My Succession obsession began four-months ago when my wife bought her Succession ringtone and started counting down the days to Season 3; Episode 1. I did not watch Succession for the first two seasons because I cared about the real-world issues facing family businesses and assumed that HBO would gloss over those issues by focusing solely on the problems of the uber-rich and uber-screwed up.
The first two seasons took place during our pre-Covid life when binging was an eating disorder and hadn’t yet replaced “did you see the game” in zoom conversation with our friend and Family. We watched shows ranging from “The Sopranos” to “Tiger King” to keep our sanity.
Therefore, I had to seriously reconsider a show that offered 20-hours of binge watching and nine new episodes. I still wasn’t convinced I would watch the show when I came upon a thought…I could write a weekly article discussing this week’s Succession episode.
While many mainstream and popular culture platforms offered their snarky weekly summary of Succession, my snarky summary would be unique because I was raised in a family business. I started watching and realized that I wasn’t bringing anything new to the table. I was simply another voice commenting on the plot, characters and general terrible behavior that permeates the entire series.
Then it happened. Sometime during Season I, Episode 3, I decided to write “Succession & My Family Business” which featured my personal family business. Seven seconds later, I retitled the series “Succession & Your Family Business” because while all family businesses are different, their issues are the same no matter on size, location, type of business, or longevity.
For viewers who came from a family business that no longer exists, Succession serves as a prism to reflect, reminisce, and rejoice in the family business and the tremendous influence it played in every part of our lives. For viewers who are involved with their on-going family businesses, Succession is a cautionary tale how their family businesses can fall apart and destroy the lives of their family members.
Kimberly Eddleston, a Northeastern University entrepreneurship professor uses the show as part her teaching on family businesses: “There’s something we call frozen images, where you can’t escape your past, because your family won’t let you. When you don’t work for your family’s business, you get to think, Who am I going to be? What am I going to wear? How am I going to talk? In a family business, you don’t have that luxury. People will remember the one bad thing you did when you were 12, and that will define you.” Lessons From Succession for Non-billionaire Families
Armed with a newfound passion and perspective, I finished binging Succession in two days. I have become a Succession savant and can site the full history of every character. Now that the season has ended here are my takeaways:
- Every fear and trepidation of how HBO would discuss family business came to pass. At times, the writers’ misanthropic treatment of the characters made the show difficult to watch and resulted in a mid to late season substantial decline in quality.
- The overarching impact Family Business has on the family members was reflected throughout the show. One of my favorite examples was the family ritual softball game at the end of Season 1 and carried through the entire season including Conner’s statement in the last episode declaring “I’m the eldest son…and what if I want to takeover because I am the eldest son; and
- I have no personal regrets regarding my decision re-entering the Family Business and appreciate the role it played in growing up.
Succession has been picked up for a fourth season so I need to address two questions: 1) Am I going to write “Succession and Your Family Business” for Season Four? and 2) if I don’t, will I watch Season Four.
Your guess is as good as mine. Have a great holiday season.
We see Greg for the first time getting loaded in his broken-down car. We then join him during theme park orientation wearing an animal costume and watching the Roy Family video. This is a pretty accurate depiction of The Cousin in the family businesses. In the non-family business world, a first cousin is a close relative and may have some shared family members. Because there is a family business, the cousin is another mouth hoping to find a family business tit to suck on.
The most famous family business cousin in American literature is Clyde Griffiths from Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel An American Tragedy. Movie lovers know it as a “A Place in the Sun” starring Montgomery Clift as George Eastman – The Cousin.
Montgomery Clift by Max Coplan, 1950
In “A Place in the Sun”, Montgomery Clift impregnates Shelley Winters, falls in love with Elizabeth Taylor and takes Shelly out on a boat to kill her. If you have to choose between Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters, I’d be thinking the same thing. However, he has a change of heart and tries to rescue her. He is still found guilty and is led to his execution at the end of the movie.
Greg does not suffer that fate as he slowly tries to ingratiate himself within the Roy Family. He is always straddling the line between insider and outsider and weighing which family member will help his cause. Unlike most cousins, Greg had a $350,00,000 inheritance from his grandfather which ended up being donated to Greenpeace because Greg aligned himself with the Roy Family.
While some people might question that decision, Greg started Succession throwing up in his dog costume to ending up with the possibility of marrying a Princess. Tom – “Greg, you marry her, you’re a plane crash away from becoming Europe’s weirdest King.”
Did I mention that monarchies are Family Businesses?
Season 3; Episode 9 – All the Bells Say – spoiler alert
The brilliantly executed finale begins with the Roy Children (sans Kendall) playing and cheating their way through a game of Monopoly. While it’s nice to see that Shiv and Roman hanging out after the dick pick episode, the surface tensions and interactions are no different than the past. It was simply more of the same.
Fast forward to the end of the episode, where the board game has morphed into a real-world crisis. The siblings (sans Connor) realize that Logan is selling the business and selling out his children. For the first time during the series, and maybe the first time ever, Shiv, Kendall and Roman are acting as a united front. They have all gained a newfound sense of purpose. As they limo over to confront their dad, they start to relish the idea of working together. Shev – “No we can fight it out. It will be fun”. Kendall – “That will be fun.”
Unfortunately, Tom has informed Logan of the impending coup. Tom’s motivation is either to increase his power which he’s artfully done or get back at Shiv for her laundry list of transgressions. Armed with Tom’s information, Logan quickly reaches out to Caroline to reopen the divorce agreement. Caroline agrees and gives Logan control of the holding company which blocks the siblings’ plan. The kids are absolutely stunned at the turn of events because it meant complete betrayal by their mother.
Because Logan is talking to Caroline in real time, he puts her on the phone to confirm the news of her betrayal. Caroline had no compunction about destroying her children’s lives but wasn’t prepared to tell them directly or at all. Her pitiful plea of “I think this will be for the best” made everybody want to vomit. While we knew that Caroline was going to score any votes for the “Mother of Year” award, her willingness to destroy her children catapults her into a Loganesque view of the world.
There is a family business statistic that states while 66% of Family Business owners want the business to move to the next generation, only 33% succeed. I am not sure what percentage flame out in this manner. We’ll see what happens next season.
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.