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For three seasons, HBO’s award-winning series, Succession, has been centered around what the show’s title suggests: Who will inherit control of the Waystar Royco? As someone who has spent the better part of my career working with the real-life Logan Roys of the world — we’re talking ultra-wealthy individuals, often with children from multiple marriages, sitting at the helm of major corporations — let’s just say I have thoughts on how Logan Roy, the patriarch of the Roy family and founder of Waystar Royco, has orchestrated the company’s succession plan.
As we head into the highly anticipated fourth and final season, I’ll share, based on my extensive experience — as a planner, strategist and personal advisor for individuals and families as well as a pioneer and premier authority on legacy planning — five lessons the Roy family could benefit from learning.
But first, let’s recap where we left off. Logan Roy is set to relinquish control of his media and entertainment conglomerate. But rather than handing the reins to one of his three children, in a surprise twist, he says he has decided to sell — not merge — Waystar Royco to streaming platform GoJo. This means none of Logan’s children will take over as the buyout deal would completely cut them out of the business.
Related: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from HBO’s ‘Succession’
It’s a move that no one expected, or even thought was possible. A stipulation that was negotiated by Logan’s second wife as part of their divorce settlement protected the children from ever losing control of the company. Logan Roy would need the children’s unanimous consent for any change of control — or so we thought.
In the final moments of the season, Logan Roy revealed he renegotiated that divorce settlement, and the children no longer have such power. It would appear heading into season 4 that Logan Roy is (yet again) in complete control of Waystar Royco’s fate, at least for now.
While this succession nightmare makes for entertaining TV, there are some real lessons we can learn based on how the show panned out. So let’s dive right in!
1. You absolutely need a succession plan for your business
Okay, if there were a succession plan, then there probably would not be a show. That said, Logan Roy is in his 80s, and yet there is no plan for who will take over as CEO of Waystar Royco should he die or become incapacitated, nor does there seem to be a plan in place for what happens to his wealth and controlling shares of the company. While not uncommon, this is completely irresponsible. A succession plan ensures a smooth transition upon a CEO’s resignation, death or incapacity and helps avoid the risks of lost revenue, decreased productivity or a damaged reputation.
2. A prenuptial agreement is a must
A prenuptial agreement is absolutely necessary to protect your business. Without one, you risk your business becoming a marital asset subject to divorce proceedings. Had Logan Roy had a prenuptial agreement, his shares of Waystar Royco could have been clearly designated as non-marital assets to which his ex-wife had no right or entitlement. He could have retained complete control of the company, and his children would never have had the opportunity to band together and potentially block a sale or merger of the company. Even worse, the provision that was negotiated actually incentivizes Logan to pit his children against each other so they are never a unified front — which brings us to our next issue.
Related: Are You an Authoritative Leader like Logan Roy or a Personality Hire Like Cousin Greg? Which ‘Succession’ Character Are You At Work?
3. Family success is built upon healthy communication and trust
A now-famous study conducted by Roy Williams of the Williams Group surveyed 3,250 families over a 20-year period and found that the reason 70% of intergenerational wealth transfers fail is because of a breakdown of communication and trust within the family unit. The Roy family could be the poster children for this study.
There is absolutely zero trust amongst the family members, nor is there healthy communication. As a result, the reality is that Logan’s fortune will most likely be squandered quickly after his death. If Logan wanted his fortune to last generations, he would have to create healthy lines of communication amongst the family that emphasized transparency and trust. Regular family meetings and outings are one way of accomplishing this. One client of mine even had a family newsletter that went out regularly.
4. Money does not buy happiness
I don’t know about you, but I do not desire to be a member of the Roy family. Despite their wealth, they just don’t seem like happy people. Perhaps that is because, as the old adage goes, money cannot buy happiness. Well, that old adage has been backed by science. According to positive psychology, happiness in the sense of your overall well-being and flourishing as a human consists of five elements (referred to as “PERMA”): positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishments. Money and material possessions only produce temporary gratification and not long-term happiness.
Related: Succession Planning: How to Ensure Your Business Will Thrive Without You
5. Take the time to discover your life purpose
The fundamental flaw with every character in HBO’s Succession is that each lacks a sense of life purpose. We do not know why Logan Roy created Waystar Royco or what the company’s mission is. It is suggested that Logan grew up impoverished and under harsh circumstances around the beginning of World War II. Are we to believe that Logan’s drive is fueled by a desire to escape, and never return to, those circumstances? His children, on the other hand, seem simply to be vying for their father’s love and approval. In other words, everyone seems to be stuck in some form of trauma, as opposed to pursuing some greater life purpose.
The most successful clients I have worked with, in terms of living happy, fulfilling lives while achieving great financial wealth, are those who are not defined by their circumstances and have lived their lives in pursuit of a greater purpose.
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