In most cases, an American’s personal life is kept at a healthy distance from their business activities. If a person creates a corporation or an LLC, they can shield their own personal assets if the company is sued – or vice versa. And if something goes horribly wrong with their marriage, they can expect to protect the stability and long-term viability of their business – even if their ex walks away with a significant part of the family fortune. This is especially true if the spouse in question has a prenuptial agreement in place. But in certain cases, voting shares can be divided during a divorce – and this is when an ex might suddenly find themselves in a surprising position of power over businesses – including major multinational corporations.
The Power of Voting Shares
As an entrepreneur will tell you, voting shares are incredibly powerful in the world of business. Anyone with a voting share has a say in the corporation’s policies, and they can potentially change the entire trajectory of the company. With enough voting shares, parties can instigate hostile takeovers, kick former leaders out of the company, bring in new leaders, and much more. A single share can be designated as a “super voting share,” which allows power to be concentrated in the hands of just a few people.
Green Thumb CEO Loses Roughly 20% of His Voting Shares in Divorce
On September 26, 2023, it was reported that Green Thumb CEO Ben Kovler had been forced to hand over about 20% of his “super-voting shares” after a divorce. In addition, he provided his ex with a further 1.5 million normal voting shares. Before the divorce, Kovler held about 75% of the company’s super-voting shares. He still has significant voting power, although this percentage has been reduced to just over 62%. While his ex might not wish to change the trajectory of Green Thumb, she certainly has the power to affect corporate policymaking with her new voting shares.
Jeff Bezos Retained All His Voting Shares
In contrast, other CEOs have managed to retain all of their voting shares in the event of a divorce. The most obvious example is Jeff Bezos, whose divorce saw him hand over $36 billion in Amazon shares to his ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos. However, none of these shares had voting rights, allowing Jeff to retain the same level of control over Amazon as he enjoyed prior to the divorce. This is despite the fact that Jeff and MacKenzie did not have a prenuptial agreement – suggesting that the pair came to the mutual decision that this was best for everyone involved. It’s also worth pointing out that even with a $36-billion stake in the company, MacKenzie only took 4% of total shares – indicating that her control over Amazon would have been minimal with voting shares.
Strategies to Avoid Loss of Voting Control
There are many potential strategies to avoid losing voting control in the event of a divorce. The most obvious is to have a prenuptial agreement in place. Rupert Murdoch seems to have transferred non-voting stocks into a separate trust for his daughters – and this strategy appears to provide financial security without uncertainty about who controls News Corp. Another strategy might be to preemptively change voting shares from “preferred” to “common” in order to avoid this issue. However, this is only possible if spouses can accurately predict an approaching divorce.