Creating scalable businesses in a tough economy has become particularly eminent in 2018. No stranger to uncertainty, the construction sector, for instance, further plummeted in 2017 and these results have rippled through into this year.
Every business reaps the consequences of political actions in some way; coupling this with political uncertainty, slow economic growth and an underperforming Rand has brought some businesses to their knees.
Wayne Bartlett, Contracts Director for Bartlett Construction says that more than 19 000 jobs were lost in the construction sector alone last year. With the company’s long-standing history of more than half a century in South Africa, Wayne says that we are now seeing more diversification and lean business practices than ever before.
“We are seeing established companies reinvigorating their brands and business strategies. This is not a bad thing – it helps to grow the economy in other areas and establishes more resilience and perhaps more effort by businesses today. Complacency is no longer an option and as such as property management, social housing, renewable energy projects and road infrastructure are just some of the ways that traditional construction companies have branched out,”
Discussing the role that labour brokers in the construction industry and outsourced labour the country over plays, Wayne says: “While physical labour is key in every industry, we see companies reducing their risk by outsourcing work. This creates employment opportunities, funds small businesses and nurtures fresh thinking”.
Speaking to the topic of mechanisation in industry, Wayne says that while this is on the rise, bricks and mortar still plays a crucial role in business. “More than ever, consumers want value. We want to touch, see and experience what we pay for”.
Skilled labour shortage in South Africa has always been an issue. “We couple this with the need to compete on price whilst factoring in labour issues, BEE policies, trade unions, various regulatory changes and labour brokers”,
In February of this year, third-party suppliers once again came into the spotlight with labour brokers arguing that removing them from the employment equation would trample the rights and protection of employees.
“Despite conflicting views, labour brokers still have a role to play in uncertain economic times, provided that they are properly regulated. This market is huge for people wishing to enter the workplace and needing a platform to do so” Wayne continues.
Wayne concludes saying: “With the YES initiative soon coming into effect, the construction industry looks to empowering and upskilling the youths both in-line with labour brokers and as individual entities.”
Dealing With Decision – Making Deadlocks In Private Companies
Effective decision – making is an important part of running any Business or Company.
In essence, Companies are governed by the democratic principle on both Shareholder and Board level. This means that the majority rules both on Shareholder and on Board level. What is important to note though, particularly on Shareholder level is that besides the underlying asset value particularly in Private Companies, the ability to exercise effective control over the business and its assets by being a Majority Shareholder carries considerable economic value. Conversely Minority Shareholding, although Minority Shareholders enjoy increased protection under the new Companies Act 71 of 2008 as amended, carries a lesser economic value and is often difficult to market and sell to Third Party Buyers. For this reason, Majority Shareholders are often reluctant to relinquish the effective control they hold.
The role of a Shareholder and Director are distinctly different from one another as will be investigated briefly through this article. Sound governance principles are in writer’s view key in avoiding decision – making deadlocks on both levels and further, to maintain healthy relationships between Shareholders and Board members.
The distinction between Shareholders and Directors
Shareholders own shares in the Company. They are therefore Investors who are key in making certain decisions. Directors on the other hand, are Members of the Board and attend to the day- to- day running of the Company. Both Board and Shareholder decisions are made by way of resolution.
Shareholder and Director decision- making
Shareholder votes are directly correlated to the amount of shares they own in the Company. Directors on the other hand, generally only have one vote each and resolutions are taken on majority vote.
It is important to distinguish which decisions are for the Board and which are for the Shareholders. The Memorandum of Incorporation (“MOI”) is instrumental in outlining this.
There are two types of resolutions in Shareholder meetings, ordinary and special resolutions. Generally speaking, ordinary resolutions require a 50% support and special resolutions 75%. Accordingly, more sensitive decisions are taken by special resolution. Section 65 of the Companies Act lists special resolutions for Shareholders. Examples include amending the Company’s (“MOI”), to approve the issue of shares and entering into fundamental transactions. This in addition to any matter prescribed to be considered by special resolution in the Company’s MOI.
Proposed resolutions must be sufficiently clear and accompanied by information enabling the Shareholder entitled to vote whether or not to vote in favour thereof. If this is not the case, the Companies Act prescribes that such a Director or Shareholder may request such information or explanation regarding a proposed resolution. If it is still insufficient a Shareholder may, before the start of the meeting, “seek leave to apply” to Court for an order restraining the Company from putting the matter to the vote and requiring the Company to amend the proposed resolution to comply with the requirements. Importantly, the above remedy cannot be applied after the meeting has taken place.
What happens in a deadlock
A deadlock is a situation, typically one involving opposing parties, in which no progress can be made. In essence this means that equal amounts of votes are both for and against a decision.
Deadlocks can be easily avoided in Shareholder’s meetings by dividing the shareholding in such a way that all combinations lead to a majority vote or casting vote. This of course does not ensure that all decisions or processes will be dispute- free, but at least avoids the clear threat of a deadlock when a Company is owned by for example two Shareholders each holding 50% of the shares.
Directors generally only have one vote each, however many Companies afford the Chairperson of the Board an additional vote or casting vote, usually exercised in cases of deadlock.
Where deadlocks arise on Shareholder or Board level, consultation with an Independent Expert, mediation or arbitration can aid in the breaking of a deadlock. However, where this fails, the repercussions may be devastating. In terms of Section 81 any Director or Shareholder may apply to Court for the winding up of a Company.
When deciding on shareholding allocation it is important to consider the practical and mathematical probabilities of deadlock. The underlying reasons for deadlocks are complex considerations involving in writer’s view the essence of the human experience. The most important of these considerations, is crucially that Shareholders share the same values and vision for the Company. This will safeguard the relationship between them and ultimately may aid in avoiding potential deadlocks.
Boards should be diverse and Directors only focused on acting in the best interests of the Company.
Ideally Shareholders and Directors should not be the same individuals but be two distinct bodies serving the Company. If this is not the case though, those Companies should ensure that Shareholder- Directors understand the differences in the decision-making processes and the purpose thereof.
When To Collaborate And When To Employ
To help you navigate the maze we have constructed some key questions.
Given the complexity of the labour legislation in South Africa, entrepreneurs are often reluctant to employ and rather look at other forms of agreements to achieve the same outcome. There are instances when it is more appropriate to contract in a different way, but it is important that these reasons are sound.
A number of alternatives could be plausible to consider, these include: Agency, Distribution, Independent Contractor or Supplier Agreements. To help you navigate the maze we have constructed some key questions.
Question: Is this a unilateral arrangement (to some degree)? In other words, will one party supply or provide something to th other in exchange for payment?
Required Document: Clients or customers are typically engaged by agreement, usually a form of terms and conditions or perhaps even an agreement detailing credit terms. An important provision to include is the aspect of confidentiality and data protection / security. This is crucial from both a customer and supplier perspective.
Question: Do you want to engage multiple people or organisations to sell the goods or services you supply?
Required Document: An agency agreement could either relate to an individual or an organisation. This means an individual or a business could represent the supplier of the goods or services and earn a commission or remuneration for actual sales. One of the advantages is that this does not create the commitment usually associated with an employment relationship, however, a number of aspects should be carefully considered or constructed including the agent’s powers of representation and some checks and balances should ideally be in place to ensure that these are not exceeded. The process of adjusting commissions in certain instances such as customer complaints or returns.
Question: Do you sell and market goods? Are you concerned about multiple people or organisations selling the goods you supply, overstepping? Rather prefer that the goods be purchased and delivered to the end consumer from there?
Required Document: A distribution agreement detailing the price to be paid, passing of risk, storage and logistics. This is usually a more appropriate arrangement for a larger scale manufacture or export business. It could also be suitable (where logistics and storage would be less important) for software products.
4. Independent Contractor
Question: Have you contracted with an organisation and require a skill you don’t have, to perform the contract only for purposes to finish the contract or project involved? There is no need for the person only working for you.
Required Document: An independent contractor agreement detailing remuneration and term being linked to the contract or project. There is a fine line between these arrangements, labour broking and employment. It is therefore crucial to understand the risks involved and to seek professional guidance when electing to proceed this way.
It is best to strategically assess your risks, intentions and needs before electing which agreement to use. Contact an expert at SchoemanLaw today.
Alternatives To Traditional Legal Services – What Options Do Entrepreneurs Have?
In reality, small businesses that see legal compliance as a priority are often not in the position to hire attorneys.
Times are tough, especially for entrepreneurs. In order to succeed in the business world, you need “grit” as the Americans say. In addition, to you need access to markets and access to funding.
The problem with accessing sustainable markets, is that it often is a David versus Goliath situation. As a result, long and complex contracts or requirements are set. What is more, because most smaller businesses are more concerned about making sales or simply making ends meet, getting to the legal side of things – well that simply does not happen. This leads to businesses being non-complaint and thus viewed as a risk – as a result cannot access funding.
In reality, small businesses that see legal compliance as a priority are often not in the position to hire attorneys. As a result, their options are:
1. Purchase a template from a news agency
Although very cost effective, the problem with this is that templates are often outdated and the instructions on completion are unclear. If outdated and incorrectly compiled, businesses are, in my view, simply better off without.
Many businesses do not buy templates but actually download it from the internet. The problem with this is that the sources of these are often unclear – so in reality, you really don’t know what you are getting.
2. Subscribe to legal insurance or legal consultancy
Subscriptions for in case you require legal representation are usually insurance policies. The problem herewith is that often some disputes are excluded, or some advisory needs are not included. Resulting in the business being left without access to these services, in some cases when they need it the most.
In terms of consultancies, these are businesses that are not law firms. In many instances, their service delivery and prices are much more competitive than law firms are. However, should a client be dissatisfied, they have limited recourse. All professionals belong to professional bodies that set and enforce standards. So, contracting with a consultant bears the risk of no specific quality standard guarantee and, in case of dissatisfaction, recourse lies in ombud structures or courts and often cost money.
3. A different way of thinking
It seems that small businesses are really left out in the dark. However, technology and developments in the legal industry may hold the answer. A select few consultancies, and now a law firm, have embarked on automating the documentary needs of small businesses and start-ups. SchoemanLaw Inc. in Cape Town is one of those firms. In essence, this development is addressing a challenge faced by every other purported solution to date. Some benefits of this mind shift include:
- Users have access to up to date documents;
- It’s instantly accessible and the source is clear;
- Some systems include sophisticated help functions so as to ensure correct completion and implementation;
- The prices cannot complete with the traditional way of obtaining legal advice;
- Those supported by a law firm, are guaranteed the standards and quality associated with a law firm;
- Advisory support is often included or can be accessed additionally.
In addition, relying on more efficient ways of accessing these crucial services also standardises, manages and organises the legal and contractual needs of any businesses. Something that will serve them well whenever they wish to pitch to that large company for that contract that will really change things or access to funding when needing to expand.
 For more information: https://www.schoemanlaw.co.za/online-legal-services/
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