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The Friendly Side of M&A: Behind-the-Scenes Support for Global Deals

John Shipman, Senior Financial Writer | August 21, 2017

There are iconic locations where major mergers and acquisitions are forged -- think New York, London, Paris, Frankfurt and Hong Kong. Merrill Corporation supports its clients from these and other locations internationally.

But far from the posh skyscrapers and mahogany boardrooms of the world’s deal capitals, midway between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, there’s a low-lying brown brick office complex where some of the most important behind-the-scenes activity in global M&A takes place.

This is the location of Merrill’s headquarters and one in its worldwide network of service centers. The nondescript address and plain façade mask the hub of technology and personnel that support thousands of Merrill DataSite virtual data rooms. Millions of pages of documents course through as a multitude of lawyers, investment bankers, corporate executives and potential licensors around the world conduct due diligence for deals, scouring financial statements, tax records and critical industry-related disclosures such as oil well logs or drug approvals, all assisted by Merrill’s expert project managers.

“Anyone driving by wouldn’t have the slightest idea what’s going on there,” said David Roberts, a DataSite project manager. Here a crucial human interaction – in 14 different languages -- melds with cutting-edge software, as the platform ushers along an efficient, cost-effective and indispensable diligence process. And it has consistently drawn rave reviews from a demanding clientele.

“We are the grease on the skids,” said Ed Robinson, who has managed DataSite projects in both English and Portuguese for almost six years. “The people we deal with are everything from investment bankers to the executive assistant who gets documents dumped on her desk at 3:30 pm on a Friday afternoon and has to have them uploaded by Monday morning,” he said. “We are getting them through to where they need to be.”

Guiding clients through this critical process requires tact and experience, underpinned by an avuncular approach moored in a regional characteristic known as “Minnesota Nice,” a stereotypical description exemplified by a courteous, helpful and mild manner. It’s a perception that’s even supported by academics, with a study finding Minnesota is the second-most agreeable state (New York ranks number 47) and the fifth most-extroverted in the nation.

In short, these are essential attributes for those tasked with advising hard-charging dealmakers and their staffs through a stressful, high-stakes process like due diligence. When help is needed, calls are answered quickly by a friendly human voice who will patiently listen closely to the problem and provide a solution. In July, 70 percent of DataSite clients surveyed rated their service 9 or 10 on a 1-10 scale.

To maintain that level of service, there’s an emphasis on choosing candidates with a winning demeanor when bringing on fresh talent to the team. “We’ll teach our new service staff the business,” said Rod Johnson, Merrill’s chief operating officer. “What we can’t teach is an innate sense of pride, a helpfulness and being willing to go the extra mile with a customer. We expect these qualities from all our team members worldwide.”

The Friendly Side of M&A: Behind-the-Scenes Support for Global Deals

“I can usually tell from the situation and from their voice what their needs are,” said Sue Scherado, a veteran project manager who was among the original members of the DataSite support team formed almost 15 years ago. “They want you to listen, ask good questions and show them what they need to know.”

Scherado routinely manages the largest DataSite projects, consulting with clients on how best to manage the complexities of loading data efficiently, structuring indexes and documents for optimal presentation and creating the appropriate permission settings to assure rigorous security. Projects can sometimes span years, multiple site administrators and millions of pages of content.

After one nine-month project that tallied 1.1 million pages and “lots of hand holding,” from Scherado, kudos from the client offered credit where credit was due: “One of the fastest data room turnarounds we’ve ever done, and it couldn’t have happened without the Merrill team.”

The “team” is something that Scherado stresses. Detailed activity notes enable project managers to seamlessly work together 24/7, easily picking up where the client left off in their previous contact with Merrill. “We’re a village,” she added. “Everybody pitches in.”

Pitching in also means there’s a consistent willingness to do the heavy lifting for clients who may be administering a data room for the first time. The result can be accolades for both project managers and sales associates. “I couldn’t have done this project without the two of them as my partners,” wrote one gratified client site administrator.

“This was her first DataSite experience,” explained project manager Gerad Mead, who took the initiative to streamline the site invitation process, saving the client hours of work. “She was the lone administrator on this project, and as such, it was a daunting experience for her initially,” he said. “That was compounded in this case because her client gave her a list of 1,200 people to invite. Factor in these users had to accept a confidentiality agreement before moving forward and you have quite a task at hand. She knew we were always available and happy to help.”

That spirit behind Merrill’s service has been exported worldwide, spanning the company’s global presence and drawing ample appreciation. “Without a doubt, your team has provided the most responsive and quality customer support I can remember from any vendor I have worked with to-date, and as I have been toiling away for 30 years, that is saying something,” a client in Europe recently wrote.

Brendan Taylor, a Merrill project manager in London, said the formula for producing that feedback was simple, yet effective: “Every request was dealt with a sense of urgency, and nothing was too much trouble.” He also credited his expertise with the DataSite platform and “a phenomenal team to lean on.”

Another London-based project manager, Bianca Omelan, recalls a client who needed certain files copied on an encrypted flash drive and shipped to him within hours. Given the project’s size, the normal turnaround time for such a request is 24 hours, but the team produced the necessary media within a couple of hours and shipped immediately. Once he received it, the client called and said “we literally saved his job. He was so appreciative,” Omelan said.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes for the client,” COO Rod Johnson said. “These are people who don’t have easy jobs. They need a trusted partner that is alongside them no matter what time of the day or day of the week.”

Ultimately, project managers are loathe to tell a client something can’t be done, even if the situation looks dire. Take the case of a client on a large, high-profile media transaction who accidentally changed the security settings on an entire file folder, deleting several thousand documents.

The Merrill team not only recovered the documents for her, it also made improvements to the DataSite product so the mistake couldn’t be easily made again.

“If they didn’t have our support, it would’ve closed down their project for weeks,” said manager Ed Robinson, which would’ve been an unacceptable outcome. “You hang with somebody until you fix their problem,” he added. “People notice that.”

Crucial M&A due diligence support that goes the extra mile. Spanning globally from Minnesota. Nice.

About Merrill Corporation

Merrill Corporation helps firms around the globe securely protect, share and collaborate on their most sensitive and confidential content. The company’s signature Merrill DataSite virtual data room uniquely combines state-of-the-art technology with best-in-class service backed by deep industry expertise, ensuring the right information is shared with the right people to produce successful mergers and acquisitions.

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