The Companies Act, 71 of 2008, requires that the business and affairs of any company be managed by or under the direction of its board, which has the authority to exercise all of the powers and perform any of the functions of the company, except to the extent that the Companies Act or the company’s Memorandum of Incorporation provides otherwise (section 66(1)). The Companies Act further requires that a company must have at least one director (section 66(2)), and further that only natural persons may serve in that capacity (section 69(7)(a)).
Those individuals occupying the position of directors of a company are therefore responsible for managing the affairs of the company and they do so as custodians on the shareholders behalf. It should be remembered that the directors do not own the company: the company rather is owned by the shareholders and the directors serve therefore to promote the interests of the company, and indirectly therefore the economic interests of the shareholders.
Quite often, in the case of private companies, the directors and shareholders may be the same individuals. However, where the directors have no or limited shareholding interest in the company itself, it may happen that the shareholders may wish to move to have certain directors removed and replaced on the company’s board if e.g. the company’s financial performance or operations otherwise are not satisfactorily conducted according to the shareholders’ liking.
Naturally, a director may be requested to resign under amicable circumstances. However, where a director refuses to resign (and may perhaps have the backing of other shareholders), the question becomes what remedies the aggrieved shareholders still have? It is possible to have these matters regulated in terms of the company’s Memorandum of Incorporation specifically to dictate under which circumstances a director may be removed from the board of a company. It could also be agreed with the director initially by way of a clause in the appointment contract.
Irrespective of whether the Memorandum of Incorporation or an appointment contract addresses the matter specifically, a director may always be removed by way of a majority vote at an ordinary shareholders’ meeting (section 77(1)). Before the shareholders of a company may consider such a resolution though, the director concerned must be given notice of the meeting and the resolution, and be afforded a reasonable opportunity to make a presentation, in person or through a representative, to the meeting, before the resolution is put to a vote (section 77(2)). In terms of procedures not entirely different from that as applied to shareholders, the directors may among themselves too resolve to remove a director from the board of a company (sections 77(3) & (4)).
It is important for directors to realise that they serve at the pleasure of shareholders. It is likewise necessary for shareholders to know that they have remedies against directors who do not deliver on their mandate, and that keeping directors in check amounts to good corporate governance.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Please feel free to contact Brian Kahn for further information or specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)