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Deals from Hell: M&A Lessons that Rise Above the Ashes

Robert F. Bruner, Arthur Levitt Jr. (Foreword by)

ISBN: 978-0-471-39595-9 May 2005 432 Pages


A detailed look at the worst M&A deals ever and the lessons learned from them

It's common knowledge that about half of all merger and acquisition (M&A) transactions destroy value for the buyer's shareholders, and about three-quarters fall short of the expectations prevailing at the time the deal is announced. In Deals from Hell, Robert Bruner, one of the foremost thinkers and educators in this field, uncovers the real reasons for these mishaps by taking a closer look at twelve specific instances of M&A failure. Through these real-world examples, he shows readers what went wrong and why, and converts these examples into cautionary tales for executives who need to know how they can successfully navigate their own M&A deals. These page-turning business narratives in M&A failure provide much-needed guidance in this area of business. By addressing the key factors to M&A success and failure, this comprehensive guide illustrates the best ways to analyze, design, and implement M&A deals. Filled with in-depth insights, expert advice, and valuable lessons gleaned from other M&A transactions, Deals from Hell helps readers avoid the common pitfalls associated with this field and presents them with a clear framework for thinking about how to make any M&A transaction a success.

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Foreword by Arthur Levitt, Jr.


1. Introduction.

I. The Foundations of M&A Failure.

2. Where M&A Pays and Where It Strays:A Survey of Research.

3. Profiling the Outlying M&A Deals.

4. Real Disasters and M&A Failure.

II. Case Studies of M&A Failure.

5. February 1968: Merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads.

6. December 1986: The Leveraged Buyout of Revco Drug Stores.

7. September 1989: The Acquisition of Columbia Pictures by Sony Corporation.

8. September 1991: The Acquisition of NCR Corporation by AT&T Corporation.

9. December 1993: Renault’s Proposed Merger with Volvo.

10. December 1994: The Acquisition of Snapple by Quaker Oats.

11. May 1999: Mattel’s Acquisition of The Learning Company.

12. January 2001: Merger of AOL and Time Warner.

13. December 2001: Dynegy’s Proposed Merger with Enron.

14. January 2002: Acquisition Program of Tyco International.

III. Avoiding the Deal from Hell.

15. Conclusions and Implications.

16. Memo to the CEO:A Coda on Growth.


About the Author.


"engages in the kind of candid thinking that has long been missing from the high stack of books." (The Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2005)

"According to the author, six key elements embedded in disasters are 'complexity, tight coupling, management choices, cognitive biases, business not as usual, and failure of the operational team.' In unison, these are lethal, he cautions. 'Systems that adapt well to error anticipate it, actively seek information, use checkpoints to control the spread of error, and invite countervailing forces to oppose error.' So, what's the insight for businesses? 'Design of organisation structures and business processes could employ similar principles to thwart M&A failures,' counsels Bruner. Part II of the book has ten case studies, including AOL-Time Warner, Mattel-The Learning Company, and Renault-Volvo. Part III is about `conclusions and implications'. Bruner dins in before parting: 'The growth that matters is growth in economic value. The rest is smoke.' Fiery read!" -- D. Murali, The Hindu Business Line

1. The author is the Distinguished Professor of Business Administration at the Darden School at the University of Virginia.

2. Mergers and acquisitions is a perennial hot topic that all business students need to know.  Bruner makes M&A as a subject accessible and engaging to all levels of business students.