The responsibility of co-owning a business

Eighteen months ago, I became 25% owner of a business… and guess which one?

I was given the opportunity to join three of my colleagues who I had worked with for the previous eight years. I respect and admire all of them in different ways. We are also fortunate in that each of our key personal values align. They are the sole reason I had the ambition of becoming a partner in professional services.

There is much adjustment and learning through making this transformation from employee to owner, and some may be relevant to anyone joining an existing business as a new shareholder/successor.


How do I transform viewing my ‘boss’ to now my business partner? Equally, how do they make that shift too? Culturally Gilligan Sheppard (GS) is not hierarchical or corporate, so this could be harder for other businesses, but is always a challenge at some level. Reflecting on this, I think for existing owners when bringing in a business partner or a successor, there must be certainty that it’s right for the business, the purpose and values. There must also be mutual respect and trust between all owners. An added benefit is understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how you can complement each other. All of this should be felt, agreed, and communicated before committing to the new relationship, by all parties. 

The responsibility of history and legacy

The world is changing rapidly, much more than it has previously – in nearly every context. It’s very easy to discount history as irrelevant. Continuously looking forward is the new mantra! I have been guilty of this over the past two years. However, during recent reflection – I have realised that on joining GS, my life changed in positive ways, and focused and fed my direction and ambition. It changed my life because of what it was at that time, and because of the future my current path had held. Many clients and friends of the firm have remained with us for over 20 years because of how GS changed their lives, too. What we have today was created in the journey of the profession, the firm, and the people within it. Just as in driving forward, we need to refer to the rear-view mirror. In business, there is a responsibility to respect, value, and integrate the history, the legacy, and the contribution of all those who came before you. We have the responsibility of recreating that feeling for future clients and team members. The context and players are different, but many lessons remain the same.

The responsibility of communication

In any relationship, there will always be conflict and disagreement. Yes, these are healthy when handled well, but what is ‘well’? There are those that avoid conflict and the associated confrontation until the pressure releases, much like a pressure cooker. By this point, it’s just burning hot air and the ingredients have been cooked beyond recognition. Dialogue cannot be meaningful when there is a long period of accumulated events that cause frustration. The other extreme is being reactionary without thought, patience or respect. It pays to remember that at both these extremes, spoken or written words can never be retracted. At these times, call a friend to vent, or write an email without sending it. Find a way to deal with strong emotion before engaging in a meaningful conversation.

The responsibility of listening

It is a largely accepted fact that listening is an important, if not, the most important aspect of communication. This is more vital when owning a business as any feedback could be an opportunity. Learning to filter through noise and use information strategically could be a long-term advantage. Of course, it’s definitely easier said than done!

The responsibility of working ON the business

In many cases, successors or new business partners are brought in because of where they can take the business based on the skills they have shown working ON the business rather than IN it – or ‘on the tools’. However, there are some cases where owners have never really worked ON the business, and this can be a big adjustment to make. On these occasions, it is advisable to get guidance from the other owners and get relevant mentoring/coaching. Either way it is always a challenge to move into the headspace of working ON the business. This is a bigger responsibility than ever before, given how fast the world is changing.

Know you have a place

There’s nothing wrong with endeavouring to prove your worth, but you have earned this responsibility. There is no place for self-doubt. You are where you are for a reason, and with this comes the responsibility to take the business where it needs to go.   

So, eighteen months on, I am still learning to be a co-owner of a business. You will note that the monetary cost of the investment is nowhere in the forefront of my thoughts. Of course, this is really important up front, and it needs to be dealt with so it isn’t a distraction going forward – for any owner. I am scared and anxious sometimes, but I am more excited about what is to come, who will join us going forward, and what we can collectively continue to build.

If you would like to discuss anything mentioned in this article, please contact Joshna, her profile link is here.

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