My grandparents wanted to be fair, so they distributed equal shares of company stock to all their heirs - all 17 of us, kids and grandkids. I am 36 now, and am being considered for the job of CEO, but since I own only 1/17 of the company, I am concerned about who will control the business in the long run. Is there anything I can do about this?
You're in a tough situation. It's hard to get the cow back in the barn after the gate has been left open.
One option is to recapitalize the company, and develop two classes of stock - voting and non-voting - with the voting shares allocated to those committed to manage the company, thus giving you/them control, while the other heirs continue to enjoy the benefits of ownership. Of course, your financial advisors will play a key role in analyzing all your options.
A second option is to begin the process of buying out heirs who may prefer to invest in other projects. The formula established in your buy-sell agreement (which I hope is up to date) and your access to cash will determine whether or not this is an attractive option.
The third option is to work closely with the other 16 owners, communicating, communicating, communicating. If you schedule regular family meetings, or build a well organized Family Forum, so they can learn about good business practices, build communication skills and learn how to develop healthy agreements, they may become very supportive business partners.
Preventing long term problems like this by carefully thinking through issues such as ownership and control remain the best option of all.