The Synergy Trap

The Synergy Trap

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With acquisition activity running into the trillions of dollars, the acquisition alternative continues to be the favorite corporate growth strategy of this generation's executives. Unfortunately, creating shareholder value remains the most elusive outcome of these corporate strategies. After decades of research and billions of dollars paid in advisory fees, why do these major decisions continue to destroy value?

Building on his groundbreaking research first cited in Business Week, Mark L. Sirower explains how companies often pay too much -- and predictably never realize the promises of increased performance and competitiveness -- in their quest to acquire other companies. Armed with extensive evidence, Sirower destroys the popular notion that the acquisition premium represents potential value. He provides the first formal and functional definition for synergy -- the specific increases in performance beyond those already expected for companies to achieve independently. Sirower's refreshing nuts-and-bolts analysis of the fundamentals behind acquisition performance cuts sharply through the existing folklore surrounding failed acquisitions, such as lack of "strategic fit" or corporate culture problems, and gives managers the tools to avoid predictable losses in acquisition decisions.

Using several detailed examples of recent major acquisitions and through his masterful integration and extension of techniques from finance and business strategy, Sirower reveals:


  • The unique business gamble that acquisitions represent
  • The managerial challenges already embedded in current stock prices
  • The competitive conditions that must be met and the organizational cornerstones that must be in place for any possibility of synergy
  • The precise Required Performance Improvements (RPIs) implicitly embedded in acquisition premiums and the reasons why these RPIs normally dwarf realistic performance gains
  • The seductiveness and danger of sophisticated valuation models so often used by advisers


The Synergy Trap is the first exposé of its kind to prove that the tendency of managers to succumb to the "up the ante" philosophy in acquisitions often leads to disastrous ends for their shareholders. Sirower shows that companies must meticulously plan -- and account for huge uncertainties -- before deciding to enter the acquisition game. To date, Sirower's work is the most comprehensive and rigorous, yet practical, analysis of the drivers of acquisition performance. This definitive book will become required reading for managers, corporate directors, consultants, investors, bankers, and academics involved in the mergers and acquisitions arena.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 304 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439137703 | 
  • May 2010
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Introduction: The Acquisition Game

Many managers were apparently over-exposed in impressionable childhood years to the story in which the imprisoned, handsome prince is released from the toad's body by a kiss from the beautiful princess. Consequently they are certain that the managerial kiss will do wonders for the profitability of the target company. Such optimism is essential. Absent that rosy view, why else should the shareholders of company A want to own an interest in B at a takeover cost that is two times the market price they'd pay if they made direct purchases on their own? In other words investors can... see more

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