Adtech industry expert Volker Ballueder reflects candidly on a year of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the martech space, and muses on how the uncertain times can actually present opportunity for those willing to move with the times, namely the likely rise of the 'career consultant.'
We are living in uncertain times. Brexit, Trump and maybe even a war in North Korea or the Middle East, natural disasters around the globe. Yet, in times of change, there are opportunities.
When I talk about opportunities, I mean the opportunity to make money and a living, and focusing on the adtech ecosystem, better known as the LUMA-scape, we see uncertain times too.
Last year we saw a number of mergers and acquisitions (M&A): AOL, now Oath, acquiring Yahoo, RadiumOne and YuMe selling to RhythmOne and Sizmek acquiring Rocket Fuel, as well as countless smaller ones.
The human cost of industry M&A
The industry is changing, the market is maturing. Those opportunities for some are hardship for others, with cutbacks in headcount an unfortunate byproduct of M&A. Careers and lives become unstable, some people take redundancy or live with a huge amount of uncertainty. This just becomes part of our industry and lives, and I am not having a go at any company for this happening to me or my friends.
Yet, there is another aspect to all of this madness. The career as our parents knew it is dead. That is an apprenticeship or a degree, a job for life and you work up the ranks, work for the company for 30 years and leave at retirement with a pension pot. Unless of course you are a teacher or public sector worker I suppose, this won’t happen anymore.
'A young dynamic industry, fuelled by greed...'
If you work in media or adtech, those careers hardly exist. You find the odd person that has been with their employer in excess of five years, but the average tenure I’d believe is around two-to-three years – 18 months more often than not. A young, dynamic industry, fuelled by greed from investors to make money.
Does it matter? A mentor of mine once said to me that you get hired to do a job. Your employer hires you into a company to help them to achieve a goal. If that job is done after six months, it is done. If it takes 12 or 18 months, it is done.
If there is another job to go to inside the company, then that’s fine, and you move up or across. Most bigger corporate companies change people’s jobs every two-to-three years to keep them entertained, otherwise fatigue sets in. But sometimes the thing you were hired to do can be done within a period of months, and then if another company buys yours, you just end up being redundant. Literally.
Why are so many senior people taking consulting roles?
Speaking from personal experience, and without grudge, I fulfilled a job and helped the company to achieve a goal. Once that was done, I was no longer needed. In return I got a huge amount of experience and worked with some smart people. But why wasn’t I hired as a consultant? That is really the question I am asking myself, seeing so many senior people in the industry taking on a consulting job instead of seeking full time employment?
My take is that because no one could have known where and when that job was done. If the company [Rocket Fuel] didn’t sell, I could have ended up doing more project-related work for another year or longer. If you are from the industry you would have noticed more and more ‘digital consultants’ showing up.
People doing ‘interim work’ or ‘contract work’. This is a trend that in my opinion will continue into 2018. As a matter of fact I am just setting up my own business to consult growth companies, startups and be on a non-executive director to a couple of others.
Avoiding 'the redundancy trap'
This is not only to have flexibility and work on projects you like. This is to avoid the redundancy trap and being part of a more secure network of jobs. The career is dead, and we might as well all become temporary workers to fulfill a role rather than filling a gap for a few months at a time. We can still do so, but as a ‘career consultant’.
People who work in consulting roles are successful – and I would argue that. Measured by achievement, output and intensity of KPI-driven management style. They are change advocates, adhere to their bosses and GSD, ie 'getting sh*t done'.
They have loads of experience, understand the ecosystem, understand management challenges and add a ton of value, not least because they are accepted to stay with a company until the job is done and not until the time is up. They drive things forward and are highly motivated, while knowing they are only there for a period of time.
Maybe it is time for the the M&A companies to consider more consultants to work as part of their company acquisitions, trying to save money on redundancy payouts too. Doesn’t it work both ways?