The Prysmian challenge: Creating one team out of two

November 5, 2018

After a $3 billion purchase, the Italian cable maker was forced to create new leadership groups. How savvy firms can systematically pick the right people for the right roles.

“With big mergers, the scale and scope of the combined operations is significantly larger than the experience of most current leaders."

As a company, Prysmian is no stranger to sorting out talent issues spurred by M&A or other deal making. Prysmian itself is a spinoff of the legendary tiremaker Pirelli. But back when it became its own independent firm in 2005, it was much easier to determine who went to work where. People with cable experience went with Prysmian, people who didn’t stayed at Pirelli. Even when Prysmian acquired a rival cable firm in 2009, the talent issues weren’t that difficult; Prysmian and the rival it bought, Draka, were both reasonably small companies, and the combined firm needed nearly all the leadership talent it could get. As the years went by, Prysmian built an internal leadership academy to help groom future leaders.

But the new deal with General Cable was different. A lot of the managers at both firms did the same type of work with the same products in the same regions of the world. The deal’s sheer size also posed problems. Managers at both companies were scattered around the world, based at one of 112 manufacturing plants and 25 research facilities across more than 50 countries. Speed was a necessity as well, since the deal’s architects had promised investors that the deal would be finalized in the first half of 2018.

And there was another wrinkle: Prysmian’s top management didn’t want this to be a flat- out takeover of General Cable in appearances or reality. Rutschmann says Prysmian wanted to make sure that there was a healthy representation of General Cable executives who would take important decision-making roles. “The success of the post-merged firm depends on the vision of the new, combined leadership team to succeed,” Rutschmann says. “To get this vision, you need to engage with people of the other company.”

“The success of the post-merged firm depends on the vision of the new, combined leadership team to succeed."

Prysmian realized that it needed outside help. It brought in Korn Ferry to assess all the potential managers. First, Korn Ferry created a profile of what the ideal manager would look like, listing his or her personal attributes, leadership characteristics, and key responsibilities. Then the firms sat down with 450 managers for interviews across three continents. Then each manager took a 90-minute online psychometric test. The assessments created a list of the skills, behaviors, traits, and drivers of each candidate. In five weeks, Prysmian had a list of all the management roles it had to fill and could compare each candidate side-by-side to determine who should get the post.

After the assessments, the results were passed along to other senior executives so they could do side-by-side comparisons of potential management candidates. But, importantly, the names were withheld from the results. The goal was to remove any chance that senior decision-makers would be biased—either toward or against anyone.

In two months, Prysmian had a list of 300 managers they extended offers to, and a list of others to whom they offered severance packages. For his part, Rutschmann felt they had accomplished two things. First, they minimized mistakes, and second, the firm had put together the right talent pool for the cable company’s merged future. “It was really a challenge, a mix of many of people in a very short period of time,” he says.

For more information, contact Alex Jakobson at