move to California?
- Would they take over management?
- Maybe we’ll get sold for scrap!?
- On and on and on…
My son was just turning two I had people other than myself counting on me – quite frankly, it was frightening. Then I had a fantastic opportunity as the other founders made their exits and I went from Operations Manager to General Manager reporting directly to the CEO. If I thought I was unsettled before, at this point I was petrified. Now both my own family and those of my team were counting on me to make good decisions, oh and so were our other corporate divisions and the board of directors and shareholders.
So before the ink was even dry I had manufactured a list of catastrophic outcomes that would never come to pass. What a waste of energy!
Nearly 14 years later our company is stronger than it has ever been; with cash in the bank; we owe no debt; the other founders had the opportunity for an exit strategy from a family business and I have the privilege of leading a great team of people creating products that enable life changing scientific work every single day. That wasn’t my plan but it’s working out. Once I finished fighting change and started working on the opportunities it presented we began to prosper. What we have today could not have been possible without the transition the acquisition represented.
Keep the Faith
Disruption in business always creates two things:
It’s easy to set our expectation to ‘Failure’ and do nothing. Predict failure → do nothing → reap failure = “I told you so.”
I live in Fort Collins, CO where SSI is headquartered and have had several opportunities to visit their facility and meet with Doug and some of his coworkers. I know Doug well enough to know he believes strongly in SSI’s mission; in the sport of SCUBA and in the divers, instructors and store owners in the SSI family. I’m looking forward to hearing more about what to expect going forward in the coming weeks and months. It probably won’t go quite as intended but they will adapt and so will the diving community at large.
After 14 years of post acquisition experience, I realize that we can’t understand, contribute or agree with everything that changes in our markets but we can focus our energy on identifying opportunities that changes will offer up and develop them into successful strategies for both the business of diving and the education of current and future SCUBA divers.
Like the Pawnee Grasslands of our beautiful state – the future of our industry is wide open and full of promise for the future.
The surface interval’s over… get out there and dive!
© 2013 Stephen Krausse