Good news if you’re a fan of intergenerational family rivalries, scheming siblings, and drug dependent cousins (at least when it doesn’t involve your own family business), Season 4 of Succession returns to HBO for its final season on Sunday March 26. Season 4 picks up as Shiv, Roman, and Kendall’s lives are being destroyed by their father, mother, and Tom, Shiv’s husband. This is going to make for one crazy holiday card.
When HBO announced “Succession” was premiering on Sunday, June 3, 2018, my initial reaction was “do not pass go, do not collect $200”. My reasoning was pretty straight forward…Sunday night is HBO’s “prestige television” timeslot which signifies shows that have high production values and meant to be taken seriously. Prior occupants of the coveted time slot includes “The Sopranos”, “Game of Thrones”, and “White Lotus”. Therefore, a prestige television show about the richest people in the world doing dastardly things to one another was going to be “Dallas” on steroids.
Family business succession is an extremely emotionally complex issue for tens of millions of families around the world. The idea of sensationalizing the issue instead of focusing on solutions felt wrong so I avoided the show even though my wife and many of our friends were devotees.
Prior to Season 3, my wife bought the “Succession” ringtone which meant I was hearing the theme everytime she got a call. For my own preservation, I binged Seasons 1 of 2 and wrote a Season 3 weekly article that was part recap and part commentary on the family business experience, and more specifically, my family experience.
Despite my misgivings, I discovered that “Succession” was pretty good television. I also realized that just as family businesses are the same around the world, they are also the same on HBO. The most enjoyable part of the show was viewing the different family business archetypes and relating them to my own family business experience.
If you haven’t watched “Succession”, here’s an opportunity to meet some of the family business characters that populate their enterprise.
The opening scene of “Succession” has Logan Roy getting out of bed and peeing in the closet. This foreshadows how he treats his family over the next three seasons. In the course of building his empire, Logan crushed competitors, alienated his brother, and destroyed the lives of his children.
Logan has earned the right to make capricious decisions about the company and the fate of his children in connection with the business. However, only 33% of family businesses transition to the next generation. How do the Leading Gens in your family deal with this power dynamic in the family business? What It Takes – Episode 6
Life was good for Kendall at the opening of Season 1, Episode 1 of “Succession”. He’s sitting in the back of a chauffeured sedan, psyching himself to the Beasties Boys’ “An Open Letter to NYC”, and preparing for the adulation that will envelope him when he is announced as the next Waystar Royco’s CEO. Kendall’s world quickly crashed before him as Logan shocked his family on his 80th birthday by announcing he is staying on indefinitely as CEO of Waystar Royco.
The father – son relationship can be extremely difficult. However, a son taking over the family business adds a layer of complexity as the son deals with the issues of living up to the father’s success, believing that he has earned his place in the business, and making sure the business remains viable. Too Much Birthday – Episode 7
On the other end of the sibling spectrum, there are the family members that are classified under “The Fredo Effect”. Named for Fredo from “The Godfather”, The Fredo Effect refers to an immediate family member who is less capable than other family members and non-family employees but is still given a position and status because he’s a family member.
Roman is Exhibit #1 when it comes to The Fredo Effect. His early failures include his short-lived career as a movie producer and the failed Waystar Royco satellite launch in Japan. Despite his many shortcomings and failures, Roman is a key member of the management team. Fredo ended up betraying Michael so Michael had Fredo killed at the end of “The Godfather Part Two”. Roman hasn’t gone this route yet; however, there’s a full Season 4 ahead of us. Chiantishire – Episode 8
The opening credits of “Succession” includes the backside of a young girl watching the boys playing tennis. The message is pretty straight forward. Girls sit on the sideline, girls don’t compete; girls don’t matter. While things have gotten better for family business women, many family businesses can’t fathom the idea of a woman running the family business.
In case you think this is old-fashion thinking, you’re correct. The story of Jacob and Esau is that Jacob offered him a bowl of stew in exchange for his birthright and Esau agreed. In Deuteronomy 21:17, NIV: “He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength.” The world is slowly evolving regarding family business women leading their family enterprises, but it’s up to the next generation to make it happen. The Disrupton – Episode 3
Nothing represents the complexity of a family business as much as the family business in-law. There are a number of scenarios that the in-law can interact with the family business including: 1) working in the family business with spouse; 2) working in the family business without spouse; 3) not working in the family business and spouse is working in the family business; 4) not working in the family business and spouse is working in the family business; and 5) baby maker.
Tom started life as a #4, family member spouse not working in the family business. In this role, he was disrespected and abused by his father-in-law. When Shiv entered the business, he moved to bucket #3 where he was disrespected by his father-in-law and wife.
Will Season 4 be the revenge of the In-Law? Mass in Time of War – Episode 2
The Old-Timer is one of the great characters in the real and fictional worlds. You’ve got to love them! Despite all the differences, Old-Timers share the same key qualities: 1) they’ve been with the family business for a bunch of years; 2) they respect the family business leader, but believe they are always right, and 3) they’re grumpy…really grumpy.
Generally speaking, the Old-Timer started working in the business when the business was in its infancy and before the next generation member was born. They watched the next generation, who they refer to as “Kid, “Junior” or “Rump-Brain”, grow up in parallel with the family business.
While the Old-Timer can be delusional regarding their importance in the business, the Old-Timer can play an outsized roll in a NextGen’s life. If a teenager works in the family business, they’re going to have conflicts with their family members because they are a teenager. At times, the conflicts can be very intense. The Old-Timer can serve as an outlet for a NxtGen to express uncertainly about the family business or other parts their life. Their advice is not always going to great, but giving a NxtGen the chance to express their issues to somebody that has knowledge of the situation can be a wonderful outlet. Lion in the Meadow – Episode 4
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 and Elizabeth Taylor who are two of the most beautiful people to grace the planet Earth. (For those of you who’ve just streamed your 23rd British detective series on BritBox, give it a shot.)
As a cousin in the family business, Greg wants it. He wants it all…the money, the power, the glory. The family may give him tastes of it, but he’s never going to get it all. The first time we met Greg he was getting high in his broken-down car waiting for his theme park orientation to begin while wearing an animal costume. Generally speaking, he’s done a good job of sliming his way into the family. All the Bells Say – Episode 9
Enjoy Season 4 of “Succession” and see which characters inhabit your family business life.
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.