HP is one of a multitude of companies that has overpaid on acquisitions, and like those other companies, it cannot claim that it lacked outside advice and guidance. In fact, HP paid $30.1 million in advisory fees toand Barclay’s Capital for guidance on how much to pay for Autonomy and whether the deal made sense. So why did they not spot the accounting manipulation or recognize that synergy would be elusive? In general, why, if acquiring firms pay so much for "expert" advice, do so many deals go bad?
Conflicting roles: The answer can be seen in an imperfect analogy. Asking an investment banker whether a deal makes sense is analogous to asking a plastic surgeon whether there is anything wrong with your face. After all, if either party says “No”, they have no business to transact and no revenues to generate. Allowing the dealmaker (the investment banker) to also be the deal analyst (provide advice on whether the deal is a good deal) is a recipe for bad deals and we have no shortage of those. The solution is simple in the abstract but transitioning to it may be difficult. The deal making has to be separated from the deal analysis. Put differently, investment bankers should do what they do best, which is to manage the mechanics of the deal, and be paid for the service. There should be a third party, with absolutely no stake in the deal's success or failure, whose job it is to assess the deal to see if it makes sense, with compensation provided just for that service. Why has this common sense change not happened yet? First, as I noted in my last post, many acquiring companies want affirmation of decisions that they have already made (to acquire), rather than good advice. Second, the same entity (say,
- When a big deal surfaces, bankers line up to be part of that deal, willing to bear almost any cost to get involved.
- The bigger the deal, the worse the advice you are likely to get; the conflict of interest that we mentioned earlier gets magnified as the deal gets larger.
- Individual bankers will be judged on their capacity to get deals done and not on the quality of their deal advice or valuation expertise. Thus, it is not surprising that the biggest stars in the M&A firmament are the dealmakers. In fact, it is interesting that Perella Weinberg is listed as one of HP”s advisors on the Autonomy deal. Joe Perella, co-founder of the firm has a long history in the acquisition business that goes back almost four decades to his position as co-head of M&A at First Boston in the 1970s. He left the firm, with the other co-hear of the First Boston M&A team, (Bid 'em up) Bruce , to create Perella, a lead player in the some of the biggest acquisitions of the 1980s. He returned to head M&A at Morgan Stanley for a few years before leaving again to found Perella Weinberg. Through all the years, it seems to me that the singular skill that he possesses is not his capacity to value target companies but that he can get any deal done.
The deal table: In many businesses, companies measure their success based upon market share and revenues. M&A bankers are no different and their success is often measured by where they fall in the deal table rankings. Here, for instance, is the latest deal table from Bloomberg, listing the top bankers for M&A globally, in 2011 and 2012.
So what can we do to change this focus on deal making? We do have to begin by changing the way we compensate bankers in deals but we also have to follow up on deals. I would like to see some entity generate deal tables that track the largest deals from five years ago and report how much those deals have made (or lost) for stockholders in the acquiring firms. It would be interesting to see the list of the top 10 bankers in terms of value creating and value destructive deals.