Case study - cultural nous helps win major deal
During the mid 1990s, BMBS was a very energetic, independent building society (now part of the Halifax) that belied its modest size (ranked number 13 by asset size) and regional rather than national presence through a string of mortgage portfolio acquisitions. When French bank Credit Agricole wanted to exit the UK domestic mortgage market, it found BMBS among early suitors in a field that included some financial heavyweights.
During a routine internal briefing, I learned from the finance director that BMBS hoped to win through to the next stage at which 2-3 short-listed prospective purchasers would meet and negotiate face-to-face with Credit Agricole senior executives.
So far so good. I then learned that the BMBS team were expecting to make their case in English. Told 'it's OK, they all speak English', I challenged this, stressing the strong French cultural preference for doing business in French - a fact that carried added significance in this case, where it was important for BMBS to impress - and urged the FD to reconsider. This he did and I set about translating the presentation.
A few days later, the FD dropped by with some very welcome news: "We've been invited to Paris to make the presentation. Do you want to come?” A week later and a presentation with a jaw-dropping vista of Paris from CA's offices on the upper floors of the Montparnasse Tower (and an evolutionary leap up from BMBS's then workaday HQ building in Wolverhampton).
It seemed to go well so far as we could tell - our hosts gave little away. On the flight back, the deal-maker from Barings revealed that there was little to choose between the BMBS offer and a rival bid and that "little touches” would likely secure the deal, citing specifically BMBS's readiness to talk the vendors' language as an example.
The merchant banker's hunch proved correct and shortly afterwards it was party time in Wolverhampton as BMBS toasted the acquisition of a multi-million pound mortgage portfolio.