Goodwill Part I: Personal versus Enterprise Goodwill

Goodwill can exist in two different forms: Personal Goodwill, which is defined as an intangible asset that is attached to a person; and enterprise Goodwill, also an intangible asset that is attached to the business enterprise.

If goodwill is attached to an individual, it is non-severable since the person to which it is attached is not being sold. This also implies that the asset is non-transferrable. Of course brokers often make contractual arrangements between the parties to lessen the non-transferrable portion of personal goodwill to some degree depending on the nature of the business being transferred. Smaller businesses tend to have some amount of the personal goodwill component due to the owner’s personal contact with customers, or channel partners, or special chef in a restaurant operation, etc.

Similarly, with enterprise goodwill being attached to the enterprise, this asset is indeed transferrable because it is a part of the business being sold. So it may be obvious that enterprise goodwill usually transfers to the buyer without special arrangements. Personal goodwill, on the other hand, requires much deeper analysis to determine how, and how much of this intangible asset is reasonably transferrable to a willing buyer.

Without proper analysis of goodwill value, whether or not it is related to an individual (usually the owner), and thoughtful strategies for the transfer of the personal goodwill component, the value of a business can be significantly distorted (diminished).