Shareholder Agreement

Shareholders’ agreements: protection from loss or unnecessary expense?

28th  Oct 2013

Setting up a new business can be a costly endeavour. Between the new website, marketing and the expense of looking for new customers, many businesses do not consider risk management as a priority from the outset. The introduction of a contract such as a shareholders’ agreement is often put on the back burner and the function and profitability of the business become the main priority. The forming of such agreements can be seen as time consuming and costly but actually this business expense can save the company money in the long run and can creates a foundation and ultimately an incentive for all shareholders and directors to work together.

A shareholders’ agreement is put in place not only to resolve shareholder issues, but to resolve them quickly and quietly, keeping the business’ reputation and income intact. It can govern the actions of each shareholder and consequently the directors of a company, as the people who form small businesses tend to occupy both roles. It is a valuable mechanism in situations of shareholder disagreements or removals. It may prevent an ex-director providing the same services while attempting to poach the previous company’s customers. This would essentially save the company from spending both time and money on unnecessary court proceedings. A further attractive characteristic of a shareholders’ agreement is that it is not in the public domain. Therefore, any boardroom disagreement can be kept quiet to preserve the company’s reputation.

An article from the Independent newspaper, explains the benefit of using a shareholders’ agreement and how the alternative involving court action is much more expensive than putting a shareholders’ agreement in place, “In any event court action is usually expensive and time consuming and may damage the company’s reputation and the goodwill of the business. It is therefore important that there is a contractual procedure in place to resolve any deadlock as quickly and as privately as possible.”

It makes sense putting a shareholders’ agreement in place from the beginning to cater for changes in the shareholders’ interest and business direction. Consequently, the implementation of such a contract would be much trickier after the shareholder changes focus.  Resolutions to such situations are more time consuming and generally uncomfortable as the negotiations take place under a cloud of changing priority and frustration.

The article continues, “the directors and shareholders’ personal plans and expectations may diverge over time, making it harder to agree the terms of the shareholders’ agreement later on in the lifecycle of the company.”  So, putting a shareholders’ agreement in place may also result in a business being more profitable. The agreement can also regulate the everyday functions of the business, allowing decisions to be made quickly and fairly, taking account of the views of each shareholder. It can also regulate the responsibilities and remuneration of each shareholder, which could potentially prevent many misunderstandings and disagreements.

David Reilly, Director at Create Ts and Cs commented, “We believe a shareholder agreement is not only a mechanism for solving problems within a limited company and promoting the sustainability of the company but it’s also a way of managing governance in the business; reflecting the particular culture of the business.  Managing the consent issues and the shared responsibilities of each shareholder/director (in most small businesses the directors and shareholders are the same person); this way responsibility is allocated and incentive built into the agreement to ensure that each director/shareholder (small business model) is part of something that is theirs’ to grow as a team.  This is best done through a tailored agreement, which is a shareholder agreement that is first discussed with the shareholders/directors and the key issues agreed beforehand and then reflected in a tailored contract.”

Yes, it is a relatively costly instrument and is not always utilised. However, this does not take away from the fact that these agreements are an essential tool for your business. It should be common practice for these agreements are formed at the start of the venture alongside forming a company.

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Valuation of company shares; common reasons.

 29th April 2013

The activity of company share valuation is  part of the natural lifecycle of a business.  At certain times of change the facility to change company directors may be paramount to the survival of the business.  In such situations the business requires both contract advice and financial expertise.  Here is an example of two common situations

Removal of a Company Director

It’s a tense time within the business when there is deadlock in the boardroom or a fall-out between company directors, sometimes resulting in the removal of a company director .  These are usually highly emotional situations.  If a correct shareholder agreement is in place, then a mechanism is there to cater for solving director dispute.  Without this commercial agreement the director dispute or deadlock relies on the interpretation of the law or an informal approach leading to dispute which can leave a trail of problems and further cost down the line.

When a director decides to part company; the next step requires valuation of the company shares; when it comes to valuing the shares, Philip Simpson of 525 Accountancy comments, “Valuing shares is a fundamental part of assisting the smooth departure of a director; if handled incorrectly conflict can arise leading to substantial legal fees and it may be some time before the business returns to its current state”.

David Reilly director at Create Ts and Cs comments” it’s best to have a commercial agreement in place to deal with the natural ups and downs of business.   Things can go wrong and change naturally occurs in companies, so it’s best to put a contract in place at the beginning, when the sun is shining; having a facility to deal with future issues is simply best business practice”.

Due Diligence – selling a business or appoining a new Director

So the business has reached a certain point where it’s time to sell or attract investment.  Although each event is very different, they are both stressful and exciting times for managing director. According to a recent Financial Times article on March 7, 2013, commenting on the advantages of having a board in place, “the board is as good a way of having checks and balances in a business. It’s not a panacea in all cases, but is there a better way of attracting investment?  The providers of capital will want to keep a check on what management’s doing. So there needs to be some sort of mechanism to provide reassurance that capital is being put to good use”. A board can provide assurance to investors, however the board requires a contract to ensure a structure is in place to deal with future issues and support sustainability.

David Reilly comments, “it’s always an interesting time for the company directors, as a potential new company director or investor assesses the value of the business and conducts due diligence, a tailored commercial agreement puts a framework in place and gives the board options when circumstances change.  The most important issue is the business is sustainable”.

Philip Simpson adds, “An independent valuation of the finances is critical, to getting all parties to agree a figure as quickly as possible so the existing directors can move forward with the business. So, why not pay a reasonable sum and have the peace of mind that there will be no problems in the future and all the relevant diligence has been completed”.

In conclusion having both the financially and contractual expertise in place will support the various natural transitions a company will go through.  The right contract will provide options for change and support those changes.  Having the expertise will guide the business through the various challenges and will help the business to be sustainable.

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Create Ts and Cs provide a bespoke set of Terms and Conditions for your business at a fixed price, this unique approach to individualising commercial Terms and Conditions allow Start up and SME sized businesses the opportunity to protect themselves, manage risk and guard against future unnecessary disputes at an affordable price. Download: terms & conditions | privacy policy