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M&A Transformers Episode 02

How digital marketplaces group Adevinta seized the opportunity for a transformational acquisition

M&A Transformers Episode 01

A bold move

As acquisitions go, they don’t come much bolder. Adevinta’s purchase of eBay Classifieds Group (eCG) doubled the size of its business overnight, and with ambitious synergy aspirations, the newly formed digital marketplaces group embarked on a challenging plan to integrate and transform its business. The results speak for themselves. Deloitte Partner Dan Ison shares his reflections. 

“It didn’t make sense for us to continue to operate the same way, so we decided to change the operating model and build central services at the same time as completing the deal.”

M&A that’s truly transformative takes guts, ambition and resilience. Adevinta’s purchase of eCG in 2020 represented a significant opportunity to scale up on its ambition to support sustainable commerce.

Adevinta placed its bid for eCG in 2019 in the face of strong, well-financed opposition. The two organisations were similar in size, but very different in terms of maturity. eCG was part of a large, established group, whereas Adevinta was learning to stand on its own two feet having just separated from Scandinavian media group, Schibsted. The US$9.2 billion deal ultimately closed in Q2 2021 creating the world’s largest online marketplaces group.

The new company aimed to be fully integrated by 25 June 2022 with run-time synergies projected to be US$130 million–US$160 million after three years.

Here, I look at the journey through the integration and transformation, and some of the themes that emerged along the way. 



  • Created in 2019 when the Oslo-based Schibsted media group spun off most of its online marketplaces, including Leboncoin (France), fotocasa (Spain), OLX (Brazil) and Shpock (UK, Austria, Germany).
  • 2019 turnover: €680m
  • July 2020: 4,700 employees with a portfolio that spanned 35 digital products and websites in 15 countries.


eBay Classifieds Group (eCG)


  • Founded in 2004 in San Francisco as the classifieds arm of eBay Inc. and included such brands as 2dehands/2ememain (Belgium), eBay Kleinanzeigen (Germany), Gumtree (Australia, South Africa and globally), Kijiji (Canada), Marktplaats (Netherlands) and (Germany).
  • 2019 turnover: $996m
  • July 2020: 1,558 employees across 12 marketplace businesses in 13 countries. 

Committing to the cause


Adevinta has committed to delivering annual synergies of around US$130 million after three years, with roughly three-quarters coming from cost savings. Now, six months post legal Day One, they are well ahead of their targets, thanks to the investment and focus they’ve had from board level down. 

Direction and support

The decision to appoint a dedicated Integration Director (ID) was significant. Alex Collinet (formerly a leader in Leboncoin) became the programme’s face, head and heart, driving the process from the inside. He has since been appointed as group COO.

In large integrations the appointment of a dedicated ID is essential. With part-timers, there’s a risk that other responsibilities skew their priorities away from what’s best for the project. Alex is adamant that “you need to be agnostic, and the only way to be truly agnostic is to report directly to the CEO.

”Alex’s three main aims were to safely exit the transitional arrangements (TSAs) with eBay, achieve the commercial goals originally announced for the deal, and then transform Adevinta for future success. Having built up Leboncoin (a French classifieds website) from 15 to 1,500 people, he knew the operational and cultural needs of a local marketplace business inside out, and that gave him huge credibility internally. Crucially, he believes this gave him the ability to empathise with the business and set pragmatic goals. Alex shared, “We were asking the business to integrate and transform whilst still hitting huge targets and continuing to grow – you can’t do that unless you understand how the business works and what that’s going to involve.” 

What makes a great Integration Director?


Although IDs are usually appointed from the acquiring company, there can be advantages in appointing from the target. While the vast majority come from Head Office, a practical background within the business can be invaluable.

Most IDs have at least 10 years’ experience in their business, and an in-depth understanding of its processes, systems and culture. However, the role requires no specific set of skills: whether the ID’s strengths lie in building teams and relationships, or in decision-making and programme management, it’s important to complement their strengths by providing support from other areas of the business.

Senior-level sponsorship is essential, to ensure the ID can access the support and advice needed to take difficult decisions quickly.

Early appointment is preferable and an ID who is part of the original deal team will fully understand its purpose, goals and risks well in advance of integration. Incentives can encourage them to stay in post until the programme is complete. 

Investing for success

When two businesses of similar maturity merge, a one-off investment that roughly matches the annual synergies target is usually what’s needed to realise that target. In this instance leadership decided to invest more to create central functions from scratch and actively support the eCG brands after being cut loose from eBay. In Alex’s words, “It didn’t make sense for us to continue to operate the same way, so we decided to change the operating model and build central services at the same time as completing the deal.” This made commercial sense but was still hugely ambitious and would not have worked if Adevinta hadn’t already invested time to form a clear vision for the new organisation.

Owning it

It’s important for acquirers to own their integration and transformation journey and not expect advisers to take over. But ownership also needs to permeate the organisation and run deeper than senior executive level, because it’s usually functional leads and process owners who understand the operational nuances. If you get them actively involved, they can help embed ownership right through to the practical implementation. To make sure this happened, Adevinta had several workstreams, each with an executive sponsor, in-house lead and team, and Deloitte supporting them.

At board level the appointment of a dedicated Integration (and later Transformation) Committee, ensured oversight and support. Their challenge and backing empowered Alex to steer the programme objectively.

Culture and people

Despite being similar in size, the two organisations were very different in terms of maturity and working culture. eCG reflected the values and centralised practices of its eBay mothership. Adevinta’s businesses had autonomous operations and cultures, but all shared a strongly consultative nature which lay at the company’s heart.

For Nicki Dexter, Adevinta’s Chief People & Communications Officer, getting the culture right was her main goal. Nicki shared how “We spent a lot of time in focus groups and interviews to understand what was important to the two organisations and what was holding them back. We then retained all the things they loved and scaled them when we put the organisation together.”

M&A triggers senior-level attrition and this deal was no exception. Some eCG leaders left post-announcement, meaning the business needed time to stabilise. In the wider business the rationalisation of operations required careful consideration of local labour laws. These aren’t easy decisions, and often can’t be avoided but there’s still a choice about how they’re handled. Ongoing and clear communication was vital so that everyone understood the constraints on the business and why certain decisions were made. As Nicki puts it, “Overcommunicate. You always think you’re doing a good job of communicating, but you can never really do enough.”

Transforming while transacting


As a young, relatively decentralised organisation, Adevinta had to start to transform while transacting in order to be in a position to integrate eCG (which had relied on support from eBay’s central functions). TSAs with eBay bought some valuable time and by deciding to leapfrog to new, centralised systems rather than upgrade and integrate the various old ones, Adevinta was able to maintain pace and build sustainable efficiencies.

A clear destination

Successful transformations require a clear vision of how you want to be working in three to five years’ time – we call that the ‘North Star’ or ‘Lighthouse’ view. The process pushes a business to be clear and honest about its strengths and where the combination of capabilities from the merger will drive improvements. Adevinta considered the best balance between local and global – to get the cost efficiencies of central functions but also to keep the collaborative ethos and not take a fully top-down approach. Adevinta chose to take an incremental, consultative approach for some transformation activities, which helped keep key leaders on board.

Well-chosen steps

It’s not easy trying to make progress on several fronts in parallel and doing it all at once can stress a business. Adevinta was passionate about protecting the consumer experience so chose to keep areas such as customer services and CRM systems out of scope in the early stages. Again, there was a need to balance maintaining the culture with staying commercially credible, but their clear priorities for action meant they could reassure the market by demonstrating steady progress. 

Harnessing the ecosystem


With neither the capability to plan and co-ordinate the integration nor the back-office capacity to put the plans into practice, Adevinta has drawn support from various places.

External advisers bring important expertise and resources during an integration. Adevinta was open to this support but, as a relatively lean business, wanted advisers who could actively partner with them and be invested in the journey as a part of their team. This partnering has brought a learning benefit that has helped Adevinta become much more self-reliant, with external help now only needed in certain areas. For example, post TSA exits, Adevinta has now embarked on a major Cloud journey for all their applications with help from Deloitte and Amazon Web Services.

With so few central resources, long-term arrangements for outsourcing some back-office activities (for example Payroll) have also taken the heavy lifting off Adevinta’s shoulders. “We’ve got this ecosystem of support now – not only for the integration, but also for Adevinta ‘in life’, which has been really good for us” says Alex.

A marathon, not a sprint


With a deal of this size it’s right to expect complexity. It couldn’t be completed overnight. “Closing the deal was delayed by almost a year, which caused lots of challenges, but we were ready for them”, says Alex.

Clearing regulatory hurdles

Being prepared to respond to scrutiny and challenge by competition authorities saves time in the long run. Adevinta had already considered how they might have to flex to keep regulators happy while staying true to their strategy, so when challenges arose, they were ready to resolve them quickly which included moves like selling Shpock and Gumtree in the UK.

Balancing confidentiality and collaboration

It was important to Adevinta that eCG teams were involved in decision-making so they recognised that balancing a consultative approach with confidentiality rules would involve some delay.

One solution is a confidential ‘clean room’ environment, where selected senior management from both companies meet to agree some key decisions beforehand, so they’re ready for action on Day One. Another is to be ready for joint decision-making from Day One, so the acquirer needs to consider beforehand what decisions will need to be made, and their priorities: which can be made early, which need more deliberation, and so forth. Some of those decisions might be strategically sensitive, or are culturally important to consult widely so they need more time. Others could be straightforward ‘no regret’ actions – perhaps planning and staffing back-office operations – where those decisions can safely be made before Day One.

Staying the course

Adevinta kept focus on making steady progress and could shift speed according to the circumstances. For instance, they got a lot done quickly by outsourcing services such as application and desktop management and these were important early signals to the market of practical steps with sustainable benefit.

Even with a committed team, a programme like this can be a hard road to follow and remuneration can help sustain commitment through the rough and the smooth. Internally you might have bonus elements for key programme leaders and you can also consider incentivising advisers, which can work well for simple, well-defined assignments. 



The acquisition has been a crucial step in Adevinta’s ‘Growing at Scale’ strategy and has moved the organisation up a league, beyond niche marketplaces, so they’ve now got the scale and efficiency to compete with the giants. A refreshed leadership team is now embarking on an organisational simplification programme to help exploit its scale and better align the business with its growth ambitions in key market verticals.

Adevinta is now more ‘acquisition or divestment ready’ than it has ever been. The organisation has learned what it takes to make acquisitions succeed and the new operating model will make future integrations or carve-outs much easier.

Cost rationalisation has delivered a large chunk of the deal synergies. Nicki confirms that value is also being created in other ways, in part down to brands sharing their knowhow with others in the group: “The business and commercial teams have been able to accelerate feature development and progress the business from a product perspective.”

Focus on the customer has been notable throughout. “I’m most proud of our teams,” says Nicki. “They have put the customer first at every juncture.” And going to the heart of Adevinta’s purpose, “Ultimately, we envisage a world where sustainable commerce can help shape a healthier world and society. This deal has enabled us to scale up our ambition to help people and things connect to a new purpose.”

Deloitte supported Adevinta through this deal with more than 100 specialists in Consulting, Tax, Risk Advisory, Financial Advisory and Assurance drawn from the UK, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, France, Sweden and further afield. We advised across multiple stages of the transaction from pre-deal due diligence to post-merger integration support, and on functional transformation including across HR, Finance, Procurement, Business Technology Services, Product and Legal.

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