Analyzing “Succession”: Opportunities to avoid chaos

Updated: Aug 29, 2018

HBO recently launched a new show called “Succession,” which deals with a large closely held media corporation. The show focuses on the Roy Family (see photo below), whose members own a majority share of the company and have several seats on the board of directors.

Roy Family from left to right: Kendall Roy, Roman Roy, Logan Roy, Siohban “Shiv” Roy, and Connor Roy

Photo from:

For those of you who have not seen the show, the drama centers around Logan Roy, the father and legendary figure who started the company. Roy is respected, idolized, and feared by most characters in the show (especially his children) and his recent collapse in health has left the future of the company in turmoil.

While this show is obviously dramatized and meant for entertainment, it also demonstrates how family discord can lead to costly issues for family owned and controlled businesses. Problems will be unavoidable, to some extent, in running any business venture; however, those issues can become even larger in scale for families. This show is a HBO drama that is meant to entertain,it plays fast and loose with reality but the nature of the family disputes and business losses are based in reality.

*Spoiler alert episode 7* For example, episode seven “Austerlitz” features Logan Roy tricking his family into family therapy, which would be fine, but he does not care about the therapy. In reality, the company was in potential turmoil due to the public’s perception of the family relationship and Logan saw publicizing his “family therapy” as a way to fix the business problem. This example demonstrates the need to discuss and write down boundaries for family matters and business matters. Family therapy can be great for the both the family and business, but it should not be used as a form of manipulation for the business.

A fluctuating relationship status between family members should not impact succession planning for the business. In “Succession”, Roy Logan consistently makes emotionally-based decisions that have huge consequences for the business as his feelings toward family members change. Roy Logan sees leadership decisions as a giant game and moves his family members and board of directors around like pawns. Leadership decisions should not be made so whimsically and business teams deserve more structure and guidance to depend on. Without that, decisions will be made on the whims of leaders without a common nucleus of thought. Guidelines l also provide standards by which to judge the success or failure of leadership and a measure of how leadership’s decisions reflect the goals of the company.

If you find yourself beginning to sweat as you think about your own family business, do not fear. If the Roy family and their business were real, they would have many layers of procedures detailing plans for succession, but HBO would probably not gain many viewers for a show about a business operating smoothly. HBO is home of epic dramas and iconic characters like Logan Roy, a legendary leader who could never be replaced, but most real companies are lead by talented teams, not Logan Roys. Smart companies should begin developing future leaders long before issues arise, so that one disaster does not cascade into a host of leadership problems. Had Roy Logan demonstrated trust in his son Kendall and developed him as a leader early, these problems could have been avoided or at least mitigated.

Now ask yourself 3 questions:

1. If you were to become incapacitated and unable to run your business today, what would happen to your company tomorrow?

2. Who would run your business until you returned and what structure and/or experience would guide them?

3. If you could not return, who would take over your business and ensure your family’s interests are protected?

If you do not have answers to those questions, do not panic, instead call an attorney and/or consultant who specializes in succession planning. These are problems that can be avoided if you are proactive rather than reactive in planning and running your business.

I have included a clip from the show for those who have not seen this excellent HBO drama. Happy Business planning!

Written by Jeff Hamilton.

With a special thank you to Jeff Habersetzer and Davis Abott for helping in editing this post!

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