Appeasing an Ex-Business Partner When You’re Doing the Exiting

By Nina Kaufman, Esq.

In a question that seems more appropriate for The Ethicist (the New York Times Sunday Magazine’s Q&A column on ethical issues), David Eddie from the Globe and Mail presents the following scenario:

[After 15 years of slaving in someone else’s business], about a year ago, I convinced a colleague to quit and team up with me to start our own business.  I was just approached by an established company . . . [and given] an [outrageously abundant] offer I couldn’t refuse.  So I accepted it, but now my business partner’s furious . . . what do you think I actually owe this guy?

[Click on this link for the answer and comments]

I have found that one of the most significant issues that business partners shy away from discussing is “exit strategies.”  The reasons for someone’s leaving an entrepreneurial venture don’t have to be based on rancor or mistrust.  Sometimes, life just happens:  a new baby arrives; a parent needs care; an accident or illness forces a long-term disability.  Or, you have a change of heart, as in “I want to make life easier for the children in Darfur,” or a more financially lucrative opportunity beckons, as in Eddie’s column.  Entrepreneurs don’t like this subject, because it forces them to think about the demise, when they’re just getting psyched up for the launch.  To them, it’s like a wet blanket on the ardor of their zeal.

To which I say, “So what?”  These are the realities that you have to face as a business owner.  And what’s more of a wet blanket?  Having a frank discussion about the issues in advance?  Or being unpleasantly surprised with your partner’s departure one year from now?

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