Many legal minds making NZ LAW work

We are an association of independent legal practices, proactively sharing ideas and expertise for the benefit of our clients.

Shareholders’ Agreements

Published: 29th May 2017

Author: Catherine Donaldson, Wilkinson Rodgers Lawyers

Published in: Commerical e.Speaking | Issue #46

Shareholders’ agreements are comparable to relationship property agreements (colloquially known as ‘pre-nuptial agreements’), as the objective of each is to establish rules for relationship property – whether it’s in your business or your personal life.

Not all relationships were built to last forever, and even the most stable relationship amongst shareholders may waver. Issues may also arise unexpectedly, such as the death of a shareholder or the need for a shareholder to sell their shares. Planning in advance for these events can pre-empt a dispute, and save some costs for the respective parties.

Unlike a company constitution, a share-holders’ agreement is not registered with the Companies Office and therefore it has a greater degree of confidentiality. Company constitutions generally contain the nuts and bolts provisions to operate the company that are not provided for in the Companies Act 1993.

Shareholders’ agreements often have an overlap with the provisions of a constitution. However, they usually they contain more sensitive information about company affairs such as the roles and remuneration of the shareholder employees, the dividend policy, funding of growth strategies, rules around compulsory selling of shares in certain circumstances along with dispute resolution provisions.

Dispute resolution

Dispute resolution provisions would include normal mediation and arbitration clauses but, for circumstances where the shareholders simply cannot continue in business together, a ‘Russian roulette’ or ‘shot gun’ clause (where each party puts forward a price for the other’s shares and the party who puts forward the highest price then purchases the other’s shares at that price) gives finality. It’s a quick method for managing the exit of a shareholder where a dispute cannot be resolved, but it obviously presents some elements of commercial risk.

Other relevant provisions to include are:

  • Options to purchase shares and how to calculate their value
  • Rules around shareholder employee’s incapacity, bankruptcy and non-participation
  • Rules around company loans and guarantees, and
  • Security given over shares.

Susan and Nancy

The case study below illustrates some benefits of a shareholders’ agreement.

Siblings Nancy and Benjamin Button each hold a 50% share in Button Enterprises Limited (BEL); they are the company directors. There was no constitution or shareholders’ agreement. Over the years they have managed their company successfully. Their only trouble seemed to be the poor relationship between Nancy and Benjamin’s new wife, Susan.

Benjamin died unexpectedly, leaving his shares to Susan. At that time, Susan had large debts to pay for their lavish wedding so she desperately needed cash. Nancy wasn’t prepared to issue dividends from the company as she and Benjamin had planned to reinvest the company’s profits for growth.

The relationship between Susan and Nancy soured quickly – Nancy often could not get Susan to sign a ‘special resolution’ required for a company to undertake any ‘major transaction (the Companies Act 1993 requires that at least 75% of shareholders endorse major transactions). As a result, BEL’s profitability, and the shareholders’ working relationship, suffered.

Nancy remains concerned that Susan could simply sell her shares to any third party – who knows who she would be working with then?

A shareholders’ agreement would have helped in the Susan/Nancy situation. It would have improved their working relationship and given Nancy more certainty following Benjamin’s death. The relevant clauses that would have helped

Nancy include:

  • On the death of a shareholder, their shares must be offered firstly to the existing shareholders
  • Life insurance cross-cover for Nancy and Benjamin. This would have provided cash for Nancy to purchase Benjamin’s shares on his death, and
  • A clear dividend policy and a policy around reinvestment of profits into maintaining and expanding the business.

The good news is that even if your company is already up and running it’s not too late to establish a shareholders’ agreement. As you can see from the Susan/Nancy situation, a shareholders’ agreement can be invaluable for any company, irrespective of its size or sector in which it operates. It doesn’t need to be complex, and it can be tailored for your company’s specific situation.
It’s just like those who enter into a relationship property ‘pre-nup’, it can pay to set down rules in advance.

Related Articles

  • Auckland
  • Bay of Plenty
  • Canterbury
  • Coromandel
  • Gisborne
  • Hawke's Bay
  • Kapiti Coast
  • Manawatu - Wanganui
  • Marlborough
  • Nelson
  • Northland
  • Otago
  • Southland
  • Taranaki
  • Waikato
  • Wairarapa
  • Wellington
  • West Coast

Daniel Overton & Goulding

We offer a wide range of legal services and advice to our clients who come to us with a number of different legal issues. In all instances we strive to get our clients the best advice and outcome. Come to our experienced and knowledgeable team about any legal issue and if we cannot find the answer we will be able to get you the right expert who will get you the right advice, and get you the best result. This is a vital part of our client care.

Region: Auckland

Phone: 09 6222 222

Rejthar Stuart Law

A long established law practice providing comprehensive and specialised legal advice and services to a diverse range of commercial and private clients.

Established in 1997 the firm has grown over the years to become a two solicitor, two legal executive firm representing both private and commercial clients.

Region: Bay of Plenty

Phone: 07 577 6565

Corcoran French

Corcoran French is a firm of Christchurch and North Canterbury lawyers with over 120 years experience in providing legal services to Christchurch and the wider Canterbury region. We have offices in Christchurch City and Kaiapoi. We can also meet you at shared offices at Akaroa.

We welcome new clients and are committed to building strong long-term relationships that are rewarding for our clients.

Region: Canterbury

Phone: 03 379 4660

Purnell Lawyers

There is nothing as inevitable as change. Since opening for business early last century, we at Purnell Lawyers have seen many changes both in name and in the people who have made up the members of our team. We have been privileged to have served the public throughout all of these times. 

We are confident that we will continue to bring top quality legal services to our clients well into the future.

Region: Coromandel

Phone: 07 868 8680

Woodward Chrisp

At Woodward Chrisp we strive to meet the needs of our clients by providing a wide range of high quality legal services within a supportive and collaborative environment.

Woodward Chrisp is the amalgamation of two long established Gisborne legal firms: Woodward Iles & Co and Chrisp and Chrisp. Today’s partners are Ross Revington, Adam Simperingham, Jeff Allen and Ellie FitzGerald.

Region: Gisborne

Phone: 06 869 0900

NZ LAW Limited

NZ LAW Limited is an association of independent legal practices with member firms located throughout New Zealand. There are currently 53 member firms practising in a wide range of legal disciplines ranging from business law, home buying and selling, immigration law and intellectual property to aviation law and viticulture.

The group was established in 1992 when about five law firms met in Auckland to find a way to benefit their clients by replicating the conviviality and the sharing of ideas and expertise that occurs in larger law firms, but still be able to retain client confidentiality and their own independence.

Region: Hawke's Bay

Phone: 06 835 5299

BMC Lawyers

BMC lawyers has built a reputation for providing quality service and delivering real results. Our strength is our broad-ranging legal experience that gives us the ability to match clients with the right mix of legal skills for their particular needs.

Our legal professionals are passionate about what they do and work alongside a talented team of support and administration staff to make a real positive difference to our clients.”

Region: Kapiti Coast

Phone: 04 296 1105

Innes Dean Tararua Law

Our history in the Manawatu and Tararua Districts dates back to 1884. With offices in Palmerston North and Pahiatua our firm stands on a long tradition of high standards and sound legal advice.

Our size means that every one of our clients are dealt with on a professional, yet personal basis.

Region: Manawatu - Wanganui

Phone: 06 358 6075

Wain & Naysmith

Based in Blenheim, Wain & Naysmith Lawyers is a full service law firm, and a powerhouse for property, family and business law.

We pride ourselves in providing clear and cost effective legal solutions and practical advice for you, your family and your business.

Region: Marlborough

Phone: 03 520 6103

Knapps Lawyers

As a firm, we promise to look after you and treat you in a manner that we would expect to be treated by a professional services provider; we promise to use every available legal remedy available to us to resolve your issue and to do what you ask us to do in a timely manner.

We will hold in strict confidence all information that we acquire through our work for you and which concerns your business or personal information.  The only exceptions are where you authorise us to disclose such information or where we must do so by law.

Region: Nelson

Phone: 03 544 7888

Thomson Wilson

Thomson Wilson is a full service law firm based in Whangarei. We’ve been trusted lawyers for the Northland community and beyond for 75 years.

We act for individuals and families, businesses, public sector and other organisations. Whether you need no-fuss advice on a simple matter, or a team of legal experts. 

Our staff provide advice in most areas of the law, including property law, business law, trusts and estates, separation and divorce, resource management, criminal law and more.

We also offer expertise in specialist areas such as Maori land, local government law, farming and forestry.

Region: Northland

Phone: 09 430 4380

Berry & Co

Berry & Co is a long established, well respected Otago law firm providing a broad range of legal services for our business and personal clients.

We enjoy working closely with our clients, we listen and then we provide practical commonsense legal advice that achieves the outcome that is desired. We have a reputation for obtaining excellent results.

Region: Otago

Phone: 03 433 0007

Sheddan Pritchard Law Ltd

Incorporating traditional values and a fresh perspective, Sheddan Pritchard Law is here to assist you with all your legal needs. 

Our friendly and team-driven approach underpins our firm’s values, recognising the importance of putting people first and allows us to connect and nurture professional relationships with new and existing clients within our local community of Gore, as well as throughout New Zealand and extending overseas.

Region: Southland

Phone: 03 209 0030

Welsh McCarthy

Welsh McCarthy practises in Hawera, South Taranaki. Predominant industries in the South Taranaki district are dairy farming, oil and gas. The South Taranaki area also has the largest one-site multi product milk processing facility in the world

We deal with company and commercial transactions, commercial and family law, farm and residential sales and purchases, estate planning and family and charitable trusts. A large part of the firm also deals in the area of family law.

Region: Taranaki

Phone: 06 278 5039

David O'Neill

Region: Waikato

Phone: 07 839 1745

Gawith Burridge

Gawith Burridge traces its history back to 1875 when Charles Gawith first set up his practice. Since then the firm has undergone many changes, including a merger between Gawith & Co and Burridge & Co in 1998 to form our current practice.

Our firm draws on the breadth of expertise available from some of the region’s most senior legal practitioners, as well as the skills of those who have moved here from larger corporate environments.

As a result, we provide clients with a comprehensive range of legal services right here in the Wairarapa. We can provide you with legal assistance whether you are an individual or a company, with everything from setting up a Will to selling your farming business. 

Region: Wairarapa

Phone: 06 370 0000

Greg Kelly Law Ltd

Greg Kelly Law Limited is a boutique Wellington law firm specialising in trust and elder law. Our practice areas are wills, estates and trusts.

We act for private and institutional clients establishing and administering trusts, wills and estates. We also provide quality advice to legal and accounting firms in New Zealand and overseas. In particular, we can assist with legal opinions, obtaining and resealing probate, and estate and trust litigation.

Region: Wellington

Phone: 04 499 5193

Hannan & Seddon

The Law Firm of Hannan & Seddon dates back to September 1867.

The firm's offices were in Werita Street from 1867 until 1982 when the firm moved to Tarapuhi Street and then to its current spacious premises at 61 Guinness Street in 1998.

The name Hannan comes from Mr Michael Hannan whose son John Hannan (Jack) joined the firm in 1908. Jack Hannan remained in partnership until he passed away in 1974 at the age of 90!

The name Seddon comes from Mr T E Y Seddon (son of Premier Richard John Seddon from Kumara) who joined the firm in the 1920's. The other prominent Solicitor at Hannan & Seddon was Cyril McGinley who joined the firm in the late 1920’s and retired as a Consultant in 1997 aged 87.

Currently we have two Partners within our firm. Tony Sullivan who has been with us for 29 years and Colin Smith, 26 years. The firm also has two long serving Legal Executives Elaine Knowles and Beverley Walsh.  

Region: West Coast

Phone: 03 768 4169

All the information published on this website, or in any article herein is true and accurate to the best of the authors' knowledge. Information on this site should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by NZ LAW Limited, or individual NZ LAW member firms for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on information published on this site. Views expressed in any article are the views of the authors individually and do not necessarily reflect the view of NZ LAW or their member firms. Information appearing on this site may only be reproduced with prior approval from NZ LAW Limited Head Office, and credit being given to the source. © NZ LAW Limited