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Does My Company Need a Shareholder Agreement?

Posted by Gregory Robinson | May 30, 2024 | 0 Comments

A shareholder agreement is a crucial contract between the shareholders of a corporation, outlining their rights, responsibilities, and obligations to one another and the corporation. These agreements, also known as stockholder agreements, are optional but highly beneficial, particularly for closely held corporations with a limited number of shareholders and concentrated ownership.

The Importance of Shareholder Agreements

In closely held corporations, shareholders are often not only investors but also involved in day-to-day business operations, creating complex and potentially conflicting relationships. When properly drafted by an attorney, shareholder agreements can help mitigate the risk of future conflicts and promote the long-term stability and success of the business.

The Potential for Conflicts in Closely Held Corporations

While the term "corporation" may evoke images of large, publicly traded companies, most corporations are closely held firms controlled by a small group of shareholders. In these closely held corporations, shareholders often serve as directors, officers, and employees, blurring the lines between ownership and control. Additionally, shareholders may have personal relationships, such as family ties, which can further complicate business interactions.

Shareholder disputes in closely held corporations are among the most challenging and potentially destructive problems. These disputes can arise if majority shareholders attempt to squeeze out minority shareholders or take actions benefiting the majority at the expense of the minority. Conversely, minority shareholders may have interests that diverge from those of the majority and the company's overall well-being.

Corporate charters and bylaws may not adequately address these complex relationships, making shareholder agreements essential for preventing conflicts.

How Shareholder Agreements Work

A well-drafted shareholder agreement provides clear guidelines for the operation and management of a closely held corporation, helping to prevent conflicts and uncertainties among shareholders. It protects shareholder interests and ensures the stability and continuity of the business.

Key Provisions in a Shareholder Agreement

  1. Clarifying Rights and Obligations: Shareholder agreements clearly delineate each shareholder's rights, responsibilities, and obligations, preventing misunderstandings and disputes regarding management, decision-making, and profit distribution.
  2. Protecting Shareholder Interests: Provisions such as rights of first refusal, tag-along rights, and anti-dilution protections ensure minority shareholders are treated fairly.
  3. Making Decisions: Establishing procedures for decision-making and voting rights provides a framework for resolving disputes and making key corporate decisions, promoting stability and efficiency.
  4. Managing Transitions and Exits: Provisions for handling ownership changes, such as buy-sell agreements, outline the process for buying out a shareholder who wants to sell their shares or becomes incapacitated, preventing costly business disruptions.
  5. Preserving Confidentiality and Preventing Competition: Confidentiality provisions prevent the disclosure of sensitive information, while restrictive covenants prevent shareholders from engaging in competitive activities that could undermine the corporation's interests.
  6. Resolving Disputes: Mechanisms such as mediation, arbitration, or buyout clauses provide methods for resolving shareholder disputes.

Properly Executed Shareholder Agreements Are Valuable Planning Tools

Shareholder agreements, like other business contracts, are not one-size-fits-all tools. Well-thought-out agreements can prevent or resolve problems, while poorly drafted agreements can create new issues leading to expensive litigation. It's essential to draft shareholder agreements with an eye toward the specific goals your company wants to achieve.

For legal assistance in drafting a shareholder agreement that aligns with your company's goals, shareholder personalities, and dynamics, please contact our small business attorneys to schedule a meeting.

About the Author

Gregory Robinson

Attorney Gregory Robinson is a native of Alabama. He earned his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Mitchell Hamline School of Law and holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Rice University. Prior to practicing law, he worked as a strategy consultant in the financial industry...


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