Merger planning is touchy business. In a hotel crowded with utility executives gathered together to talk mergers, you notice everything: Who's there and who isn't. Who's talking to whom. Who came with his lawyers. And who's always out in the hall on the phone.
That's why I had so much fun last month at the Eighth Annual Utility M&A Symposium, sponsored by EXNET (Public Utilities Reports and The Management Exchange).
For instance, I couldn't help but notice that the person busy taking down notes in the chair next to mine, whom I know is general counsel at a major investor-owned utility (IOU), was deliberately leaning forward to shield his papers from my view every time I craned my neck to get a better look at the speaker's podium (em especially when James A. Carrigg, chairman and CEO of New York State Electric and Gas Co., who was there to speak about "Utility Mergers and Acquisitions in the New Competitive Environment," paused briefly to proclaim, "I see three kinds of utilities: aggressors, defenders, and bait."
Credit the audience for a bit of sophistication; Carrigg's comment failed to cause much of a stir. Most had heard such talk before. But eyes brightened when the audience was asked to participate in an impromptu electronic poll. Each attendee was given a small electronic keypad. The poll asked a simple question: "How many of you are involved in merger discussions now?" The audience gasped as the tally came up on the big projection screen at the front of the room. Of the 100 who voted, 64 said "No," but 36 said "Yes."
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