IPA 100 Giants Call Off Planned Megamerger

Citing a cultural mismatch, leaders of IPA 100 firms Elliott Davis and Whitley Penn have decided to stop their planned megamerger, which was announced in June with a proposed closing date of Nov. 1.

Leaders from both firms came to the agreement about four weeks ago, deciding that the firm cultures were just too different to proceed, said Whitley Penn MP Larry Autrey in an interview with IPA. “We just decided that rather than force two cultures together we could thrive separately.” Both firms were so successful operating separately that it made sense to continue as two distinct firms. “We’re both good at what we do,” Autrey said. “We’re high-performing firms and will continue to be.”

Fort Worth, Texas-based Whitley Penn (FY21 net revenue of $165.6 million) is ranked at No. 37 on the latest IPA 100 list of largest firms in the nation, while Greenville, S.C.-based Elliott Davis (FY22 net revenue of $156.0 million) is No. 40. Had the merger gone through, the combined firm, to be named Elliott Penn, would have been a top 25 firm with 16 offices and 1,400 professionals, led by Autrey and Elliott Davis CEO Rick Davis as co-CEOs.

Autrey said he has no regrets and he believes the end of the merger is not a failure of due diligence. “I’m not sure there’s diligence you can do on culture.” Both firms, and both MPs, will remain friendly. “We harassed each other about football this weekend,” Autrey said. “We’re the same as we always were.”


In fact, he believes both firms will be even stronger having gone through the planning. “We learned a ton about ourselves in the process.” One lesson was the impressive performance of the leadership teams, he said. “We both thought we had good teams, but you never know until you see them perform at such a high level.”  At an upcoming management retreat, for example, partners will discuss taking on even more responsibilities. “I’m horrible at those things,” Autrey admitted. “I’m bad at giving things away.” Now he is less reluctant.

“These two firms dared to try something very different (and special) and in the end figured out it wasn’t their best option,” said consultant Allan Koltin, who was not involved in the proposed deal. “Interestingly, this goes on every single day in the ‘real’ business world. Sometimes a merger/combination happens and sometimes it doesn’t. Candidly, I wish more firms had the guts to take more risks like this and explore new visions and opportunities for their firms.”


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