Pythons and the business world

I am currently watching a David Attenborough documentary on reptiles which is showing on Channel 9 tonight. There are many little interesting things, including the little Armadillo Lizard, which protects itself by biting it’s own tail, thus exposing a sharp exoskeleton. Also, there was video footage and information about a python, which ate a deer. Something similar to that below…


When watching it, I was struck by how many similarities there were between a python digesting an animal that was far to big for it, and a large company that was consuming another company through a merger or acquisition. A few of them are below.

 1) The pythons heart grows to a size about 40% larger than it normal as the creature digests its food. Similarly, a corporate will increase the number of passionate people involved within it’s bowels when a merger happens. Unfortunately for the business, and fortunately for the python, the heart does shrink back to normal onve the digesting is done. In many mergers, the people who cared passionately about their respective companies, end up facing being somewhat jaded by the whole experience. They end up leaving for greener pastures, leaving behind a smaller heart in what is now a much larger company.

2) The python is pretty defenseless whilst it eats its prey. It cannot breathe, save for it’s windpipe, which pushes itself out of the reptiles mouth to allow for air to be brought in. Large companies, too, are quite vulnerable whilst in the midst of a takeover bid. Private Equity raiders, competitors and even new start-ups generate new activity to take advantage of the new opportunities that will be standard once the merger has gone ahead. For many companies, it can be hard to adjust to  the new way of operating, but many of those people left outside the takeover are quite aware of what to expect from the market once it settles again after the ‘digestion.’ They move faster into a position to take advantage of the soon to be new surroundings.

 3) The Liver of the python doubles in size to help digest the prey, as does the number of external helpers and number of Learning and Development people present in a company going through a merge. I’m a great fan of consulting, and think it has a very real place in our business landscape. But, be aware, just like the python expanding it’s liver and draining it’s body of energy consulting fees can leave a company bereft of excess funds used to actually make stuff happen once the merger has finished.

Finally, there were many other similarities, but the thing that struck me most was that once the python digests the prey it may not have to eat again for months, or even a year. Many companies tend to work the same way. They feel hungry for growth, are tiring of the ‘business as usual’ paradigm that often sets in when a mission or strategy dwindles in allure. Once the ‘head,’ or the CEO office, decides that it is in fact hungry the business sets out to consume a new company for energy. Once sated, they sit for a long time after, maybe years, running down the people and energy that existed there during the ‘take-over’ years. Then, they saddle up again and go through the whole, draining process of swallowing another acquisition for yet more growth and energy. Some companies, such as Macquire Bank, seem to be forever hungry as they have teams of people specialised in digesting large takeovers and mergers.

Is this the way we should function as an economy, business and society?

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