Who Owns The Company?

Once in a blue moon, this situation repeats itself. The board of a company along with the stake holders and investors are pushing the entrepreneur towards a direction and he/she is really not liking it, and tries the ownership card. “This is my company, and I do have the best in mind for it”. Nobody usually reacts to those words, but technically one could throw you out for making statements like that. I’ll start with who doesn’t own a company – Its the entrepreneur.

Whoever sold you the romanticism that being an entrepreneur meant being your own boss, was clearly lying. You really never escape the chain of command and reporting structure so easily – not in a civilized society. So Its no wonder that things don’t span out as they say. As an employee you might be accountable to your boss, but as an entrepreneur you are accountable to all of your clients, stakeholders and employees. And every one of them holds you responsible to have the answers and do your best – that’s no different from being an employee times ten. Think about it.

So here’s two things you must know. It is crucial to understand this because this sets the context to understand a whole lot of things that happen through the course of the company.

1. The day you incorporate your company, you no longer own it. You want to own something, keep it a proprietory firm or under a partnership (wouldn’t recommend it, as the stats are as high as 99% of partnerships ending in breakups). It might not be a bad idea to keep it as a family business, but there as well its joint ownership.

2. The Day you agreed on a termsheet and took money from your investors, you made up your mind that you were going to sell your company for a good price someday. Investors invest looking for returns and that returns are never going to happen without an exit; And an exit means a sale. Read that line a few times, it helps to get it into your head. You have in all means sold your company when you take investment. Period.

So the obvious question arises. Why on earth would anyone want to be an entrepreneur despite all these gory truths. Well, a couple of reasons. a) You still do have the capacity and capability to build something from scratch, scale it and make money in the process – You are still one of the major stakeholders in the firm. and b) What you want to do to create this value (be it money or impact or fame) is all left to you – atleast in the beginning.

The intent for writing this article is for one thing. I see and come across enough entrepreneurs who want to own more than 50% of the company. Thats almost the sure way to kill the company and strangle some relationships, because it shows that you haven’t gotten the first thing about a corporation right – you cant own it. And the only way to scale it is to give up control, bring in the right people, and yet have enough of a leeway to make a decent exit – note how the stake you hold is towards a better return, rather than control.

And in all this does the obvious question remain. Who does own a corporate? They say it becomes an entity of its own, can own assets, can incur liabilities, can attract investments and is a being of its own shielding its board and management from most liabilities. Who then owns it? The answer to that is probably the most shocking. The Government. The Government is what owns a corporate – actually every corporate. The rules of the land, enable and provide the space for passionate, enthusiastic and enterprising individuals to spot an opportunity, exploit it, create jobs, add value, attract investment, grow the company, expand, create a board to make their own decisions and directions for the entity, make an exit, or even take it public. But at the end of the day, when and if it does shut down and incurs a loss, the losses go away with the fading memory of the company. And thats the shield that a government provides towards the entrepreneur – probably the best of freedom for an individual to create wealth and value the fast track way.

As far as the govt is concerned, creating jobs is one of its prime mandates. And corporations are instruments towards that cause.

In the light of that, look at the bailouts. You might see a slightly different picture.

Note: Repost from the Blog – The Startup Guy

8 Responses to “Who Owns The Company?”

  1. Ari says:

    Yah I do, like this coming Monday, but sorry it’s a flash visit…. :-)

  2. Vijay says:

    Hehe. Ari, I hear you visit Chennai quite often. We should catch up sometime.

  3. Ari says:

    OK if it is by and large a philosophical angle then OK… :-)

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