I was the HR lead in the integration of World Duty Free and Alpha Retail UK, following the former's acquisition by Italian-based catering and retail company Autogrill (which already owned Alpha Retail).
We set up a group of senior leads from across the business. I was responsible for reviewing all HR practices in both organisations, and working on the harmonisation of two businesses into one, supported by the recruitment and learning and development teams.
We put together a project plan and decided on our key milestones. First, we wanted to harmonise the businesses within six months. We set up a consultation forum at World Duty Free and a staff council at Alpha. We implemented a formal consultation process on an individual basis on the back of the collective consultation. At the end of the process, we closed three offices and two distribution centres. The headcount for the new businesses, once brought together, was 3,000. We now have 2,700 staff. The biggest impact of the headcount reduction was on the central support functions – inevitably there was duplication of roles.
The entire process took six months. In terms of the culture, we were reasonably fortunate. The two companies, both retail businesses, were similar. But there were some subtle differences. At World Duty Free, the culture has traditionally been very open and collaborative, whereas at Alpha it was more directive and autocratic. We worked hard to build trust among our new Alpha colleagues – by doing what we said we'd do.
In terms of the brand, we decided that as World Duty Free was larger, we would use it as our default brand, using its processes and systems, unless we felt that Alpha did it better.
Now we've rebranded, and the merged group is known as WDF. The staff reaction has been very positive, which was borne out by a 79% overall engagement score in our staff survey, run just three months after the merger. We also managed to deliver a new employer brand on the back of the merger. Looking back, I can see that some decisions could have been made more quickly, but on the other hand, we wouldn't have wanted to rush.
Why it worked
- We involved staff
- We looked at the big picture
- We identified our milestones.