The Big Will Eat the Bigger

I had a rather fascinating week last week, moving from a book party at Arianna Huffington’s, where Google CEO Eric Schmidt happened by, to the Accenture International Energy Conference in Vancouver, where Alan Greenspan and I were speakers.  Alas, I only had enough time to do a couple of talks on the first morning, asking the darkened audience if Alan were out there, before I let him have it over his mismanagement of the Fed.  He either wasn’t there, or was hiding under a table in the back. 

One of the points made by host Geoff Colvin, our moderator and Sr. Editor at Fortune, was that old – but – true saw, that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  (He was much more eloquent than this.)  The essential message was clear: more market share is exchanged during tough times than during good times.  It was a point echoed by a couple of other speakers on the same day.

I expect we will see quite a bit more of this before the current cycle is through, in all major industries.  In the tech world, we just saw Oracle play the white knight for Sun, after IBM seemed unwilling to catch the falling knife of Sun’s street value.  (This was probably the best combination Sun could have dreamed of, given the choices.) 

Who is up for grabs?  Almost everyone is fair game in this situation, and size is not always the determining characteristic of the acquirer; aggression is.  And, as everyone knows, the average for successful mergers is something around 25%; it is often a useful technique for confusing investors while mis-managing.  Even so, or perhaps for that reason as well, I think it is time to get ready for a series of large moves in the technology world. 

This trend will apply both to those you think deserve it (Sun and Nortel, per my call last year), Motorola, Yahoo! (by divisions) and others, but also, potentially, to many companies we don’t think of normally as purchase candidates. 

Get ready.

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