In this episode, I visited with Don Stern, Managing Director of Corporate Monitoring & Consulting Services. We consider how the M&A process benefits from independent oversight. Stern believes the best time to bring in an independent is “as early as is practicable”. By doing so there can be preliminary discussions with senior management about the process, sometimes at the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) level and at other times with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). From these initial meetings an independent monitor could be a part of the acquirer’s team assembled for the project. He also noted there would probably be a due diligence room with documents made available for the acquiring company to review under a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). That could be meetings where teams from one company meet with teams from the other company. Stern reminded us that M&A work to some extent is “a fire drill, as everyone’s working very hard in compressed time schedules, trying to do a lot in a very short period of time.” This means at times issues pop up which may require the companies to further negotiate the terms of an escrow or other risk management protection for the buyer.
A key is the independent nature of the monitor. Part of it is that they have no stake in the outcome, no stock to vest or other remuneration. Also, it is natural for the target company’s employees to have their guard up as they are more than a little wary about anybody coming in and asking a question. Stern said, “I find that people open up, I’m more willing to be forthcoming when somebody’s outside either company comes in and is asking the questions really in a non-threatening way. The independent monitor is just looking for the facts. I find that we are able to get more information than I think we would otherwise get if we were not independent.”
This FCPA Safe Harbor for M&A re-emphasizes how powerful a tool an independent monitor can be in the M&A context. Stern ended his remarks by noting that the Department of Justice (DOJ) certainly sees it as good practice to have a third party independent involved on both the company side and the reporting side, if required. All of this lends credibility to your ethics and compliance program. If your company finds itself under scrutiny from a M&A transaction, you can take some comfort in the strategies outlined in this series.