If your business has or will have more than one owner, if you are investing in an existing business as a co-owner, or if a new co-owner is coming into the business – then you need a shareholders agreement.  A shareholders agreement is a written contract between the company/business and each of its shareholders that sets out the shareholders’ obligations to the company and the shareholders’ rights as against each other in relation to how the business is run.  Important issues that are typically dealt with in shareholders agreements include:

  • the appointment and removal of directors
  • what decisions need the approval of all shareholders or a special majority of shareholders
  • protections for minority shareholders
  • the rights that attach to different classes of shares (e.g. non-voting shares)
  • any obligation of shareholders to provide on-going or transaction specific funding or credit to the business
  • split of responsibilities between shareholders where specialised skills/expertise differ
  • pre-emptive rights / rights of first refusal
  • ‘tag-along’ rights so that minority shareholders can also participate in a share sale when a majority shareholders sells to a third party
  • ‘drag along’ rights that allow the majority shareholders to force a minority shareholder to sell when the majority sells