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Keep Them Guessing – The Art of Code Names

by on November 5, 2013


Did you know that every M&A deal has a Code Name?  Ever wonder how they were created?

First, why do we use code names?  This may be an obvious answer but just in case, the reason is so that the people working on the deal can talk about it in public places without eaves droppers knowing which company is being discussed.  Simply, a codename is a name that you agree upon and you use to hide what you are talking about.  So printed material that might be looked at by someone not in the know won’t jeopardize the deal.

Second, not every company gets a code name.  To get a code name you have to be very interested in the company.  It has to go beyond simple partnership discussions.  It’s okay to start any M&A discussions around a partnership, in fact this is how most discussions are portrayed at the start, but as the frequency of meetings and travel increases, it’s generally time to give the company a code name.

How are Code Names Determined?

You can arbitrarily generate a code name using an online tool.  One such tool is Code Name Generator and can be accessed online here.  It gives you the option of choosing from multiple categories in multiple order to generate a random code name.  The problem with this is that it’s almost impossible to remember but it sure is easy to produce.

Some companies have a list, like a list of the names of cars, and as a deal is identified the next name on the list is given to that deal.  That works  for investment banks and such where there are a lot of deals and a lot of people.  It’s very impersonal and impossible to remember the company masked by the code name unless you have that list.

Others use a coding system that uses the first letter of each company’s name, for example, and this applies to both buyer and seller.  For instance, Intel’s purchase of McAfee might have had a code name something like Igloo and Mercury.  That’s also hard to remember because there’s no reference to the names other than the first letter.

I like to make some reference to the company in the name, like where it’s based or what industry it’s in, or some play on its name.  It makes it easier to remember.  But keep in mind, no one will like a name at first because it’s different.  It takes a while for it to grow on everyone.

Some Examples:

Project Waters – When I was at OpenTV we bought a company based in London, Static 2358.  OpenTV was based in Mountain View, CA.  That project was named after Roger Waters and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.  Static 2358 was Waters and OpenTV was Gilmour.

Project Mercedes – Yes, this is a car name but it refers to a company, Webwasher, based in Germany that we bought while I was at Cyberguard.  I picked the name because of the German connection and because the car has a reputation of being fast, sleek and elegant; qualities of Webwasher that I liked.

Project Rocket – This refers to the first company we bought while I was at Lumension.  At the time Lumension was called Patchlink.  Rocket referred to a division of Harris Corporation it called STAT.  I chose the name because the company was based in Melbourne, Florida, not far from Cape Canaveral, and because the acquisition of STAT was the launching of the new vision for Patchlink.

Project Fortress – This refers to the second company Patchlink bought, Securewave, which led to the changing of the company name to Lumension.  Securewave was based in Luxembourg, a beautiful city and country with very nice people and great restaurants.  I’m not sure I picked the name, I think the CEO did, but it was a perfect code name for the project.  First, the name is great for security technology but the main reason was because of the geography.  The city of Luxembourg is a natural fortress and is situated between Germany and France and therefore a natural location to capture during wars between Germany or Prussia and France.

Project Gemini – Refers to Securityworks, a small, two-person firm based in Dallas, TX that Lumension acquired.  Gemini refers to the twin brothers Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology and also the constellation with its two brightest stars, also named Castor and Pollux.

Some times the naming isn’t very creative.  For example, Project Arch referred to a company in St. Louis, Project Longhorn referred to a company in Austin, TX, and Project Maple Leaf was a company based in Montreal.

But I always have fun naming a project!


If you’re wondering how you build a company that you can sell for a premium in a few years, contact me to discuss the Valuation Amplification Process.

I also invite you to download the white paper and learn How to Quickly Increase Your Valuation – A Proven 5 Step Process.

From → M&A, Strategy, Valuation

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