The daringly dramatic and fiercely funny series from writer and creator Jesse Armstrong, Succession, was the small-talk topic of the fall. The series follows the Roy family and their associates – a committee of quick-witted vultures – who own and operate a massive media conglomerate, Waystar Royco. The company, which always seems to be under siege, is also continuously contending with the question of succession.
Palatable to business people, lawyers, and anyone who appreciates an inventive, albeit aggressive, metaphor, the series hit an all-time high in 2021, earning nearly 7 million viewers from October to December. And now that time has choked the wild flames of Season Three – let’s sift through the rubble. Beneath the carrion of the burned and the fury of the patriarch, Logan Roy, hides an essential lesson for business owners.
What Succession Reveals
The central contention which drives the plot is, “Who will be the next CEO of Waystar Royco?” The owner’s three children scheme and scandal, tumble and toil, for the chance to wear the crown. But outsiders want their piece too. And this antagonism is what makes the show so entertaining.
This fictional show reveals a real-life failure in businesses. Aristotle’s famous mimesis, “Art imitates Life,” endures through the extensive parallels between the Murdoch dynasty and the Roy family. Including, but not limited to, the drama of naming the next ruler. However, family businesses of all sizes are vulnerable to similar shortcomings.
Why Succession Planning is Important
The series kicks off with Logan Roy, CEO, incapacitated, and the company left without a clear successor. This scene may be a precipitation of fears for actual business owners. Without precise succession planning, the future of a business becomes dubious.
The succession planning process begins with identifying critical positions in your organization and establishing concrete plans for their fulfillment. It requires considering present and long-term goals and the suitability of potential candidates for not only what the role is but what the role may become. Ultimately, succession planning considers business ownership and operations.
For a family business, CEOs may prefer to groom their children for these positions. But, as the show has demonstrated – sometimes family isn’t the best fit. In fact, some business owners may consider selling the business to protect their children’s assets rather than place them in charge.
Businesses that lack succession planning can crumble, and with it, familial relations.
Simultaneously, a family business without clear succession planning is vulnerable to internal instability. According to Nicholas Creel, assistant professor of business law at Georgia College and State University, Succession exposes how “the lack of an articulated succession plan can lead to incessant chaos within an organization.” This disorganization results in a decay of corporate governance.
The children in Succession are constantly plotting and manipulating not only each other, but everyone in their network, to secure their spot at the head of Waystar Royco. As such, the show acts as a stage on which a web of human motivations is weaved.
And this is true for real family businesses too. Ionnie McNeil, previously in a managerial role in her mother’s company MCO Construction, said, “[f]amily businesses are different because there’s a lot of underlying, unspoken emotionality. These are not just business decisions but hopes and dreams of a legacy generation.” This emotion, this push-and-pull of interests, inhibits operations.
If you own a family business, an impartial expert is ideal when succession planning. The business attorneys at Richards Rodriguez & Skeith can assist you in making critical choices for the future of your business. Contact us today and secure the future of your business and family.