The rise of Silicon Valley has given way to new kinds of big, powerful tech companies. “Mega corporations” aren’t new, but the specific kind of breed that pertains to tech is a more recent concept that has even mutated in the last decade. And even more the “merger” culture which has surrounded them.
As these companies gain in size and power, so do their wallet, and so do their desire to continuously grow. By now, it’s common to see the news about the big, multi-billion-dollar acquisitions or mergers that these companies engage in, even if the trend is in decline.
Sure, the end goal for these investments is always “more money”. After all, these are corporations we’re talking about. But it’s also important to know that several other factors come into play here, and other considerations that might be obvious at first, but are essential for understanding what motivates these transactions.
These are some of the aspects to take into account.
Data has always been a valuable asset. But in this era, which is digital and has massive reach, optimization can be (and often is) the difference between success and failure. That’s why data today is much more valuable than ever. Just ask Google about it.
You can probably ask Microsoft too, which spent US$ 26 billion on LinkedIn. Sure, the social network for professionals was at a point-high, with healthy a revenue that would supposedly transfer to Microsoft once the deal was completed; but the value of the data Microsoft acquired cannot be understated.
LinkedIn was a very powerful addition to Microsoft’s already dominant enterprise platform. It was, in many ways, the final piece of the puzzle. Because LinkedIn has so much valuable data about its users, Microsoft can now implement it into its own services.
Another good example was Amazon buying Whole Foods for US$ 13.7 billion: the company has mastered the e-commerce sector, but one piece that’s urging to go mainstream is online grocery buying. The data that Whole Foods has available on consumer behavior will prove essential for Amazon to be able to send you vegetables to your house.
Resources, in the broadest sense of the word
It’s easy to think about these companies and picture them like giant, powerful machines working like clockwork, and while that might not be too far from the truth, the reality is also a bit more grounded. The truth is that these corporations, like any other, also have their own weaknesses, or are simply lacking in some aspect of their operations.
The biggest tech merger of all time was Dell’s acquisition of EMC for US$ 67 billion. Both companies had resources the other lacked. In the case of Dell, the buyer, it was essentially getting a bigger stake in the enterprise sector by way of storage services, and the brand EMC offered.
“Resources” can mean a lot of things. From entire manufacturing chains to the people that work in them. Microsoft gained a valuable asset with LinkedIn when Silicon Valley guru Reid Hoffman joined its board, for example.
Google, on the other hand, wanted to move its smartphone business in-house instead of outsourcing it to hardware partners. That’s why it spent 1.1 billion in a 2,000-people team from HTC. Now it has its own research, development and design team for its Pixel line of smartphones.
A way out
It’s not pretty, but it’s true: many companies seek mergers to find a way out of trouble. Precisely, HTC has had a lot of problems since 2015 thanks to a competitive smartphone market. Now, although the company has cut its staff in half, it can get a bit of oxygen while it figures out how to move forward.
Dell itself was in a bit of a tight position thanks to a slowing PC market, which made the company take its aim at the enterprise sector. It still makes consumer hardware, but its future with EMC will probably be more important in raw profits.
Just plain, old bad judgement
Finally, sometimes, it’s really not about the money. It’s just about making bad judgement calls. Again, these corporations are not machines. They are made by people, and people make mistakes. There are quite a few examples of this, but a couple stand out.
Google’s acquisition of Motorola is a classic one. The company bought the smartphone manufacturer for US$ 12.5 billion, a move that was thought to have much to do with Motorola Mobility’s patent portfolio. When that didn’t seem to pan out, Google actually sold Motorola again to Lenovo for just US$ 2.91 billion.
Frustrated at its inferiority in the smartphone market, Microsoft bought Nokia for US$ 79 billion in then-CEO Steve Ballmer’ last move before departing the position. Not too soon after, the acquisition proved to be a huge failure, and under Satya Nadella, Microsoft scrapped all of its assets, effectively leaving the smartphone market. A wise decision that has proven to be positive for the company.