Is Your Family a Sitcom? February 2021
Shock, fear, grief, greed, anger, jealousy, confusion, infighting, and betrayal describe the Roy family. The children have learned from the patriarch’s third wife that the 80-yearold founder/CEO of the family-owned multibillion dollar media business, just had a heart attack.
The players in this drama are:
Logan Roy, the Dundee-born billionaire founder of media and entertainment conglomerate Waystar RoyCo. He is a brash leader whose primary focus is his company rather than his four children Connor, Kendall, Siobhan, and Roman. He is married to Marcia, his third wife.
Kendall Roy, the second son of Logan Roy, from his second marriage. The presumed natural successor to Logan, he is struggling to prove his worth to his father amid bungling major deals and battling with substance abuse, as well as toiling to maintain a relationship with his estranged wife, Rava.
Siobhan “Shiv” Roy, the youngest child and only daughter of Logan Roy from his second marriage. She is a political fixer, working for a time for presidential candidate Gil Eavis, whose political views clash with Waystar. She is married to Tom Wambsgans.
Romulus “Roman” Roy, the third and youngest son of Logan Roy, from his second marriage. Roman is immature, does not take responsibilities seriously, and often finds himself lacking the common sense his father requires of him. He is frequently at odds with his brother Kendall, with whom he is often vying for power and attention from their father.
Tom Wambsgans, Shiv’s husband and a Waystar executive who is promoted from heading the amusement park and cruise division to running ATN, the company’s global news outlet. He is a people-pleaser and enjoys his proximity to the Roy family’s power but is frequently dismissed by the Roys and uses underlings like Greg to wield his power.
Greg Hirsch, the grandnephew of Logan Roy and grandson of Ewan Roy. Greg is unfamiliar with the rough terrain he must navigate to win over Logan and finds himself indentured to Tom Wambsgans in his quest for an in at Waystar and with the family.
Connor Roy, the eldest son of Logan Roy, from his first marriage. Connor is mostly removed from corporate affairs, residing at a ranch in New Mexico and deferring to his siblings on most firm-related matters. In season 2, he announces his bid for President of the United States.
Marcia Roy, the third wife of Logan Roy. Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, she is often at odds with Logan’s children, whose trust she has yet to earn. She has a son, Amir, from her first marriage.
Rava Roy, Kendall’s estranged wife with whom he has three children.
Gerri Kellman, general counsel to Waystar RoyCo who is also godmother to Siobhan and a mentor to Roman.
Willa Ferreyra, Connor Roy’s young girlfriend who aspires to be a playwright and is a former call girl.
Hugo Baker, a senior communications executive in charge of managing a scandal involving Brightstar cruise lines.[i]
Don’t worry! You do not need to remember all these fictional characters in the HBO series, “Succession,” to realize they reflect real-life family situations. In fact, the series is based on the Rupert Murdoch family. (See my article, “When the News Man is the News: Rupert Murdoch’s Family Feud!”
The theme of this popular television sitcom is ongoing fighting for power, position, control, and personal wealth by multiple wives, the children, and the children’s spouses. Relationships are frayed, marriages are on the rocks, emotions are out of control; dirty tricks, and unfair tactics the norm, and a business and legacy endangered of becoming a Titanic.
The series offers no solutions, because that would eliminate the suspense, drama, tension, anxiety, uncertainty, excitement, and fear that keeps the TV audience tuning in every week. While that can make great viewing and ratings for a sitcom family, it is devastating for real families.
There are too many issues to discuss in detail, but here are a few strategies that can keep your family from becoming a Waystar RoyCo family sitcom.
Effective and Consistent Communications. The primary plot of Succession is Logan has never shared his succession plan with the entire family. Actually, it does not appear there is one! Kendell is the assumed successor, but Logan has no intention of stepping down and passing the baton. He plans to die at his desk and let the family figure it out. During his incapacitation from the heart attack, he put the daughter, Shiv, in charge rather than Kendell. She is less qualified and experienced than Kendell who has been running the business with his father.
Statistically, 70% of businesses are out of business after a transfer to the first generation. A major reason is the founder’s succession plan is never communicated to the heirs. The reason it is not communicated is because it does not exist.
Have a Well-Designed Written Plan for Progression. Notice I used the word “progression” rather than “succession.” The latter carries a stigma most businessowners dislike. Succession implies they will wake up Monday morning and have nowhere to go and nothing productive to do. Their personal value and self-worth are tied up in the business. Now who are they? It reminds them of their advanced age and looming death. There needs to be a plan for the founder’s purpose and future after delegating control. Additionally, it is uncomfortable because they already know, or assume, the topic will raise difficult and possibly volatile discussions they prefer would be swept under the rug. As a result, it is easier to procrastinate and avoid creating a plan. Let the heirs fight over the wealth! And fight they will!
Typical estate planning is too often done secretly. (See “Mayday, Mayday; We’ve Lost the Pilot”) The Grantors do not want their children and heirs to know what they will inherit. This carries over into the business, especially when more than one child is involved in the business. Which child should get the nod for leadership? Which is more qualified to be the leader and why? Who might be the best leader, but needs more experience before taking the reins? (See, “It’s Only a Bowl of Stew!”) How will it affect the siblings and grandchildren, and spouses of the children, both in and out of the business? While these can still be difficult and uncomfortable conversations, it is far better to have them early than be an exploding bomb when the attorney reads the wills to the heirs and expectations are not met. It can really destroy family relationships if the founder’s designated successor runs the business into the ground, taking everyone’s inheritance with it.
Use Human Resources Inside and Outside the Family. Families carry a lot of baggage that has accumulated over the years. Every family is dysfunctional. It is naïve to think the family, by itself, can always make good decisions that will keep everyone happy and meet each person’s expectations. Not everyone can and should have everything they want for themselves. A strong family makes the interest and viability of the team more important than self-interest. They understand everyone gains more benefit by keeping the wealth and family together than splitting the “baby.”
This requires non-family personnel to be at the conference table who can be objective, unbiased, and have nothing to gain by favoring any one family member, including the founder. The family must be willing to hear and accept truth, not what they want to hear. It is imperative that advisors to, and directors of, the company maintain their allegiance to the company/family entity, not to individuals.
In the list of characters, Gerri Kellman is general counsel to Waystar RoyCo and godmother to Shiv (the daughter) and a mentor to Roman (third and youngest son) who is frequently at odds with Kendell. Can Gerri be objective if the battle for leadership is between Kendell and Shiv? One can imagine this would get ugly because all three of them would gang up on Kendell when Logan dies (but it does make for good drama and ratings).
Find Out NOW Who Wants What and Manage Expectations. Family feuds are the result of unmet expectations. I can assure you from our work interviewing every family member, that the parents really do not understand what their children want, need, and expect. In one family business (not a FWL client) the founder had predetermined the son who worked for him would become the CEO rather than the daughter who also worked in the business and was more qualified. As it turned out, the son did not want to be the CEO and did not want to be in the business. He was only there to please his father.
Imagine what would have happened to the business and the sibling relationships if dad’s undisclosed plan had been implemented. The business could have failed, the daughter feeling she was cheated of what she rightfully deserved and outraged at her father and brother. The siblings not involved in the business are angry and unforgiving of their brother for destroying their inheritance.
What is even worse is the son spent years doing something he really did not like, want, or was suited to do. What did he give up? What could he have been successful doing? How much better could it have been if a family wealth coach had this discussion years earlier with the dad, son, and daughter while helping them create a viable progression plan?
Get Help from Advisors Who Specialize in Working with Finance and People in Families. Money and people in a family are intertwined and cannot be separated. Sometimes money is creating people problems. Other times, people are creating money problems. If both are not addressed concurrently, the problems will not magically go away. A financial advisor may be doing a good job financially but has no desire or qualification for dealing with family issues. Likewise, a family therapist may temporarily solve a family conflict or problem, but the conflict or problem will return if money is the root of the problem and the therapist is ill equipped to deal with it. This is where a team who has experience working with both sides of a family can increase the probability of a satisfactory and permanent solution that keeps the wealth and relationships from being lost.
High drama and ongoing conflicts like HBO’s “Succession” may be good for viewer ratings and a long and successful run for multiple seasons, but every television sitcom eventually ends and is cancelled and replaced. That is not acceptable for real families. Real families need solutions and help from qualified non-family advisors and friends who can simultaneously work with both the money and people to build a coordinated team that can accomplish a worthwhile shared mission and purpose that creates a legacy of significance.
“Every kingdom that is divided against itself will be destroyed. And any city or family that is divided against itself will not continue.”[ii]
[ii] Matthew 12:25, Bible, New Century Version