HBO’s Succession: The King is Dead, Long Live THE IN-LAW!

by Allen Esrock | Jul 10, 2023 | Lifestyle

Now that Succession’s final episode aired and Kendall, Roman, and Shiv have filed for unemployment, it’s time to review this epic, but seriously flawed series, when it comes to describing the issues in family business.

My initial reaction to HBO’s announcement of Succession was how much will they get wrong?  Sitting in HBO’s prestigious Sunday night timeslot, there was no possibility that Succession was going to tackle the real-world issues facing family businesses.  Who wants to talk about a family council, when you can focus on pjs (private jets) racing across the sky.  Who cares that family businesses are 75% of the world’s economy when you can watch Kendall knock off a waiter at Shiv’s wedding.

To the show’s credit, there were more than a few moments that represented the shared cultural experience singular to growing up in a family business.  Family business rituals are one feature that many family businesses have in common.  3G Ron Salisbury of Los Angeles’ historic El Cholo restaurants had a family business ritual for his children that “at one time in their lives as a rite of passage, have made Green Corn Tamales for El Cholo guests during their summer vacations!”  Succession shared their family business ritual in the opening episode when the entire Roy family took their cars and helicopters to the country estate for their annual softball game.  Our family owned big and tall mens clothing stores and every Christmas Eve we ate dinner at the same Italian restaurant.  Santa Claus was one of our customers, so he gave us extra stockings!

Family business old-timers and their relationships with the next generation are another important element of family business culture.  In many cases, the old-timer started working in the business before the NxtGens were born.  Therefore, a strong bond develops between the old-timer and the NxtGen especially if the teenage or young adult NxtGen worked for the old-timer.  Not all old-timers have the same relationship between Roman and Gerri and that’s probably a good thing.

I was excited for Season 4 and generally speaking it didn’t disappoint.  Killing off Logan during Episode 3 was inspirational as was Brother Ewan’s eulogy “And he fed a certain kind of meagerness in men. Perhaps he had to because he had a meagerness about him.”  Kendall’s coronation at his mother’s house by the three siblings made you believe that these people could actually like each other in their twisted Royesque way.

Then they blew it.  They tanked the free throw, double faulted at Wimbledon, and hit the ball off the crossbar during a shootout to lose the World Cup.  ONE THING THAT NEVER HAPPENS IN A FAMILY BUSINESS IS THE IN-LAW WINS!  Never!  This first google listing under “successful in-law in family business” is a Harvard Business Review entitled Should Your Family Business Have a “No In-Laws” Policy?.  The next two articles are To Be or Not To Be: Should an In-Law Join the Family Business? and In-Laws in the Family Business which includes the following description “After marrying into a family business, in-laws are often seen as foreigners. Family members tend to greet them with suspicion, hostility, or a remote demeanor”.   The one exception, which Patricia Angus of Angus Advisory Group shared with me, is the Japanese custom of Mukoyoshi, which is a centuries-old practice where a wealthy family adopts a son to marry their daughter and take over the family business. The adopted son drops his own family surname and takes on that of his new family.

So, what’s next for the bundle of Roys?

Kendall Roy – In the final episode, Shiv, Kendall, and Roman argue who should be CEO when Kendall desperately calls out, “I am the eldest boy!”  While some critics lambasted him for this, they are missing the point.  Kendall was groomed from the age of seven to become the CEO and, except for Logan’s senior moment that destroyed the family and cost them the business, it would have happened.

If Kendall needed any spiritual guidance to support his ascension, he could open to Deuteronomy 21:16–17 “16 then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, 17 but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the first fruits of his strength.”

Despite Connor being the first born, he can be bypassed for being incompetent (no-brainer).  Connor should have been given Logan’s apartment as the double portion instead of paying $63 million for it.

Next Career Move – Due to his twin fetishes of Silicon Valley tech boy wonderment and bodies of water, Kendall will become the founder of a desalination start-up for the Great Lakes.

Shiv Roy – In the 1960s, Virginia Slims cigarettes slogan was “You’ve come a long way, baby”.   In Shiv’s case, “you’ve gone wrong way, baby”.  The first time we see Shiv, she’s wearing a full-length winter cashmere coat and carries a fashionable, but not ostentatious purse. She’s the Gilded Age gone right and everything that Ivanka Trump should hope to see when she looks in the mirror.

During the course of the show, Shiv moved from emotionally void to morally bankrupt.  I’m somewhat surprised that she sold out Kendall and the family to backstabbing, toe sucking Tom.  Family businesses can do that to you.

Next Career Move – Shiv’s studying to be a baby nurse because her baby is going to need as much help as possible as soon as possible.

Roman Roy – I wouldn’t trust Roman to run a bath, much less a company so I never took his CEO dreams seriously.  It can be argued that Roman’s the only character that demonstrated emotional growth during the show.  Granted he was completely off the rails at the beginning of the show.  Who can forget Roman in the first episode offering a random kid $1 million if he hits a homerun in the family softball game and taunting him when he fails.  His issues with sex and his infatuation with Gerri, who’s older than his mother could populate a dissertation and/or spinoff.

Roman had a chance to score huge points for delivering the eulogy at his father’s funeral.  He gleefully taunts his siblings, “See Shivvy cry. See Kenny die,” he proclaims. “See Roman the showman light up the sky.” When Roman ascends the stage, he completely breaks down and is unable to deliver his speech.   While this didn’t impress Waystar Royco’s board members, it was an honest moment for somebody whose mental psyche is as steady as a romp in a hall of mirrors.

As the final episode rolls to its conclusion, it’s Roman who speaks with the most clarity, “We are bullshit. … It’s all fucking nothing, and I’m telling you this because I know it, okay? We’re nothing.”

Next Career Move – If, and only if, Roman gets his act together, he’d be an incredible Family Business Advisor (see Season 1, Episode 7).  Nobody has suffered as greatly as Roman did at the hands of his screwed-up family.  He could help change a bunch of people’s lives.

Connor Roy – Career Move — I am 100%, all in, on Connor becoming the Ambassador to Slovenia.  I was doing research and found this fun article Connor Roy Was Right About Slovenia which can serve as his guidebook to being Ambassador of Solevnia.

Logan Roy – Career Move — Spectrum commercials – It could be worse; he could be doing reverse mortgages.

I started writing about Succession because my wife bought the ringtone and I knew it would drive me crazy if I didn’t watch the show.  The day after the final episode aired, she switched phone plans, and the ringtone was lost during the transition.

So, does anybody have a new series to watch?

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.

About the Author

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.