Mergers and acquisitions happen all the time in the tech industry, but it’s rare that you see one like this. Vice President and Head of Strategy & Business Development Anddria Clack-Rogers Varnado of Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (WSI), just secured one of the largest tech M&As that the retail-based company has ever seen.
Varnado led the deal for WSI’s game-changing $112M technology acquisition, Outward Inc., a leading digital imaging company at the intersection of retail and technology, pushing the new boundaries in the emerging space of retail tech.
Black Enterprise caught up with Varnado to discuss how she got involved in M&A, what her experience was like securing the WSI deal, and what advice she would give to someone looking to get into that side of the business.
In three sentences or less tell me about your background.
As Vice President and Head of Strategy & Business Development at Williams-Sonoma, Inc., I am a catalyst for developing innovative opportunities to enhance the quality of lives, starting at home. In this role, I oversee M&A, new business development, competitor research and industry insights, and cross-brand initiatives across Williams-Sonoma’s iconic portfolio of brands, reporting directly to WSI’s president and chief executive officer. In her first year leading Strategy & Business Development for WSI, I led the company’s largest and most diverse acquisition to date through purchasing Outward Inc., a disruptive and innovative 3-D imaging company at the intersection of retail and technology, executing on the company’s vision to shape the future of home shopping.
How did you get into mergers and acquisitions?
I started my career as an analyst on Wall Street, where I learned to structure complex financial analyses, strategic business reviews, and industry assessments for a variety of transactions. As I progressed in my business career, I took on growth strategy roles of increasing responsibility from different perspectives such as product management, strategy consulting, and marketing management. The combination of these roles and my education provided me with the foundation to lead WSI’s strategy and business development initiatives, fusing together the many different components that contribute to building a successful business whether it comes through acquisition or internal development.
What was the experience like leading WSI through its largest and most diverse acquisition in the history of the company?
Every new business transaction is different; it’s like a puzzle. You know what you want the result to be, but there are many paths you can take to put it together, which makes the process both exciting and challenging. We were very fortunate to start off with a unified and impactful vision, and coupled with the strong relationship that we had built initially as product partners, it was not difficult to outline the path forward and communicate openly with each of our transaction partners.
While this was the largest and most diverse acquisition that WSI had undertaken, we did not think in those terms at the onset of the acquisition discussion. This acquisition was a natural evolution of the home-shopping experience and as a leader in this industry, we are committed to investing in and building this business as a platform for the industry.
Technology has always been a part of our business strategy–we have a prominent eCommerce business relative to other omnichannel retailers, our data scientists and digital marketing experts optimize our content to deliver a superior and customized customer experience, and we often pilot new partnerships and integrations across industries. This acquisition presented us with another opportunity to realize the potential of our mission–to enhance the quality of our customers lives at home–and at every critical decision point, we tied the data and the opportunity to this mission.
What advice would you give someone looking to be involved in M&A on the corporate side?
There are many paths to getting into M&A, and the best thing you can do is to develop an expert-level knowledge or–if applicable–execute one of the many workstreams required for a successful transaction. Independent of direct experience, you can advance your knowledge of the process by reading deal-related books such as Venture Deals, cultivate financial insight by practicing valuation analysis or building cap tables, or develop an industry perspective by staying current on relevant news for established corporations and startup companies. If you are already in a business-related role, volunteer to participate in a workstream such as due diligence, strategy development, valuation or pro forma analysis, negotiation, integration management or business plan. Finally, with the breadth of potential transactions in this market, it is always helpful to cultivate relationships with industry peers across the business spectrum as you never know which direction the next big opportunity will come from.
What advice would you give someone looking to involved in a M&A on the entrepreneur side?
Entrepreneurs and corporations are often perceived to be sitting on the opposite sides of the negotiating table when it comes to M&A, however, at the core, they both want to grow their industry in a meaningful way. Entrepreneurs naturally bring a deep level of expertise in a specific or narrow sector while large corporate organizations may be solving for a large or broad use case of applicability. In this case, entrepreneurs can contribute meaningfully by communicating the broader applicability of their own knowledge base while also addressing additional business factors such as revenue growth, market share, industry changes, or emerging trends. I always appreciate when entrepreneurs keep the communication fluid by sharing relevant company news, industry trends, new advancements, or changes in their own business lines.