Merger Master

Problem solver, strategist, analyst, and issues-juggler Aliena Martinez solves the puzzle of merging five companies into one

Aliena Martinez, SVP of Strategy and Products, MHI Global. Photo by Greg Cohen.

Versatility is a quality that comes into play when unexpected challenges arise. For MHI Global senior vice president of strategy and products Aliena Martinez, challenges are perceived as opportunities. In turn, Martinez’s company perceives her as a great asset. “I like to challenge myself,” Martinez says. “I like broadening my knowledge, understanding all areas of the business, and how they all fit together. I’m the kind of person who enjoys bouncing all over the place.”

And so she did, in a way, when she worked in several capacities for Kinko’s early in her career and during her tenure at Corporate Express (now Staples). Sales analysis, product marketing, brand management, growth strategy—they’ve all been part of Martinez’s job description at one time or another, and sometimes simultaneously.

So, when Miller Heiman brought her into the fold in 2008—first as a consultant, then full-time—they only got a hint of her versatility. It wasn’t until Miller Heiman started the down the path of mergers and aquisitions toward becoming the largest dedicated performance improvement company in the world that Martinez’s abilities were truly showcased.

The Colorado-based Miller Heinman first acquired Channel Enablers in 2010, followed by Impact Learning Systems in 2012. Miller Heinman then acquired both AchieveGlobal and Huthwaite in late 2013, followed by their parent company Informa. By January 2014, five companies including the original Miller Heinman were to become one: MHI Global.

Martinez led due diligence for each of the acquisitions while also being entrusted with the intellectual properties involved, as well as the strategies necessary for dealing with a new bulk portfolio of over 200 products, many of which competed against each other in terms of content and purpose. Over the past four years, Martinez has been in her element: bouncing all over the place, indeed.

The resulting MHI Global is a company specializing in professional training, coaching, and consulting while maintaining a holistic approach to the cultivation and retention of customer relationships. Behind the scenes, the logistics of becoming that company were not neatly spread out and organized in a timely manner; they needed to be conquered all at once, just in this past year. “Because of the nature of the acquisition, we couldn’t do any of the operational efforts until January 2015 to actually integrate the companies,” Martinez says.

“My passion lies with the programs we offer, and how to maintain the integrity of the IP. If we don’t do that, we are missing out on providing true value to our customers.”

In 2014, the five companies continued to operate under their respective brands—with all sales people “focused in their own swim lanes,” as Martinez puts it. Meanwhile, the focus of MHI Global itself was clear: sales performance, leadership and management, and customer experience.

“When it comes to sales performance, we’re truly a transformation company,” Martinez says. “We don’t just train your people—[our approach] is about implementation, coaching, consulting work, and ultimately transforming your business, not just providing training.”

As Martinez and her team got deeper into the process, integrating the products and businesses by function—specifically product management, product development and design, and product technology and enablement—she realized what an undertaking she’d been entrusted with.

“It has taken a lot of effort,” Martinez admits. “We really had to let our defenses down to understand what each product really is, think about our clients and what their end results need to be.”

For all the challenges at the start of the process, it only took a few weeks for previously separate teams to come around to see the proverbial big picture that MHI Global has in mind. But just like in the consumer arena, product loyalties run deep among those that sell them. “Even though we all knew it made sense for the future, change is sometimes hard,” Martinez says. “Change was accepted differently in each department, some more easily than others.”

Much remains to be done on the product front for MHI Global. In 2014, Martinez and her team focused on looking at the sales performance core methodologies in the sales performance portfolio: what they were, what they should be, and how they should tie together. In 2015, the focus shifted to customer experience, as three competing products from the various companies were refined into a single product that was unveiled in the fall. Over 100 products remain in the company portfolio; some are allotted for retirement, while others are still competing for survival. Martinez believes this process will continue for at least another year or two—but it’s a process she welcomes. “It’s my responsibility, as the one driving the products organization, to make sure these are all things we continue to think about,” she says.

Of course, it’s hardly her sole priority. Future acquisitions always await strategic consideration and due diligence. “MHI Global’s parent company, TwentyEighty, is growing its workplace performance and corporate training platforms, so the efforts that MHI Global started last year, we’re now starting with the TwentyEighty companies,” she says.

And with so much intellectual property (i.e. e-learning programs) to protect now, one can rest assured that Martinez is bouncing around as much as ever—but with as much clarity as ever, too. “My passion lies with the programs we offer, and how to maintain the integrity of the IP,” she says. “If we don’t do that, we are missing out on providing true value to our customers.”