Now there are some best practices from companies such as EMC (with RSA and VMware) on completing mergers like this-and some good recent examples from Hewlett-Packard (with Compaq, Palm and EDS) on how not to do them. The problem is that most companies tend to gravitate toward the HP methodology of high-integration mergers, not the EMC (and, more recently, Dell) method that's designed to actually protect the assets acquired.
Analysis: HP Allays Fears Around PC Business Uncertainty
Let's use the rumor of Samsung purchasing RIM to compare the right way and the wrong way to do a merger-in the hope that if Samsung does do this, it's done the right way.
High Reward-But Higher Risk
The stakes on this effort are high. If Samsung could pull this off, it would emerge as arguably the king of the smartphone space and would have the capability, through RIM's impressive IP portfolio, to move from the defensive to the offensive with its Apple litigation or, at the very least, force Apple to settle.
(The ongoing Apple-Samsung trial has both companies alleging that the other infringed upon its patents. Apple claims the Galaxy smartphones and Galaxy Tab PCs are copies of the iPhone and iPad, respectively, while Samsung claims that Apple stole the idea for the iPhone from mock-ups of a Samsung touchscreen phone, not to mention from the designs of Sony and other companies, and that Apple has further infringed on Samsung's patents for its 3G technology. In short, it's the patent trial of the century.)
Meanwhile, Samsung could also to step out from under Google and create a better Apple alternative by becoming more vertically integrated. Finally, the company would be better positioned in the emerging Asian market than Apple.
Done right, the combined company could parley its new dominance in smartphones to dominance in tablets, using the combined advantage of Asian market and business penetration with RIM. It wouldn't be a good scenario for Apple, Microsoft or Google.
If Samsung tries and fails, though, it could end up on life support like Sony or Nokia. Microsoft and Google, upset about the deal to begin with, would be unlikely to step in and help. While Samsung clearly has other businesses, the scale of this failure would cripple Samsung and likely allow competitors to gain market share in most areas. Samsung's epitaph could be "Bought RIM, Executed Badly."
In short, if Samsung does buy RIM, it would either be king of the world or extinct. Given the resources involved, there's little chance of a more moderate outcome. That's high stakes indeed.
Integration Mergers: Great In Theory, Catastrophic In Practice
The reason that integration mergers are so popular is the same reason why they commonly fail: They are designed to simplify management by forcing the acquired company into the mold of the acquiring company. If we were talking about a marriage, this would be like surgically connecting the bodies in order to limit the differences. While small mergers, like transplants, can be made to work, large ones tend to be too shocking to the entire entity, and the operations fails.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.