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Do I Need a Shareholders’ Agreement?

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Ince

By:

Theresa Grech

Partner and Head of Corporate (Cardiff)

Ince

If you are a shareholder in a company with more than one shareholder, it is advisable to have a Shareholders’ Agreement drawn up. A Shareholders’ Agreement is a contract that establishes the relationship the shareholders have with each other and the company. The Shareholders’ Agreement, together with the Articles of Association (‘Articles’), form the constitution of the company.

It is not a legal requirement to have a Shareholders’ Agreement. In this article, Theresa Grech, Partner & Head of Corporate at Ince (Cardiff), outlines a number of key benefits of entering into such an agreement.

Provides certainty and stability

Most companies adopt standard Articles on incorporation (known as the ‘Model Articles’) which contain no specific restrictions on the transfer of shares.

Without such restrictions a shareholder is free to:

  1. Transfer their shares to anyone, with the risk that they may decide to transfer their shares to a party who is not known to the other shareholders; or
  2. Transfer their shares to a competitor.

This can introduce uncertainty into the operation of the business and disrupt the smooth running of the company. Therefore, clauses are often included in the Shareholders’ Agreement to ensure that if a shareholder wishes to transfer their shares, they must first offer the shares to the remaining shareholders of the company. If the other shareholders do not wish to buy the shares and they are happy for them to be transferred to a third party, the Shareholders’ Agreement can state that any new shareholder must abide by the terms of the existing Shareholders’ Agreement by entering into what is known as a ‘Deed of Adherence’.

Imposes restrictions

The Shareholders’ Agreement can impose restrictions on individuals whilst they are a shareholder of the company, and/or for a certain period after they cease to be a shareholder of the company. For example: shareholders can be prohibited to carry on any business which competes with the business of the company or entice away customers or employees from the company.

In general, the restrictions can be stricter than similar clauses which can be inserted in an employment contract, so they can prove very useful to a company should the shareholders fall out and a leaving employee shareholder decides to set up in competition to the business of the company.

A confidentiality clause can also be inserted into the Shareholders’ Agreement so that shareholders do not use or pass confidential information to any competitors of the business. These confidentiality restrictions can apply for the duration of the Shareholders’ Agreement and after its termination.

Offers protection

The Shareholders’ Agreement can offer protection to all shareholders, whether the individuals are minority or majority shareholders.

For minority shareholders, it ensures that some key decisions require the unanimous consent of all shareholders, and not just the majority or 75% of the vote (as required by the Articles and/or the Companies Act 2006). This will mean that the minority shareholders will have a right of veto over some key decisions.

In addition, a ‘tag along’ clause could be included in the Shareholders’ Agreement, so that in the event a majority shareholder decides to sell their shares, such a clause would allow the minority shareholders (owning less than 50% of the share capital) the opportunity to participate in the sale at the same time and price (i.e. they can ‘tag along’).

For the majority shareholders, a ‘drag along’ clause could be included. Therefore, in the event there is an offer from a third party to purchase the entire issued share capital of the company, minority shareholders can, in effect, be ‘dragged along’ and forced to accept the third party offer and sell their shares on the same terms as the majority shareholder. It is worth noting that ‘tag along’ and/or ‘drag along’ clauses can be included in the Articles.

Settles disputes

It is foreseeable that during the operation of the business, the shareholders and/or directors may find that they disagree about certain matters relating to the company. Disputes can be time-consuming and expensive. Therefore, the Shareholders’ Agreement can be a useful tool to manage these disputes should they arise and set out various provisions to deal with them.

Need more information and advice?

For more information and advice on Shareholders’ Agreements from our corporate legal team or guidance on setting up a company through our company secretarial service, get in touch with a member of our team below:

Theresa Grech, Partner and Head of Corporate, at [email protected]; or

Melanie Kincaid, Head of Corporate Support Services, at [email protected].

The information above is not and should not be taken to be legal advice. You should not take action or omit to take action based on this information.

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Ince has strong roots in Cardiff; as local solicitors Francis Ince and John Ingledew first set up practice here before founding the firm in 1870. We are proud of our heritage; which has enabled us to cultivate a seamless ‘one-firm’ approach across our global group.

We understand the ever-changing market in England and Wales, and how to support the growth of your business. Whether you are a business start-up or an established multinational corporation, through our Cardiff office you can access fully serviced commercial legal advice. Our Cardiff team also provides advice to individuals across the full-spectrum of personal law matters; from family law to residential property.

As a part of The Ince Group, an international legal and consultancy services provider with offices across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, we work seamlessly with other leading regional and international firms to offer you a wealth of legal services.

 

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