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Chief Executives and Chief Shareholders: Never the Twain Shall Meet?

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Small business owners lead the most efficient and effective organizations ever designed by human hands - profit-seeking businesses where the Chief Executive Officer also happens to be the Chief (as in largest) Shareholder, too.

Among many benefits, this business form fully addresses the Agency Problem - so often found in larger companies - where the interests of the professional managers do not always sync and align with those of the shareholders.

This can cause various (and nefarious!) effects like:

•    Managers seeking to maximize their shorter term "cash-out" - high salaries, bonuses and the like -  irrespective of their effect on / benefit to the organization as a whole

•    Managers not pursuing potentially high returns, but also higher risk strategies as the personal benefits to them when successful (i.e. a pat on the back) are far less than the penalties when not (i.e. getting fired)

•    In worst cases, managers committing out-and-out fraud, treating the companies they are entrusted to lead as personal piggy banks (see Enron), with their only strategic calculus being whether or not they will get caught

In contrast, in most circumstances, what is best for the managers of a small business is what is best for its shareholders, as they are normally one and the same.

But there are three scenarios where this is decidedly NOT the case:

1.    When Contemplating Raising Outside Capital. For far too many small business owners, when they think about raising capital, they think too much about "control."

As in "I don't want anyone looking over my shoulder." Or "telling me what to do."

When I hear comments like this, the first thought I usually have is that it might be a very good thing to have someone looking over your shoulder and telling you what to do!
 
Why? Because usually the advice given is in the interest of the businesses’ shareholders…which to reiterate the largest one of these is usually the entrepreneur resisting “control!”

2.    When Contemplating Selling a Business. More often than not owners of businesses capable of attracting a buyer and being sold LOVE what they do, and they especially love being the BOSS.

So the prospect of selling out and no longer being the BOSS can be emotionally difficult.

Now, from the perspective of the Chief Shareholder, the right response to this should be, “Who Cares!”

With the risk of sounding harsh, this decision should be made solely on the strategic and financial merits - lifestyle and heartstrings considerations be darned!

3.    Contemplating Investing More of One’s Own Money in One’s Own Business. When one is lucky enough to have capital to invest, the Chief Shareholder “Hat” needs to be worn far more tightly than the Chief Executive one.

Because as the Chief Executive, it is just too easy to overlook portfolio diversification considerations, as it is not possible to “diversify” from the huge time and energy investments necessary to be an effective CEO of a growing company.

From this perspective, the right decision is to almost always try to invest as much as one possibly can away from and outside of one's own business.

I know, this is extremely hard to do as more often than not every instinct screams out to just pour more time, energy and treasure into it to the exclusion of everything else.

That is the Chief Executive talking and is the kind of “irrational” commitment to success that is at the heart of what makes being a small business and an entrepreneur so intoxicating (and admirable)!

BUT when the three scenarios and opportunities above present themselves, take a pause and listen to Mr. and Ms. Chief Shareholder, too.

If nothing else, your wallet will thank you.

To Your Success,



This post is a based on a thought piece I wrote for Entrepreneur Magazine last year. The original article can be viewed here.


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