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When one company acquires another, what does it mean for the workplace? From culture to the physical space, mergers and acquisitions have important implications for the day-to-day life of employees and leadership.

We dug deep into this challenge with B&G Foods, a Parsippany, New Jersey-based company that manufactures, sells and distributes a diversified portfolio of high-quality, branded, shelf-stable foods. In the past several years, B&G Foods has purchased a number of companies, including Green Giant and Pirate’s Booty. The company’s leadership needed the physical space to accommodate this growth, and turned to Studio Eagle for strategy, design, and build out.

We sat down with part of our team — Bruce Emtage (Managing Director), Meera Bahukutumbi (Senior Interior Designer), and George Marcouiller (Construction Director) — to talk about the process and strategy that went into accommodating for such rapid workplace growth.

From Left to Right: Mike Macdonald (Technical Director), Bruce Emtage (Managing Director), Mark Lo Bue (Design Director), Meera Bahukutumbi (Senior Interior Designer), George Marcouiller (Construction Director).

Studio Eagle: How can an acquisition affect company culture and productivity, from both the buyer’s and seller’s perspectives?

Meera Bahukutumbi: It’s a period of uncertainty. You don’t know what’s coming with the new team, the new company, and that could be a problem. Management, who’s going to be in charge of the new team… there are so many uncertainties. With the new company that’s coming on, what’s their work culture? How do they work? How do they collaborate? What do they expect when they get acquired? There is uncertainty on both sides — the company doing the acquiring, and the company that got acquired.

Studio Eagle: How can companies use office design to improve the transitions involved in an acquisition?

Meera: Opening up the office a little more, adding more collaborative spaces so the teams can meet on neutral ground, so you’re not going into someone else’s offices. You have to give them more neutral spaces to meet.

It’s important to think about the design of the team and department spaces. Who reports to who and who needs to be together? That’s an important part of designing the space when you’re looking at acquisitions and mergers. You have to give them breathing room and also give them spaces where they can work together.

Bruce Emtage: To fissure off what Meera is saying, one of the decisions they had to make in the upfront design was whether to put the management team together in the new office design or split them up between their teams. After we designed it two different ways, they decided that the most important thing right after an acquisition and merger was that the management team worked together.

It might change in two or three years, but it was so critical, from the top down, that they were together and learned how each other works so that they were cultivating that new culture and sending it down to their department heads and their employees. That was a huge decision they made.

B&G Foods: Executive Conference Room. Location: Parsippany, NJ.

Studio Eagle: What did you learn in the strategy phase of this project?

Bruce: About three and a half years ago, they invested a million dollars in the space. We were able to reappropriate the design so we weren’t throwing that investment away. Many assets, such as the furniture from three years ago, were used toward the new look. We had to order some new parts, there was a lot of jockeying to do, and it required some heavy logistics on the design and the operations side, but we were able to reuse a lot of that product.

George Marcouiller: We manipulated some of the existing furniture to create collaborative areas, where previously it was cube, after cube, after cube. We spread that furniture out into where there were previously perimeter offices. We took out the perimeter offices and put in more collaborative space. That was a big part of bringing the culture together, as Bruce was describing.

B&G Foods: Conference Room. Location: Parsippany, NJ.

Meera: The other point is that they grew rapidly. They’re growing as you’re designing and as you’re building, so it taught us to be on our toes with trading plans. It’s been a good experience to see how fast a company can grow, and to accommodate the growth in the space in real time.

Bruce: That’s a really good point. We were able to strategize throughout the design phase so that they weren’t leasing thousands of square feet more than they actually needed. We had to be proactive to project out how much space they needed.

Studio Eagle: It sounds like you did an occupied phase renovation to keep B&G employees operational during the build out. what were the challenges here, and how did studio eagle and B&G overcome those?

George: It’s always a challenge. The very first thing that you have to do is have a lot of coordination with a very select number of people in the company. In B&G Foods’ case, we had three people that were decision makers and they had one construction management individual on their payroll that I dealt with directly. With just four people, we controlled hundreds of people by giving them advanced notice via email of what was happening with the temporary walls and who needed to move when. It’s an orchestra. It’s being a conductor. It’s a very hands-on, very communicative process that you have to have with every single person through a very select number of people. It’s all about coordination.

B&G Foods: Central Staircase. Location: Parsippany, NJ.

Studio Eagle: Are there lessons from this project that would be beneficial to other companies that are working through an acquisition or merger?

Bruce: Be as proactive as you possibly can in your planning stage so that you’re not left with too few seats. There are ways to structure leases so that you have the space you need when you need it. That way, there isn’t a regression on the project schedule due to leases not being signed. When you’re going through an acquisition, you cannot put enough emphasis on the programming phase. Make sure you’re actually programming the space you need, and you’re not thinking you need fewer desks than you actually do. It’s so critical to project success.

For more information, see our B&G Foods First & Second Floor Redesign & Expansion case study, and stay tuned for updates on the B&G Foods Test Kitchen.