Today. I'm here with Martin Richenhagen, former CEO of AGCO Corporation. Martin has a vast amount of experience in M&A and today we're going to talk about why international deals fail. Our learning objective is how to prevent international deals from failing.
Can we kick off with maybe telling us a little bit about your background?
I did my life as a high school teacher for several years, and then I did get an offer from a privately owned steel company. For 10 years I did everything from sales to logistics too.
M&A already at that time, I didn't know that this was a science, so we just did it. And so then from there, I moved to Schindler Elevators.
And then to a family-owned manufacturer of agricultural equipment. Finally, I was hired by AGCO Corporation in 2004 and retired from AGCO this January.
Let's talk about M&A transactions. As a CEO how important is it to be involved with M&A deals?
First of all, I think by coincidence, it was very important for my company because the company started as a management buyout of a completely failed acquisition in the United States.
So a German company wanted to make a deal here in the United States and completely missed it.
And from there on the company made almost 30 acquisitions and was very active in the consolidation of the industry which happened basically in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
I was involved in acquisitions right from the beginning because that steel company wanted to become a global, more global player.
And so you always have the option between doing it in-house, greenfield, or maybe doing it on acquisition. And we bought a business in the United States called Thomas Steel we bought from US Steel.
That basically helped us to become a more global player at that time.
Can you walk me through that in terms of what your approach looks like and just to get an understanding of what your role is?
The role of the CEO can vary. I personally knew the industry very, very well. And a lot of the targets were private-owned companies. So it was always helpful to talk to the owner, to talk to the families in order to find out whether anything could be done.
Some deals happened quickly after only a few meetings, but some deals only happened after years.
You want to know your space and then when you want to do attractive deals, which in the eyes of the buyer is a cost, don't overpay then pay them recent or decent multiple.
Then, of course, it helps if you, first of all, it's better to do it with private-owned companies versus public-owned.
Public owned, normally have to do auctions and in private ownership you can do some deals, just pull your personal relationship with the families or with the owners.
I'm curious about your approach to the whole relationship and courting. What did those conversations look like?
That depends on the culture of the country where you want to do a deal. So in some countries, you can be a little bit more straightforward.
And in other countries, you need to first build a relationship before you even think about talking about something like that because people might find it very, very sensitive and might find it, not very polite to basically meet them and say ‘I want to buy’.
Also, management is important. Sometimes management is important in the decision-making process. You need to have a relationship first.
You need to think about their perspective and you might want to talk about their career. You might offer them a job and things like that.
Can you give me examples? Because I think the culture part is fascinating where I feel like America is a good example of where you're pretty forward. You can almost put it in the email.
I can give you several examples so I can give you the example of a leading company in Europe, in the paint business. So this was a deal that was mainly public.
The CEO of the American public-owned company went there, talked to the media just before going to the meeting, and then wanted to make a deal.
Of course, the target company saw this as an unfriendly act and an unfriendly approach. The American CEO said, ‘oh, I was very friendly’. But in the field of acquisitions, it's not friendly or unfriendly.
It's not a question of your style. It's a question of whether the other company wants to talk or not?
You have to be very careful in how you do it and you have to be also very confidential and not tight in time to limit the amount of communication to third parties.
So say you are going in a culture that is sensitive around them in a conversation you're not going to be so direct. How would you bring it up? What does that look like? How does that unfold?
I think what you need to do is you need to first create a relationship, try to find a reason why you want to meet them.
Talk to the right people which are the chairman and CEO most probably. If you have somebody who can introduce you, it can be better sometimes. And then basically the first meeting, you maybe don't talk about it at all.
And then after maybe two or three meetings, we start to raise this idea and it has to be somewhat generated in common discussion together. And you might look into the verbiage or the words you're using.
You might maybe not want to call it an acquisition. You might want to call it a merger.
I'm on the board of a German American merger, which was actually a takeover. So a Praxair of America took over Lindy, a global player in the area of industrial gas.
And so it was the chairman and CEO, the American chairman and CEO did it in a very careful way. They always called it a merger and then they also came in with the idea to call the new company Lindy.
So that means to do everything, to make sure that the others don't feel to be taken over.
Isn't that a lot of traveling back and forth?
It is, yes. Maybe you don't want to do that for a 50 billion company, but when you talk about a 10 billion business or a major business, it needs traveling and it needs to meet people more than one time.
Sometimes, of course, this is the business of private equity and banks to do things like that. But if you buy a company, it's very easy and simple to buy a company from private equity, because you already know they want to sell it.
You know that the price will be high, but those are the easy deals. So if you want to do the more attractive deals and if you want to do the more financially interesting deals, it needs a little bit more work, yes.
That is why also during my active time I always wanted to create a relationship with all competitors anyhow, so that means where can you meet them? You can meet them at trade shows, you can meet them at associations.
And so I basically started already in my previous German private-owned company. This is why AGCO hired me because I knew my predecessor, I knew already, we talked before.
And so when you have this kind of relationship, you already have basically laid the base work for further discussions in the future.
And sometimes it won't work. Sometimes people would say, ‘well, actually I don't want to sell’. That doesn't mean that they will never sell.
I can give you an example of a private-owned company in France. They're in the soil preparation business and a major player in Europe. I met the owner many, many years ago.
So something like 25 years ago, I developed a very good relationship. I invited him to visit, I showed him the factories. I was reinvited. So we are just already at the beginning of light due diligence. And then we ended up with a discussion where I attempted to buy his company.
It was a smaller company. So the price I had in mind was somewhere between 200 and 250 million euros, he didn't want to sell.
But the conclusion was what he told me is Martin, because we were already having, enjoying a friendship, is that he said, if I ever sell, I will sell it to you, wherever you are. So this guy came back to me in 2020, my last year in the job, and said, now I'm prepared to sell.
And we looked into the numbers and we looked into the factories and into the company and into their market position while we were interested in buying them, maybe yes, before for 200, 250 million, we did not buy the company.
So that means sometimes it can be too late. That happens typically to private-owned companies. So I have friends who owned a very important business in switches, electric switches and things like that, circuit breakers and so on.
So they were the market leader, family-owned, The daughter knew my wife. The father was talking about the question of whether they should keep the business or not.
I knew the daughter and I knew the son-in-law. And I said, well, actually, if I were you, I would strongly recommend considering selling the company and he did not.
He handed it over to his son-in-law and the son-in-law, how I expected it to be was really not capable of running it.
So the company had a value of maybe 2 billion when we talked and they ended up having to sell it because of liquidity issues for 350 million, maybe five, six years later.
If people don't really don't see the window of opportunities, I talked to a few private-owned survivors so to say; The industry of agricultural equipment is pretty much consolidated.
So, I talked to some of the family owners who were basically German and Italian. We were talking about merging the company, et cetera.
So if we merge the company, you would become a shareholder of AGCO corporation of between 10, depending on the deal, 10 to 20%, something like that.
And then you could stay in if you like, or you could also start to sell whenever you want. It would be a good investment, but it would not be, have to be an investment forever. So when we talk to these guys, the stock per share price of AGCO was maybe around 50.
Now it's around well, it was around 150. I didn't check today. So let's say 120 to 140. So for them, that would have been a super deal. And I still know those people and I, of course, still talk about it.
Actually, maybe you made a mistake here and they said, no, no, no, no. We didn't want to be part of a big public-owned company. We want to be independent.
So that's what happens very often with family-owned companies more in Europe than in the US. In the US you have people who are more financially deliverable.
And so the family ownership and then the name of the company and things like that don't matter so much to them. So when they see a great opportunity for a good deal, they might do it.
How do you get past any concerns maybe somebody would otherwise have where I'm going to meet with a competitor. Are there any concerns when you're having those conversations as you're networking?
You have those concerns, mainly with very big US companies. Because for them, legal is very, very important and it depends. So I never had a problem, for example, having open conversations with Caterpillar because they knew us.
We had basically acquired them as they are an agricultural equipment division. So we had all had maybe a more constructive relationship and we are still buying components from them.
They basically are one of the acceptance to do business because they're very strong and excellent dealer network in the United States. Talking to them was not that difficult. Of course, everybody knows what you're allowed to talk about and whatnot.
Another example is with John Deere, it was always more centered. John Deere was always concerned that people would do something illegal, something borderline.
And when you know that to have to be of course, much more careful. And you don't talk about the business so much, but about the weather or golf or whatever in America, it's most probably golf.
You can legally be in the legal framework, you do business, and you still can manage to have a good relationship without breaking any law.
In many industries competitors see each other as enemies, but you can change that. So I always changed it by going directly to the people, introducing myself, and just starting to talk.
And of course, what you want to do is you want to be interesting to them. So you talk about things they might want to know. They, of course, want to know everything about you, but don't want to tell you nothing about them.
My approach was always to be a little open upfront. I never really disclosed important secrets, but I always created the impression that I would be willing to share certain information, which they are interested in.
When you have some tough CEO old style who thinks you are the biggest enemy, just go there. Just talk to them.
As a CEO of a Fortune 500 company working on a number of deals. What percentage of your time are you spending in developing and curating these relationships?
Maybe 30% of my time, something like that. So you basically need to keep your network alive. When you only talk to people, let's call them targets.
So when you only talk to targets in case you want something, or you want to do something, they smell that and know that immediately. It's not bad after we had made so many acquisitions, we were known as a buyer.
That image is not completely bad because you know when people are interested in talking to you that there's some base idea heading into the light can also be that somebody doesn't want to talk to you because he knows all the fears that might bring, something like that up.
And then it depends on your reaction. And if you will keep it easy and say, well, actually I understood, I'm fine. Let's stay in a good relationship.
I have done deals where we basically met and then after two or three meetings, we came to the conclusion, no, they don't want to sell. And then what I always thought I missed, it might be that we don't, that we are not interested anymore in the future cost.
Why do you make an acquisition? So you either want to increase your market. You want to enter into a market you are not in, or you have a gap which you want to close.
The last one of course, if you can't close it by acquisition, you do it by research and development. That means people you talk to.
When I joined the company, we were very big in combine harvesters. And so I talked to people in order to find out whether we could do something together and the conclusion was no.
We started our development program which we finished in the meantime. And of course, now AGCO is not so interested anymore in making an acquisition in that area.
So, and that is something you can explain to people you talk to, and then they'll of course also not be mad at you when they later come and say, well, actually now I'm ready and then you'll say, well, actually, but we are done. We are not interested anymore.
Outside your 30% focused on developing these relationships, what are you using your other times for?
Depending on the company, but very important is investor relations, public relations. So you talk to your shareholders on the street, you talk to the media, and then of course it's important that you also have enough time to talk to your people.
And I always had time also to just sit down and think, and then come up with strategic ideas to develop strategies. That's also strategies owned by the CEO and you should really do it instead of outsourcing it from consultant firms.
I love it. And that was, let's say I did that for almost 17 years, which is much more than the average in the Fortune 300. I have to say, I really love my job. I was never running out of ideas and it wasn't boring.
So it was always exciting. So there was not one day where I went to the office and said, ‘Oh my gosh, how boring is this’. So I really had a great job at that post because of mergers and acquisitions as well.
AGCO was founded in 1989 by a management buyout. In the beginning, there was a huge German conglomerate in Cologne, called Klockner-Humboldt-Deutz. They were almost in everything they had. They were the market leader in trucks.
They had construction equipment, they had engines, they had tabby equipment, they had agriculture equipment. They were not very present here in the United States.
And they came to the US and bought a very solid well-known company with a strong brand called Allis-Chalmers. And now it's interesting to learn from that.
It's almost like a case study. The first thing is they basically fired all the executives. The second, they changed the brand from Allis Chalmers into Deutz, which in America, they used to call it Deutz. It's a difficult word to pronounce in English.
Then, that is typical for our industry. Kodak has paint colors by brand. John Deere is green, Allis Chalmers' color is orange. And they changed the orange to green. So new color, new brand.
So they lost a lot of identity and they lost a lot of brand image also in the marketplace and then came a very severe technical mistake they made.
The Deutz Tractor was mainly made and developed for Western Europe and Eastern Europe had an air-cooled diesel engine. So Deutz was the inventor of the diesel engine so they know about engines.
So they decided to put that air-cooled engine into the American tractor. So they discontinued basically the American platform and only had the Deutz platform for all countries without a lot of testing.
And then to find out that this air-cooled technology doesn't work so much in Texas and Arizona, and then the hot climates of North America. So they ended up with revenues of about 250 million only, from almost 2 billion at the beginning in the US.
The revenues were pretty much the same as the losses. So then they hired my predecessor who had no idea about that business. He was a guy who worked for international trucks and then for the tire industry.
And he came in with some colleagues and they basically tried to fix it, but couldn't, and so they were a very American style, very honest, told the Germans, well, that won't work. And so then the next job was trying to sell it.
And of course, who buys a company like that? Nobody did. And so the company ended up in a management buyout and they bought it for a very low price. What they basically bought was parts of the business. And this is basically how the founders of AGCO started.
Very interesting was their financial model. They basically sold all the receivables, but that was free from the beginning, but they also very lean on almost zero cash flow for two years. So that made them to be focused very much on cost.
And I was watching that from the outside, but still, already in the industry. From there, they did about exactly 26 acquisitions. And that basically did cost a company to about 3 billion in revenues within 20 years.
This was the number when I joined. So what they were not so much into as what they didn't do well was the post-merger integration. They didn't care so much about it.
So when I came, the company had 26 plans, 60 different IT systems. They didn't have investor relations. They didn't have PR, the human resource was really not important to them. They did not invest in research and development.
In 2003, the spending on research and development was 50 billion but they had a huge backlog of things which had to be done.
When I joined, and that's a question of whether you like it or not. I took over a kind of interesting, but very, very chaotic company.
The stock price was about $8 earnings, $1 per share, things like that. So when I left, the stock price was 120, revenues were close to 10 billion, we did have credit rating, which they didn't have at the time we started to pay a dividend. And the spending for R&D was close to 500 billion.
This was a very entrepreneurial job. I compare it to let's say when I still remember very well.
What are some of those factors that get overlooked, because these deals are particularly international deals, which obviously have its own unique challenges culture-wise and a bunch of things within that, that really make them hard and have a higher rate to fail?
We are just all watching the deal between Monsanto and Bayer. And I'm very close to your grant towards lining Monsanto and Bauman was running Bayer now. One very important thing is language.
So you need to master the language in order to be in a position to really understand the details.
You need to be a very good listener. So when you buy a company, your people, your team might be looked at as being slightly arrogant. And so that is something you want to avoid. So you want to listen to the new team, to the people.
You need to really objectively assess the processes because you will find out that both sides might have excellent processes or not.
So you need to understand what is going very well, what is not going well, but not only in the target company but also in your own company.
What I always recommend is to keep the management team in place for a certain period of time to have enough time to understand how good they are, how strong they are.
And then you might develop them into other positions in the company, but what I would never recommend, unless you have a really big call from these two, just come in and fire the department.
Because what you'll see basically, there's not only people leaving, it's know-how, it's experience, which is living with the people. So that is certainly something you'll want to avoid.
And then you need to clearly understand when it comes to, I think brands are important and depending on what business you're in, you need to understand the strengths of the brand you buy.
If it's an important brand, with a legacy, with customer identification image. Then of course, you want to integrate the brand harder than destroy it.
When I was talking about Lindy, sometimes the brand of the company you buy might be stronger than the brand you have. Therefore you should not just change everything in your direction.
What helps of course is if you have a very strong corporate culture in your company. And that is something I focused on as well. When I joined, actually not everybody, almost nobody wanted to work for us. It was a problem to hire good people.
After only a few years, everybody wanted to back us and everybody knew that we also would be great people to own their businesses.
Of course, we also made mistakes. We decided to go to China. So we only had a few small factories there and we wanted to be there much more than we had.
So we made a big investment in a state-of-the-art tractor factory including a world-leading new design, all greenfield, which was about $500 million. So we could control everything, we knew that this would work.
So we also needed them in order in our industry, you need to be a full line. So that means your dealer should have various things that the farmer needs.
So we then decided to buy a Chinese combine business, which was a former state-owned company, which then had been privatized and was owned now by the mayor of the city and some other guys.
And so we decided to buy it. We came to a deal and we bought 70%. When we then owned it and looked into the performance, we figured out that it was by far not performing as it should.
We had two first-class American audit firms doing due diligence plus our own people, very experienced in deals after they're done so many acquisitions.
And so what happened was that the seller basically just cheated on the numbers, sold and produced.
They only produced and sold about half of what they have sold us a little bit more. That was of course fraud. Now, the question is, what do you do?
I went to meet with the seller, with the mayor and I said to him, well, the chinese, are very proud. They don't want to lose their face. They don't want to have an image problem at all and specifically not politicians.
And I was very straightforward to the guy and I said, actually, you have two options. Option one is you hand over this 30% ownership you still have to us for free.
Option two is I make you the most famous person in China. And you might end up in jail, and he was scared, he was furious and left.
The next day, I went to his office. He was very polite, very kind. Everything was paid for, and we were the hundred percent owner, same day.
So this was a bad deal with a mistake, I would have never believed that it could happen. But with an outcome, which was at the end, it’s still okay.
That's a really interesting story. A great example of a culture clash essentially.
Who would believe that it's possible to basically for, instead of selling 8,000 combines, they only sold 4,000? How s it possible, and you can basically fake all your books? They obviously were in a position to do that.
Diligence is another very important subject, so it's very important. But when you want to do good deals, you sometimes compete with others.
So to be fast on due diligence, fast and efficient, and precise is a competitive advantage.
The second competitive advantage is when your financial model is simple. So when you need bank guarantees, state guarantees, five banks to be involved or whatsoever, it's always much more difficult if you can do a simple deal.
And in order to be in a position to do a simple deal for us, most very important to have a super-efficient bank relationship. And the bank we work with was Harbor Bank Dutch co-op bank owned by Dutch farmers, and they only invest in the food and Agri sector.
So that was a big advantage because they always knew what we were talking about. We didn't have to explain them the creation of the world, how our industry works, they know that already. They were very, very trustworthy.
So we bought a business called GSI, they are in grain storage. And so that was a deal of about, I think we ended up paying something between $800 900 million.
I talked to my board, we looked into it, this was owned by private equity. Never competitors. The board was not really so convinced, but for us, it was a perfect fit and it still is a perfect fit for the company, but I didn't have any finance in place.
So together with my CFO, I called the bank. The CEO of the bank explained to him what we wanted to do was talk about the price, which would be somewhere around $800 million.
And he said, well, ‘actually you have my word for $1 billion’. He explained why he said, well, actually maybe the $800 million won't work, because you might be in a competitive situation. So I covered you up to one billion.
I had nothing in writing, but the relationship was so good that we could do that and it worked out fine for all of us.
And that of course is a big advantage when you basically say, well, actually we want to buy the company. This is the price, the money can be wired tomorrow.
That's a completely different scenario than if you said on exit, I can imagine that the high-end tasks that we need to do due diligence, everything is subject to board approval and all those things, and then we have five private banks.
If you can create a simple deal that is always worth money because simple deals are always not as expensive as complicated deals.
The culture clash examples are interesting. Do you have any more stories around culture clash?
The company bought a company and a business in Finland. That was very interesting because that Finnish company was state-owned and had just been privatized. The privatization came with a certain request not to sell it to foreigners.
Before joining AGCO, I had a relationship with this company and we formed a kind of what we called Star Alliance.
We didn't have tractors, but they had, and we had all the other equipment. So we had a very, very close relationship.
So then AGCO was interested in buying the business. And before even joining, my predecessor talked to me about it because he knew that it would happen or close when I was on board.
And he said the problem is they don't want to sell it to Americans.
I talked to the CEO, I talked to the tractor company who knew me. I talked to the CEO of the holding company, which I know very well. He was a former secretary of the economy of Finland. He said, well, actually you might want to talk to the president together.
Finland is a small country. So that means immediately we had a meeting with the president and I was introduced as the best friend of the secretary of economy.
And he said, ‘Well, actually, the buyer is an American public-owned company, but the incoming CEO he's not an American, he's a German, he's our friend. We have known him for many years.
And so without any legal work, the government decided to support the deal or not go against it. And we were in a position to buy the company. So that's a very interesting cultural situation.
Finnish people are very different, so they don't talk so much. For Americans, that's very scary. So when I met with the management of the target for the first time, after dinner, we ended up naked in the sauna and that is actually unusual.
Americans tend to sit there with a bathrobe or boxer shorts or something like that. The good thing is Finns are people you can trust, so a word is a word.
Another element of that deal was that my predecessor, because he wanted to be fast and because of very light and quick diligence, decided to sell about $100 million of synergies to the street.
And when I then joined he said that well, actually know, you know, we own it. Thank you for your support. Now you need to find the $100 million.
And I said, well, don't you have any idea what, no, no, we have no idea about it. And I said, who is in charge of who the CEO is? And he said, well, that's completely stupid. There are no $100 million in synergies, by the way, I have a tie-up.
So the guy who I knew very well decided to leave because he saw that challenge being so unrealistic that he didn't think that he could do it. This was actually also something where you have to be careful.
I think you need to be conservative on the synergies. If you don't do that you'll end up in a very bad situation.
Another thing is also now in times, you're about to go higher and higher, you might end up with higher goodwill. That is something you have to analyze and you have to think about it.
You have to be outside of a worst-case or risk assessment where if the deal is still strategically very attractive and where you believe in goals, you still have to have a scenario where you basically know what happens if the goals don’t come in.
Which means you will have to hide off. And that can only do if your business is strong.
How do you keep from that happening? From being overzealous on this, catching the deal fever, and avoiding that whole goodwill impairment situation?
You need to keep cool when you're doing a deal. I was never in a situation where I was personally so excited and thought that I desperately wanted to do it.
There were deals I really wanted to do, but finally, if the numbers don't work, you walk away. And the only exception is to have an idea.
And that's basically typically in the, I'd say our industry is going more and more digital. And so those smaller digital startups, they very often come with very high multiples.
Then you need to think about it and you can do a kind of opportunity cost check. What would it cost if I did it in-house and then that helped too, but you still need to also plan for potential worst case impairments.
What's the best advice you'd give for people in the M&A space to increase their success on deals?
The best advice is you need to be a good communicator, good listener, and you need to understand your business very well. And you need to understand the target business even better.
What was your favorite thing about being a fortune 500 CEO?
I think what I liked was the American culture in a way that in some other countries, your image is based on how much noise you make, how much PR you do, and they call it charisma and things like that.
In America, we have a welcoming culture. And you are basically judged upon the measurable results you generate. And I started as a nobody, and I ended as somebody everybody knows, everybody on the business council, business roundtable, in the administration.
And the nickname was the German Tractor King. And I had a pretty good image because of the performance of the company. Not because of the bullshit I was telling people.
What was your least favorite thing about being a public company CEO?
I think that is analysts at the beginning. I wasn't used to that style. They are young. They're extremely aggressive, extremely impolite.
They don't know a lot about your business and they still attack you all the time. And that's something you need to understand and you need to cope up.
Do these analysts even correlate M&A activity with the actual growth of the organization? Or do you see that as a gap oftentimes?
M&A was always important for them. So it's very important that they understand the logic that they believe that you can handle it, that they believe that it fits into your business, and to understand what the other company is doing and things like that.
So that means they are not very creative. So when you produce tractors and buy another tractor business, that's fine with them. When you're in tractors and buy a grain storage business, they might already say, ‘Oh no, how can that work?’
And so that needs them a little bit more explanation and then a little bit more backlog information for them.
Martin. What's the craziest thing you've seen in an M&A?
I think the craziest thing I saw is the deal between Bayer and Monsanto.
Just two huge conglomerates of equals merging together?
Yes, and two cultures, two different cultures. And then what happened? I think something I've seen coming is that Americans handle everything, including legal issues as soon as a company is not owned by Americans.
Out of a sudden, the legal environment gets by far more tense and more aggressive. And I think that's happened to Bayer.
So now they have to pay for maybe mistakes Monsanto has made and said Monsanto was somewhat allowed to do that. And now Bayer, not anymore.
I'm talking about round-ups and things like that.
Another deal I found very interesting was the merger between Mercedes and Chrysler. That was very interesting to see because the idea behind Mercedes wanted to basically gain market share in the United States and that completely failed.
I think it failed also because of a mismatch of cultures. It's very funny in this industry, interesting things happen. So I don't know, nobody remembers about Mercedes at the beginning, or the shareholders in Tesla.
They sold their shares to get out of it with the loss. I think that they wouldn't do that again.
Thank you very much. I hope your audience liked what we were talking about.
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