AGP – Culture Matters

Crossing the stormy waters on a transatlantic merger journey

In June 2018 AGP, an innovative automotive glazing manufacturer headquartered in Peru, set off to a challenging endeavor: Their first transatlantic acquisition of Soliver, a well-regarded competitor from Belgium. This transaction was part of an ambitious growth plan, which focused on positioning AGP’s cutting-edge e-glass solutions for connected driving in the European market. To this end, a new production facility was to be built in parallel to the integration.

“Looking back on it from today’s standpoint, we knew only to some extent what we were getting ourselves into. However, we substantially underestimated the cultural differences in how business is conducted in America and Central Europe as well as in the ways of working between our companies.”, says Arturo Mannheim, AGP’s CEO. He adds that the various ways cultural differences manifested and how deeply they impacted the project were among the trickiest issues. Some of the cultural differences included very operational day-to-day details, such as punctuality, responsiveness in communication, limits between work and personal life while others affected fundamental concepts of speed, ownership and recognition. He appreciates that a core factor in understanding and managing these issues was humility: Being honestly open and willing to embrace diversity, listen with curiosity and learn from each other, while working together towards a common vision.

To make it work in the whole organization, the joint leadership team had to act as front runner and role model to the cause. “Even though we had shared perspectives on customer focus, quality orientation, technology and people, reaching alignment on how to put it into practice required a lot of discussion and symbolic actions.”, states Juan Manuel Clavijo, AGP’s HR Corporate Director. “Appointing two Co-Managing Directors in Belgium – one from AGP, one from Soliver – sent a strong message right from the beginning and greatly contributed to setting the scene for how we expect both sides to collaborate. Leaving the manufacturing leadership on the shop floor in the hands of an experienced Soliver veteran provided continuity and displayed our confidence in their know-how. Lastly, our core firepower lies in the effective and diverse mix of talented leaders throughout all business areas, leveraging the potential of incumbents from both sides and complementing it with critical skills from new hires.”

Creating opportunities for talents regardless of their background was also key in attracting and retaining critical skills in the complex reality of the European labor market and ‘war for talents’. Low unemployment rates, a booming start-up environment with high attractiveness for young professionals, long notice periods and high expectations regarding work-life balance are only a few of the challenges they encountered. As an answer, AGP strongly invested into untapping internal potential through comprehensive training programs, mentoring and mobility initiatives. While attractive compensation packages certainly are in their favor, Mr. Mannheim and Mr. Clavijo agree that their USP lies in their strong culture of growth, driven by four key values: dream big, meritocracy, founders’ mentality and customer obsession.

“Talented professionals want to be inspired, challenged and given freedom to develop their own ideas.”

“We offer to be part of creating the future of mobility and grow according to one’s own aspirations in this task. This has proven to be a powerful value proposition to the kind of people we want to attract and retain.”

As the numbers demonstrate, it has also strengthened AGP’s position towards customers through showing determination and the ability to deliver on commitments. “We have proved ourselves capable of integrating Soliver’s strong reputation with AGP’s entrepreneurial spirit, technology and speed to develop innovative products tailored to their needs. It has enabled us to gain the trust of the most distinguished OEMs of the industry to work together towards our vision for the future of automotive glazing. This partnership has also opened opportunities for further growth globally.”

Almost two years after embarking on its transatlantic journey AGP, is in full swing on its way to becoming a global player in the field of connected mobility, with production streamlined, the new state-of-the-art plant operating since September 2019 and an integrated organization in place to foster growth and innovation. “Integrating the two companies while building a new factory according to latest technological standards in record time is an achievement we are particularly proud of.”, the executives state and appreciate. “undconsorten were instrumental in getting to where we stand today. The unparalleled expertise, leadership and strength in execution you displayed during the process was key for AGP. This was our first integration outside Latin America and empathizing the critical relevance of the culture and people aspects right from the beginning was essential to finding the right balance between the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ factors in our integration approach.”

Which insights do they draw from this experience for transaction plans in the future? “Never underestimate the cultural side of the equation. Be ready to invest the time and resources it takes to make people understand each other’s worlds, beyond the immediate business context. To achieve this, one should never stop communicating.” As the experienced sailor knows: The radio to the mainland is indispensable to steer the ship through stormy waters safely into port.

Jens Müller-Oerlinghausen
Jens Müller-Oerlinghausen
Partner, Head of Leadership Practice

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