[Through the Glass Door] Barclays Global Investors and Genentech: Stuck in the M & A Middle?

In Roman Catholic theology, limbo is that afterlife condition for those who die without being assigned to hell. For employees in companies waiting for the post-acquisition dust to settle such as Genentech, or for those waiting for part of the organization to be halved off, such as Barclays Global Investors (BGI) with its iShares division,  limbo is a pretty good description of what it’s like to be inside the organization.

Both companies are headquartered and have a large presence in the San Francisco Bay area so the impact will have ripples throughout Northern California.

At Genentech, employees (a company blessed by many, many folks of good intent who think in terms of helping patients first, helping themselves second) are likely wondering if they can help acquirer Roche with its integration of Genentech. Unfortunately, that’s a dance that the people from Basel lead and with no signal from the Swiss HQ folks, people are likely waiting, waiting, and well, waiting.

At BGI’s offices around the world including its HQ in San Francisco, people are waiting to see what sort of deal the execs from Barclay PLC’s London headquarters cut for the iShares business. While exhibiting the most growth and most promise, iShares apparently became expendable when the parent firm’s need for capital became greater than the need for future growth.

In both cases, there is one operative word: waiting . You are waiting if you’re an iShares employee to find out who the new owner will be. You are waiting if you’re a Genentech employee to find out what the new owners at Roche want to do with their new prize jewel. And, if you’re in the non-iShares portion of BGI, you’re waiting because all the talk is on what will happen to the firm post-iShares sale. [Update – April 9 : Barclays announced sale of iShares to CVC Capital Partners Group today.]

Rather than suffer what can feel like the longest airport layover experience in the world, here are things people can do to make productive use of the time:

If you’re at Genentech, this is a great time to network outside of the firm for your potential next step. Genentecher’s have retention bonuses that cause people to stay through June, but that’s just 60-90 days away. While some folks will stay when Roche assumes full control, others may not want to stay, or will find themselves through lay-offs without that option. For infrastructure types (HR, Finance & Accounting, IT, etc.) it’s a time to see where else you might want to work. Ditto for folks in things like marketing, sales, process development, etc. Many people outside of Genentech (both in and outside of biotech) assume that there is some secret sauce that gets used at a firm that has sucha great reputation for churning out innovation, new products, and is regarded consistently as a great place to work.

Acting now – placing a call to people you might not know to catch coffee and pick their brain – means there’s greater likelihood your call will be answered. Wait a few months and Genentech may have become yesterday’s news.

For iShares folks the same advice applies as it does for Genentech. iShares has a commanding share of the exchange traded funds business and you can leverage that perception of “secret sauce” to accelerate your networking. It’s likely that the new owners will have some thoughts on changes – so you might as well take any current down time and increase your options through some serious network maintenance. For the non-iShares folks at BGI it’s a trickier proposition.

While the normal advice would be to use your downtime to network, most of the firms you’d network with have hunkered down in the financial services meltdown this past year. And while BGI took a lay-off haircut of 10% earlier this year, some folks may assume that an asset decline of 20% by the firm may mean more layoffs may come down the pike. The silver lining for BGI is that the sale of iShares may generate cash for that group of employees at BGI fortunate to have vested options in the firms employee stock plan.

One thought for the non-iShares BGI folks would be to put this waiting time to figuring out what else they might do besides their current role – how would they reinvent themselves if they had to? Excessive waiting is seldom fun. But if you know it’s happening you can figure out a way to make it productive rather than an extended stay in limbo.