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Ask An Expert: How can I diplomatically break up with my business partners?

By Jim Ambrose

CA Magazine, November 2006

Q  How can I diplomatically break up with my business partners?

A  Breaking up is always hard to do, so the best time for diplomacy is beforeyour relationship hits the skids — or worse, the courts.

Protect stakeholders’ interests. If you do not have a shareholders’ agreement providing an exit mechanism, negotiate one now with your partners. Pay a lawyer to draw up a good agreement today rather than for litigation later. As tough as it may be to have those discussions now, it will be tougher at a crisis point.

Don’t delay — act on a resolution. No one wins when a partnership dispute becomes protracted, and discord and uncertainty prevail. The business will suffer because of owner distraction; key employees and customers can be lost. The most diplomatic thing you can do is resolve the problem.

Recognize diplomacy doesn’t necessarily lead to reconciliation. Using negotiation and mediation skills to address a dispute may lead to a resolution of business issues but still leave former partners with bad feelings. Make no mistake — shareholder disputes are emotional landmines. But, tactfully handled, the businesscan be preserved, value realized and all stakeholders’ interests fairly addressed.