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The Personal Side of Personal Goodwill

In the worlds of Mergers & Acquisitions and Business Valuation, the concept of "Personal Goodwill" holds significant importance. The International Glossary of Business Valuation Terms defines Goodwill as ‘‘that intangible asset arising as a result of name, reputation, customer loyalty, location, products, and similar factor not separately identified.’’ For Tax and Family Law purposes, Goodwill is delineated between Enterprise Goodwill and Personal Goodwill. It should be noted that U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) do not make such a delineation. Personal Goodwill refers to the intangible value associated with an individual's unique skills, reputation, and relationships within a business. It plays a crucial role in determining the overall worth of a company, especially in cases involving closely held businesses or professional service firms. Business Valuators employ various methods and consider numerous factors to calculate Personal Goodwill, and today we explore these techniques through a legal lens, drawing insights from specific court cases that have shaped the methodology over time.

Understanding Personal Goodwill

Personal Goodwill is distinct from Enterprise Goodwill, which is attached to the business entity and is separate from the personal reputation(s) of the owners or executives. Personal Goodwill, on the other hand, is tied directly to key individuals within the organization, such as business owners, executives, or professionals like doctors, lawyers, accountants, investment managers or consultants. It encompasses the following components, but there are many others to be considered:

  • Personal Reputation: The reputation and expertise of the individual in their field.

  • In-Bound Personal Referrals: The strength and longevity of the relationships they have developed with clients or customers. A referral from an outside source that has been made to a particular individual, not directly to the business, increases Personal Goodwill.

  • Skill Set: The unique skills and abilities that contribute to the company's success.

  • Personal Brand: Name recognition for the individual or the personal brand and identity they bring to the business.

How is Personal Goodwill Calculated?

Business Valuators employ various methods to quantify Personal Goodwill. These methods are often subjective and require careful consideration. Common approaches include:

  • Comparative Analysis: This method involves assessing the company's financial performance before and after the departure of the key individual. Any decline in revenue or client retention post-departure may indicate the presence of Personal Goodwill. This method is often referred to as the “With/Without Method” and is designed to quantify the impact on future cash flows the departure of a key individual may have on the business’ performance.

  • Individual Utility Analysis: Under this method, the Valuator uses a variety of attributes that the individual may bring to the business such as Ability, Reputation, Work Habits, In-Bound Referrals, and others, and provides a score based on importance of those attributes to the business. The Valuator then utilizes a similar scoring technique on other attributes of the Enterprise Goodwill and compares the weights to conclude what percentage of the total Goodwill should be attributed to Personal vs. Enterprise.

Legal Precedents: Court Cases Shaping Personal Goodwill Calculation

Several court cases have played a pivotal role in establishing guidelines for calculating Personal Goodwill in business valuation:

  • Martin Ice Cream v. Commissioner (1998): The Granddaddy of all Personal Goodwill cases. In this case, the U.S. Tax Court ruled that Personal Goodwill could be separate from Enterprise Goodwill. It emphasized the importance of contracts, non-compete agreements, and the transferability of customer relationships in determining the existence and value of Personal Goodwill vs. Enterprise Goodwill.

  • Hirsch v. Commissioner (2007): This case underscored the need for a detailed analysis of the specific facts and circumstances surrounding a business and its key individuals. It highlighted the role of non-compete agreements and the individual's ongoing involvement in the business post-sale.

  • Howard v. Commissioner (2011): The court in this case considered the individual's role in generating business income, the duration and strength of customer relationships, and the absence of formal employment agreements when assessing Personal Goodwill.

  • Bross Trucking, Inc. v. Commissioner (2012): This case focused on the transferability of certain assets to an entity owned by related individuals. The Tax Court emphasized customers sought certain personal traits through their relationships with the owner, which led directly to business for Bross Trucking. As a result, the Tax Court determined Personal Goodwill existed through these relationships.

In Conclusion

Personal Goodwill is a crucial element in the sale and valuing of a business, particularly for closely held businesses and professional service firms. Business Valuators use various methods to quantify it, often guided by legal precedents set by court cases. These cases emphasize the need for a comprehensive analysis of factors such as reputation, relationships, and the transferability of Goodwill. Understanding how Personal Goodwill is calculated is essential for business owners, professionals, and their advisors, especially for those involved in legal disputes or taxation matters.

At Seacap, we help business owners, and their advisors, successfully navigate mergers and acquisitions, business & healthcare valuations, and a variety of other strategic situations to maximize value when the owner is ready for the next phase of the business’ lifecycle.

Please reach out when you are ready to have a confidential conversation.


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