Cover Story

Duo Brings Order To M&A Chaos At Tasman Consulting

Tasman Consulting has assisted high-profile companies such as American Express, Dell, LinkedIn and Symantec with human capital integration.

May_2015The world of human resource mergers and acquisitions can be a messy game, filled with unscrupulous players. However, Shari Yocum and Niki Lee, founders of Tasman Consulting, are throwing out the chaos factor and welcoming a new world order with their San Francisco-based firm.

They bring decades of experience in the industry, which included executive-level positions at Cisco Systems Inc., where they worked on more than 160 transactions spanning 50 countries, totaling between $1 million and $7 billion. Since founding Tasman Consulting in 2011, Yocum and Lee have assisted high-profile companies such as American Express, Dell, LinkedIn and Symantec with human capital integration.

“We wanted to create a firm with experienced employees, not as consultants but those who worked for companies and understand the impact to their political and socio-economic areas,” Yocum explained. “We wanted it to be a role-up-your sleeves, high-touch model of business. It doesn’t matter what level [of business] you are, we’re going to role up our sleeves and get it done. The most important thing is a successful acquisition.”

Tasman Consulting provides assistance in three areas: advisory services, managing integration and building infrastructure, Lee explained.

“Those three items are fundamental to a successful deal. How they’re used will be different depending on the company,” she said.

Yocum added, “We implement the acquisition around the employees and help them move through change faster. There’s a number of layers for an acquisition to be successful: there’s a working environment, then a deeper-rooted culture of the way that they go do business; these are the areas that are the most delicate and where deals fail. Corporate culture is business-impacting and you have to get executives to understand how human resource mergers impact business.”

She said a key question to answer in any deal is whether or not merging groups of employees can work together, and furthermore, if they can labor collaboratively to meet company benchmarks.  

Such benchmarks aren’t exclusive to the deals they make on behalf of clients, Lee noted, adding that she and Yocum have established specific goals for their business since its inception.

“We put it down on paper,” Yocum recalled. “We laid out revenue and stretch goals, steps to get to those goals, profit-sharing goals and internal goals such as newsletters and articles. We each had steps laid out in front of us and each assigned said goals. We looked at things one year at a time.”

Lee added, “Our goal was just to collect a basic salary within the first year. Having a small stipend or salary in year one was a great goal. We gave ourselves two years and said we’d go back to Corporate America [if the business failed]. In year one we were able to gain our small salary.”

Their salary was thanks to their first client, American Express, Yocum explained, but the following summer revenue began to slow. “That was one point when we wondered if we could continue,” she said. “Ever since then we put strong milestones out there and we have to continue to push ourselves because even if it seems unrealistic, you can [persevere].”

Lee added, “We invested in ourselves with our own money. In our business you can do it with very little overhead. We have an office but most employees work from home. We also minimize travel, which helps save money for clients.

“What we didn’t anticipate was finding reliable resources for an affordable price, while maintaining our core values: qualified, experienced, corporate M&A professionals. Hiring them at the right time and when we’re growing and can afford it is the key,” she continued. 

Almost five years since its inception, Tasman Consulting has grown beyond the small salary mindset and even received various accolades including San Francisco Business Times’ Fastest Growing Private Companies in the Bay Area, as well as the Top 100 Women-Owned Businesses.

“When we were at Cisco, I remember they would be Fortune’s [Magazine] one of the Top 5 Companies to Work For and I never thought much about it, but now that I own my own business it means much more,” Lee confessed. “Also, when we’re trying to win new clients it helps to give them a push. I take a lot of pride in them [the accolades] now.”

Yocum said, “Such awards are helpful to know our progress. There are challenges being in an industry that is largely male. Being recognized for those things, it helps to know that we’re moving in the right direction.

“I have to laugh because I thought it [owning my own company] would give me a life balance. I would love to say you can do it all but it’s your reputation and name on the line. It is hard and I wouldn’t trade it but it takes a lot. It’s really hard to balance work and kids. My husband jokes that he always falls to the bottom of the list.  

“I love that I run my own schedule but I know that once they go to bed that’s my time on the computer. We think the workweek is Monday through Friday but sometimes my best thinking comes on a Saturday morning. We must find our most productive times, no matter the day or time, it doesn’t have to be Monday to Friday, eight hours per day,” Yocum continued.

Productive work hours are also paramount when attempting to build their client base, which is done predominately through networking, Lee said. “I didn’t realize until I left Cisco that the network is long-lasting. When they talk about it being ‘The Human Network,’ it’s really true,” she added.

Yocum said, “We don’t advertise. We really rely on word-of-mouth and our reputation.

“In the 2000s at Cisco we were doing almost a deal a week. With that experience there is a lot of trust. Not a lot of people can say that they’ve done 60 to 70 acquisitions. Our resume gives us credibility but it’s also networking and talking to people. Recommendations and word-of-mouth makes a huge difference. With larger companies they’re backed by a brand, not the people in the company, and that was our biggest obstacle. But when we get face-time with people they understand and they know they can believe in us,” Yocum continued.

When asked about their plans for the future of Tasman Consulting, Yocum replied, “We’re really looking at how to expand and grow and in our next year, how we grow to get to our next level: do we form an alliance with a bigger firm or expand our offerings?”

Lee added, “I feel like we’ve accomplished amazing things going on our fourth year in business. I don’t want to go back to Corporate America. No one really saw us as a threat before but we’re running into a lot of these larger firms at more and more deals. I really enjoy what I’m doing and I want to grow the business where the sky is the limit. There is no reason why we can’t be the top human capital consulting firm out there.”

About the author

Katelyn Gendron

Katelyn Gendron is a native of New York, who is currently living and working as a newspaper editor in Western Massachusetts. She took the helm as Editor in Chief at Lioness in 2013, structuring a strong editorial calendar and securing well-known entrepreneur interviews. A SUNY grad, Katelyn is a world traveler who has documented her journeys for various publications spanning five of the seven continents (she plans to visit the remaining two during her lifetime), her motto: “Life’s a ball. Let’s play!”

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