Published on August 14th, 2018 by Alan L. Sklover
“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.”
– Michael LeBoeuf
ACTUAL CASE HISTORIES: Rita was a highly regarded Senior Sales Account Manager for an industrial plumbing supplies company headquartered in Springfield, Illinois that catered to a handful of large construction firms in the Upper Midwest and Canada. Over 20 or so years, she had developed strong client relationships based in a deep trust for her good judgment and for her devotion to client interests. Her clients often said of her “If you need something, and need it ‘yesterday,’ you need to call Rita.” She had also built a small but effective support team around her.
Rita was recruited by a large competitor headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to serve in a significant Business Development role, with the expectation that she would bring along her “Book of Business,” that is, her established network of clients and their business. While she was presented with a significant increase in compensation, she was not quite certain it was the right move for her clients, many of whom enjoyed “white glove,” personal treatment they had grown accustomed to over the years.
Wisely, Rita sought ways to protect her “Book of Business,” what some people refer to as her “B.O.B.” She sought one or more ways she could assure her clients and client referral sources that she would “be there for them” whenever and however they needed. She sought, too, a way she could always keep her support team with her.
Her primary concern was that she would join the new company and, in any agreements, somehow lose access to her critical business relations. What might happen if she left the new company, or was asked to leave, for any reason? Like most employers, her prospective employer required their employees sign to a non-compete agreement, prohibiting them from providing services to “the company clients,” which is precisely what “Rita’s clients” would become, if she let that happen.
Rita would also be required to sign a “non-solicit/non-hire” agreement, barring her from taking any members of her support team with her, in the event she left or was asked to leave.
We helped Rita solve these two problems with the use of “Key Man / Key Woman” clauses that her prospective employer reluctantly agreed to, in order to “acquire” Rita, her team, and most especially, her clients. So, if for any reason Rita left the new company, or if for any reason she was not in charge of her clients’ business, Rita’s clients could take their business – and take Rita and her team, too – to another company.
LESSON TO LEARN: As an employee, you are referred to as a “Human Resource.” I happen to deplore that term, as I find it to be a dehumanizing phrase. But, as a “Human Resource” you may be seen as a “source” of new, additional, and very valuable business from new, additional and very valuable clientele. This is precisely why we use “Key Man / Key Woman” clauses and agreements: to offer that to your employer, but to always maintain your access to your “B.O.B.,” and your “B.O.B.”‘s access to you.
Good relations with staff members, colleagues, vendors, customers and clients are of critical value in every business and profession. That is why employers try so hard in numerous ways to ensure that their employees do not “steal” them, even when it was the employee, himself or herself, who brought the client to the employer. It is beyond question that it is in your own best interests to try to keep those valuable business relations, to prevent their “theft” from you, no matter where you are, where you go, or what you do.
Having good, strong, close relations with clients and customers makes you the “rain-maker” that is one of the most important attributes of a successful business person. Having good, strong, close relations with colleagues makes you the “magnet” that can attract, maintain and take with you the best and brightest of talent. Having good, strong, close relations with support staff gives you the ability to move your business to its most fertile location and have intact, when you need it, reliable, trustworthy, confidence-enhancing support.
We see many Key Man / Key Woman clauses in contracts used by sport agents and agents for movie/TV talent. It is not common knowledge, but a good number of senior executives request in their own employment contracts that provide that, if the CEO should depart for any reason, be it voluntary, due to disability or death, or involuntary, due to misconduct reasons or otherwise, they have the option, but not the obligation, to depart free from further obligations and continuing restrictions to the employer.
“Key Man / Key Woman Clauses” are one of the best ways to protect your “key business relations.” And, if you may have the leverage to safeguard your own “key business relations,” why not at least try?
WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you have such key business relations – and so many people do – consider the use of Key Man / Key Woman clauses to protect them. Here are some very valuable pointers:
Read the rest of this blog post »