Who owns your business?
Who are the owners of your business? I ask this because a surprising number of business owners do not know. Many have forgotten the history of the enterprise. It was once a very convenient relationship. Now it is a muddle. It is easier to get confused about this, and many people do. Here is a scenario:
Some of our clients started out in difficult circumstances. Today’s successful business was not always so calm. He may have founded the business from a position of desperation. A retrenched former employee needed to put food on his table, and clothe his kids.
Having been an employee for years, he ventured out into the small-business world. To call him naive would be accurate. (Yip; it wasn’t only you. And if you weren’t naive, I’m sure you know somebody) The business ran into trouble. Creditors liquidated it. Then his bank sequestrated him. He was not a disciple of Peter Carruthers.
Wiser, and desperate to survive, he started out again. Only this time, he did so from home, without the expense of a landlord. But the second time around there was a small complication in that he had several judgments to his name. We can be so unforgiving of those brave souls who step to the fore. They give effect to the politicians’ platitudes. You know; about small businesses being the cornerstone of our economies.
Our less naive, and now more resourceful entrepreneur, had to make a plan. He approached a friend to stand as a silent partner. That friend would also be the legal frontman of the business.
People do this.
White people fronted for entrepreneurial black people under the old corrupt mob. You know, before the current corrupt mob. Brave or greedy, these white people saw an opportunity. It was an economic reality. Race-based fronting is not new. It was illegal then too.
Some businesses which thrive today, still have the original owners on paper. The friends of the actual businessmen. Owners who never go near the businesses. Owners who have no idea that they own businesses.
This can get tricky at the time of selling the business. And you know, all businesses get sold if they can keep their heads above water long enough. Have I mentioned before that businesses are very valuable retirement assets? Your business might be gold.
- There are many reasons for, and examples of, legacy shareholders still owning businesses.
- Husband and wife start out in business together and then get divorced.
- Siblings take over the business from their parents, without defining duties and expectations.
- Seed capital partners who themselves have diluted or merged.
This is not an issue for most readers. But you do not know until you look at your share register. Your eventual new owner of the business will want to see it.
Go get it out. And give it some thought.
It once was preferable to sell your business out of the company or cc. The asset deal was the safest option for the seller and the buyer. For a developing set of circumstances, it is now better to sell your shares. The equity deal could save about 60% of the tax bill on the transaction in the entrepreneur’s hands. Tax calculations have changed to benefit the shareholder as an individual.
Shareholder agreements may have participation and preemptive requirements. The memorandum of incorporation of your business will define these requirements. If your fellow shareholders are not who you assume them to be, then this could get interesting.
It is better to deal with this stuff now than when you are staring down the boardroom table of a due diligence. Do so before you are dead, dismembered, or comatose. Your heirs will thank you for taking action on this advice. They will write songs about you.