Mergers and acquisitions activity has rebounded strongly since the early days of the pandemic, with the total value of global deals valued at some $4.3 trillion over the course of 2021.
Business schools have benefited from a robust recovery in M&A, with the growth opportunities that are emerging for many companies driving senior executives, investment bankers, legal professionals and financial consultants to executive education courses to capitalize on the dealmaking boom.
Jonni Junkkari, director of the Mergers and Acquisitions program at Aalto University Executive Education, says demand for training is substantially elevated, and the feverish dealmaking activity is changing the types of participants who are enrolling in the Finnish school’s M&A course.
“We have had a record high demand for the program in the past two years,” he says. “In the past, most participants were from the CFO’s office. However, as the demand has increased, we now have many business development, HR and strategy leaders participating in the program.”
He reports other changes in the make-up of the cohort, including an uptick in participants from non-traditional companies and industries such as gaming.
“This type of increase in diversity brings added value to all participants,” says Junkkari, explaining the benefits of taking an executive course in M&A. “For instance, many of the established companies are looking to acquire digital capabilities, and they appreciate hearing the thoughts of people who work for digital-first companies.”
Stressing further upsides, Junkkari says that while the participants are often very experienced business leaders, very few have had a holistic experience of, or even visibility to, the entire M&A lifecycle (target identification, valuation, due diligence, planning, integration). The academic says that many participants are looking to plug gaps in their knowledge of the phases and how different aspects are linked and build on each other.
“For instance, understanding the strategic rationale for M&A is a must, regardless of your role,” he says. “Similarly, everyone should understand how deal synergy targets are typically developed and measured, and how they connect to strategy and deal rationale and goals, and how synergy goals drive integration goals.”
In addition to gaining a good understanding of the entire M&A process and each of its phases, the Aalto participants get practical tools, including templates and workbooks for valuation and integration. They also have the chance to share experiences and to network with each other.
An expanding field of M&A executive education programs
Many schools are also looking to launch executive programs focused on M&A. London’s Imperial College Business School launched a short course on M&A in May 2021. Since then 500 learners have completed the program — making it the school’s most successful launch ever, according to associate professor Marc Kitten.
The program attracts mostly senior executives responsible for their firm’s growth, portfolio and investments, especially those seeking to capture value through mergers to create synergies of revenue, cost and capital.
“M&A professionals are very eager to continue their learning and development right now,” says Kitten. Demand is high because finding the right opportunity, at the right time and price, is a big challenge for these very senior business leaders.
With so much capital chasing so few opportunities, competition for the best deals is also fierce, he points out. Once the deal has been agreed, integrating the cultures and capturing the synergies — especially the revenue synergies — is another common challenge that M&A professionals face, he adds.
But Kitten is clear the rewards far outweigh the risks. “A well-executed merger deal brings huge potential,” he says, adding that clarity of thought is one key to successful dealmaking. “For the top management of the acquirer to secure the most valuable outcome, they need to ensure there is a proper strategic reason for the deal, with clarity on the value creation opportunity. A trustworthy post-merger integration team is also essential.”
The Imperial College online M&A course leads learners through both the financial and the strategic aspects of corporate restructuring. Over 11 weeks, learners will identify the functions, benefits and challenges of various forms of deals. At the end of the program, they will be equipped to participate in a successful M&A deal, from identifying the benefits for both buyer and seller, to establishing valuation, to leveraging bidding techniques.
It is just one of a number of courses helping professionals ride the deals boom. INSEAD offers the M&As and Corporate Strategy course for executives in both France and Singapore. There has been a rush of demand for the training as M&A activities have been on the rise in the past year, says Laurence Capron, Professor of Strategy at INSEAD. “Participants benefit from taking the program by becoming more reflective about their corporate growth strategy through acquisitions, and equipped with a financial toolkit and post-merger integration frameworks for executing deals,” she says.
Furthermore, Capron says leaders can benefit by deploying a rigorous and disciplined process of acquisition, keeping emotions and egos in check, and paying careful attention to post-merger frictions to counteract forces of value destruction that underlay every M&A deal.