The Value of Synergy

It’s hard work to to find a target candidate that fits a your corporate criteria model for acquisition or joint venture. Finding synergy is harder yet;

Professor J. Fred Weston has died at age 93. Fred was a giant in the field of M&A. He arrived at UCLA from Chicago in 1949 and over his career wrote 32 books and 147 journal articles, many of which dealt with M&A. He mentored many outstanding graduate students, including Nobel laureate Bill Sharpe.

I worked with Fred and had the privilege of taking over as Faculty Director for UCLA Anderson’s Executive Program on Mergers & Acquisitions from him in 2005. Fred continued to speak in the program. When I introduced him as the “John Wooden of M&A” (referring to UCLA’s legendary basketball coach), it was not an overstatement.

I recall Fred telling the story about how the word synergy came to be used in corporate deal making. The year was 1950, and Fred was at lunch in Westwood with executives from a nascent industry that would later become aerospace. Fred saw a drink menu on the table that promoted Irish Coffee, The Perfect Synergy. (Irish Coffee blends coffee and irish whiskey.)

Not knowing what synergy meant, Fred looked up the term after he returned to his office at UCLA and saw synergy = the interaction of two or more agents so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects. “Now that’s what an M&A is supposed to do,” thought Fred. He started using synergy in his writings to characterize successful deals, and the term became a cornerstone of academic and professional thinking.

Fred, I miss the synergy we shared, and I know many others do also.

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