As one of the most consequential programs in the history of television, “Mad Men” has been justifiably heralded as a meticulously drawn time capsule of the 1960s. It achingly revealed the sordid history of Don Draper who steals the identify of a fallen comrade in order to shake off the entrails of his hard scrapple past. The show charts the growth of the advertising world from a sideshow to a major driver of the economy.
But what about the NxtGen in the Family Business? What about Roger Sterling, Jr., one of the two senior partners at Sterling Cooper. Unlike the name suggests, Roger is not the “Sterling” in Sterling Cooper, that was Roger Sterling Sr. To Bert Cooper, and probably other long-time firm members, he was known as “Peanut”. Many Family Business NxtGens have gone through the “Peanut Phenomena” because long-time company employees have known them since they were five years old. While nicknames such as “Junior”, “The Kid”, and “Twerp” can be both enduring and annoying, it also represents a relationship that can be difficult for NxtGens to overcome as they try to build credibility within the office environment.
So, who was Peanut? Roger Sterling, Jr., a World War II Navy veteran, was a notorious womanizer until two heart attacks changed that part of his life. Since it was the early 1960s, he didn’t change his excessive drinking or smoking. Roger and his first wife, Mona, had a daughter Margaret who was spoiled and demanding. She marries a very appropriate young man, and their plan was to live an appropriate life and raise an appropriate family.
However, as the 1960s wears on, Margaret “turns on, tunes in, and drops out”. Margaret eventually runs away from her family and moves to a communal farm in upstate New York, where she has a garden, lives in a ramshackle old barn house, and has promiscuous sex and little showering with other members of the commune. She rejects Roger and Mona’s efforts to take her back home, throwing back in Roger’s face that he abandoned her, so now she in turn can abandon her son.
And how was work life for Peanut? Did the employees of Sterling Cooper refer to him as Peanut or did he ever graduate to Junior? What was the driving motivation for Roger to join the firm? Did he have other interests or was he pushed into the family business? Was Roger Sr. running the firm when Roger joined? Was there ever an opportunity for the firm to become Sterling Cooper & Sterling? How did Bert Cooper feel when Roger Sr. died and suddenly “Peanut” appears to be the lead partner at the firm? Did Bert inform clients, vendors and partners know that the Sterling of Sterling Cooper was Peanuts’ father?
One of the biggest challenges for the next generation of family business owners is living up to the legacy of the current generation. Roger’s main responsibility in the agency is to manage the relationship with Lucky Strike, one of Sterling Coopers most lucrative accounts. The position was great because it gave him plenty of opportunities to enjoy three martini lunches and chase women. However, it certainly wasn’t the most compelling role in the agency. Was Roger in the position because this was the limitation of his skills and abilities, or could he have accomplished more if he wasn’t encumbered by the baggage of the family business?
In “Mad Men”, Don Draper is an archetype dealing with an amalgam of emotions and issues for post-World War II males. Roger Sterling, Jr. is simply a Family Business NxtGen dealing with exact same issues that NxtGens deal with today.