Define: Acquisition

Quick Summary of Acquisition

Acquiring control of a corporation, called a target, by stock purchase or exchange, either hostile or friendly. also called a takeover.

In a broad sense, an acquisition takes place when one corporation takes over the controlling interest of another. An acquisition invariably results in a merger of two companies. When an acquisition occurs, the company that is being acquired is dubbed the target company. Although the term acquisition usually refers to a larger company consuming a smaller one, the outcome of an acquisition is always the formation of a single business entity from the assets and liabilities of two separate units. An acquisition can come in the form of a friendly merger between two corporations. It may also come as a hostile takeover, in which the target company attempts to block the acquisition. By and large, acquisitions are sought to consolidate market influence within given industries as well as advance profit opportunities. In effect, a successful acquisition is determined by whether or not it has augmented the value of the acquiring company.

What is the dictionary definition of Acquisition?
Dictionary Definition of Acquisition

A term used to describe the takeover of a company by another, which might be by agreement or hostile.

  1. The act or process of acquiring.
  2. The thing acquired or gained; a gain.
  3. computing The process of sampling signals that measure real-world physical conditions and converting these signals into digital numeric values that can be manipulated by a computer.
Full Definition Of Acquisition

Acquisition, in the legal and business context, refers to the process where one company purchases most, if not all, of another company’s shares to gain control of that company. Acquisitions are a common strategy for companies looking to expand their operations, enter new markets, or acquire new technologies. This legal overview will discuss the types of acquisitions, the regulatory framework governing acquisitions in the UK, the steps involved in the acquisition process, and key considerations for acquiring and target companies.

Types of Acquisitions

Acquisitions can be categorised into different types based on their nature and purpose:

Friendly vs Hostile Acquisitions:

  • Friendly Acquisition occurs when the target company willingly agrees to be purchased. The target company’s management typically supports the acquisition, and the transaction is negotiated openly.
  • Hostile acquisition occurs when the target company does not agree to the acquisition. The acquiring company may bypass the target company’s management and appeal directly to its shareholders or attempt to replace the management.

Share Purchase vs Asset Purchase:

  • Share Purchase: The acquiring company buys the target company’s shares, gaining ownership and control. This method involves taking on all the target company’s assets and liabilities.
  • Asset Purchase: The acquiring company buys specific assets of the target company. This method allows the acquiring company to select which assets and liabilities it wants to take on, providing a more tailored acquisition.

Vertical, Horizontal, and Conglomerate Acquisitions:

  • Vertical Acquisition: This involves acquiring a company that operates at a different level within the same industry’s supply chain, such as a manufacturer buying a supplier.
  • Horizontal acquisition occurs when a company acquires another company in the same industry at the same stage of production, often a competitor.
  • Conglomerate Acquisition: This type involves acquiring a company in a completely different industry, often to diversify the acquiring company’s business operations.

Regulatory Framework

The legal framework governing acquisitions in the UK involves multiple regulatory bodies and laws:

  • The Companies Act 2006: This is a key piece of legislation governing company law in the UK. It includes provisions on directors’ duties, shareholder rights, and disclosure requirements, all pertinent to acquisitions.
  • The Takeover Code: Administered by the Takeover Panel, the Takeover Code sets out the rules and principles for takeovers and mergers involving public companies in the UK. Its primary objectives are to ensure fair treatment of shareholders and to regulate the conduct of the parties involved in a takeover.
  • The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA): The CMA is responsible for preventing anti-competitive practices and ensuring that mergers and acquisitions do not create monopolies or significantly reduce competition.
  • Financial Conduct Authority (FCA): The FCA regulates financial markets and ensures that companies involved in acquisitions comply with relevant securities laws and regulations.
  • EU Regulations: Despite Brexit, certain EU regulations may still apply to UK acquisitions, particularly if the companies operate within the European Union.

Steps in the Acquisition Process

The acquisition process typically involves several key steps:

Preparation and Planning:

  • Identifying the target company
  • Conducting preliminary due diligence
  • Establishing the acquisition strategy and objectives

Negotiation and Agreement:

  • Initiating contact with the target company
  • Conducting detailed due diligence
  • Negotiating terms and conditions
  • Drafting and signing a Letter of Intent (LOI)

Due Diligence:

  • Financial due diligence: Examining the target company’s financial statements, tax records, and accounting practices
  • Legal due diligence: Reviewing contracts, litigation history, intellectual property, and compliance with laws and regulations
  • Operational due diligence: Assessing the target company’s operations, management, and workforce

Financing the Acquisition:

  • Determining the financing structure (cash, stock, debt, or a combination)
  • Securing the necessary funds

Regulatory Approvals:

  • Filing notifications with relevant regulatory bodies (CMA, FCA, etc.)
  • Obtaining necessary approvals

Finalising the Acquisition:

  • Negotiating and signing the final acquisition agreement
  • Completing the transaction (transferring shares or assets)
  • Post-acquisition integration

Key Considerations for Acquiring Companies

  • Strategic Fit: Assess whether the target company’s strategic goals, market position, and long-term vision align with those of the acquiring company.
  • Valuation: Accurately valuing the target company is crucial. Overpaying can lead to financial strain while underpaying might lead to rejection by the target’s shareholders.
  • Due Diligence: Comprehensive due diligence is essential to uncovering potential risks, liabilities, or issues affecting the acquisition.
  • Financing: The acquiring company must have a clear plan for financing the acquisition, including consideration of the impact on its balance sheet and cash flow.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Ensuring compliance with all relevant laws and regulations to avoid legal issues and potential fines.
  • Integration Plan: Developing a detailed integration plan to effectively merge the operations, cultures, and systems of the two companies.

Key Considerations for Target Companies

  • Valuation and Offer Price: Ensuring the offer price accurately reflects the company’s value and potential growth.
  • Shareholder Interests: Considering the interests of shareholders and ensuring they are fairly treated in the acquisition process.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Complying with disclosure requirements and other regulatory obligations.
  • Management and Employee Considerations: Addressing the impact of the acquisition on management and employees, including potential changes in roles, redundancies, or cultural adjustments.
  • Future Prospects: Evaluating whether the acquisition aligns with the company’s long-term goals and whether it provides the best option for future growth and success.

Case Studies and Precedents

To illustrate the complexities and legal nuances of acquisitions, it is useful to examine notable case studies and precedents:

  • The Cadbury-Kraft Acquisition: Kraft Foods’ 2010 acquisition of Cadbury was a high-profile and contentious deal. It highlighted issues around hostile takeovers, valuation disagreements, and cultural differences. The deal was heavily scrutinised under the Takeover Code, and the resulting integration faced significant challenges.
  • The Vodafone-Mannesmann Acquisition: This 1999 deal remains one of history’s largest and most complex acquisitions. Vodafone’s acquisition of Mannesmann was initially hostile but eventually turned friendly. The deal raised important considerations about cross-border mergers, regulatory approvals, and the integration of large multinational corporations.
  • The AB InBev-SABMiller Acquisition: Completed in 2016, this acquisition involved two of the world’s largest brewing companies. The deal required extensive regulatory scrutiny, including divestitures, to satisfy competition authorities. It exemplifies the importance of regulatory compliance and the complexities of integrating global operations.


Acquisitions are a powerful tool for companies seeking growth, market expansion, and competitive advantage. However, complex transactions require careful planning, thorough due diligence, and adherence to a robust legal and regulatory framework. For acquiring and target companies, understanding the legal intricacies and strategic implications is crucial to achieving a successful outcome.

In the UK, the legal landscape for acquisitions is well-established, with comprehensive regulations designed to protect shareholders, ensure fair competition, and maintain market integrity. By navigating this landscape effectively, companies can leverage acquisitions to drive their strategic objectives and create lasting value.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 15th June 2024.

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