Workers in green vests and hard hats smiling and shaking hands
Understanding the role of the key employee in the acquisition process

So, you just learned that your company may be for sale. How do you feel? What do you do?

Should you fear this process or look forward to it?

The uncertainty and anxiety associated with a potential sale of the business you have been working for — in many cases, for years — could make even the most seasoned manager a little nervous. How can you limit the distractions and associated stress should you find yourself in this situation?

First, take comfort in knowing that key employees like you are usually essential to a successful transition, no matter the seller or buyer. Most businesses looking to acquire a company seek out these folks and, in many instances, a key employee plays a big part in making an acquiring company feel more comfortable with the acquisition. 

As a key employee, you understand the landscape and have a clear knowledge of how the business functions and supports its employees and customers. You know where to find things, can share how day-to-day concerns were handled in the past and have a clear understanding of existing policies and procedures.

As an outsider, I would dare say that key employees add value for many a buyer. Hiring high-quality, seasoned employees with an understanding of not only the business but also our industry is a huge plus. 

So how can you add value and prepare yourself and the company for the next chapter?

  1. Stay consistent. Don’t be someone you are not. 
  2. Work hard and maintain great business relationships with your staff and with the customer base.
  3. Be cooperative. Help the current owner and the prospective buyer with any questions or requests they may have during the process.
  4. Ensure all paperwork and pending items associated with your position are addressed and resolved. 
  5. Always maintain a positive outlook and attitude.
  6. Keep what is shared and discussed during the process confidential.
  7. Be present. Stay in the moment and work with your team to ensure the employee and customer experience is positive and professional.
  8. Ask questions of your current employer and the potential buyer. Take an interest in the questions they ask and be open-minded to possible change. 


Selling and acquiring a business is a two-way street, and communication is critical to an effective outcome. In many cases the essential communication chain between a buyer and a seller can break down, with only fragments of important information shared. The key employee is essential to bridge the gap in this process. As a key employee, you have the potential to become the critical link between the past, the present and the future. Understanding expectations and goals is crucial to help clear a path that will enable the acquiring company to move forward with a successful transition, which in turn will alleviate some frustration and back-and-forth with the selling party. 

In today’s hiring market, the role of a key employee is in high demand. It is difficult to find and hire people with prior experience and market intelligence, so existing talent is a big plus for most businesses looking to acquire a company. A positive can-do attitude, good energy, a professional approach with customers and coworkers, and the willingness to accept possible change are all great traits that can go a long way not only for the buyer, but also for the key employee. Certainly these characteristics will be critical to the success of the acquisition moving forward. 

As a key employee, you have a choice. A seller or an acquiring business can’t and won’t force you to join a new company; once an offer of employment is made to you, it is your decision whether to accept it. Here’s the thing: Why not give it a try? What’s the downside? Why not go in with your best effort and see where the change and this new opportunity take you? What do you really have to lose? The business is being sold, a new company is acquiring it and it will move forward and hopefully prosper in future years. What can you do to help in this process? Could this be the opportunity you’ve been waiting on and looking for? 

Businesses are sold and bought every day; change is inevitable and is part of our lives. Just imagine the value you could bring to a new company that needs someone who understands the business, has a record of success, knows the customer base, has a great rapport with the existing workforce, comprehends the ins and outs of the seller’s business, and is committed to giving the best effort possible to help grow the company. 

I have seen pride and stubbornness get in the way of many people. Their unwillingness to be open-minded to change and growth has prevented them from seeing the opportunities that may lie ahead. Give yourself and the new company a chance. Show them — but more importantly, show yourself — what you are capable of and the value you can bring. It’s a new start with exciting possibilities. Look forward to it and embrace it. I think you will be happy you made the effort!