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Three seasons of HBO’s award-winning series, Succession, is centered around what the show’s title suggests: who will inherit control of the Waystar Royco? As someone who spent most of my career working with the real Logan Roys of the world – we’re talking about ultra-wealthy individuals, often with children from multiple marriages, at the helm of big corporations – let’s just say I have thoughts about how Logan Roy, the patriarch of the Roy family and founder of Waystar Royco, orchestrated the company’s succession plan.
As we enter the highly anticipated fourth and final season, drawing on my extensive experience — as a planner, strategist, and personal advisor to individuals and families, as well as a pioneer and leading authority on legacy planning — I share five lessons that The Roy family could benefit from learning.
But first let’s recap where we left off. Logan Roy is about to relinquish control of his media and entertainment conglomerate. But instead of handing the reins over to one of his three children, in a surprising twist, he says he’s decided to sell — not merge — Waystar Royco to streaming platform GoJo. This means that none of Logan’s children will take over the business, as the buyout deal would take them out of the business entirely.
Related: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From HBO’s ‘Succession’
It is a step that no one expected, or even thought possible. A provision that Logan’s second wife negotiated as part of their divorce settlement protected the children from ever losing control of the company. Logan Roy would need the kids’ unanimous consent for any change of control – or so we thought.
In the final moments of the season, Logan Roy revealed that he had renegotiated that divorce settlement, and the kids no longer have as much power. Heading into Season 4, it looks like Logan Roy is (again) in complete control of Waystar Royco’s fate, at least for now.
While this follow-up nightmare makes for entertaining TV, there are some real lessons we can learn based on how the show turned out. So let’s dive right in!
1. You absolutely need a succession plan for your business
Okay, if there was a succession plan, there probably wouldn’t be a show. That said, Logan Roy is in his 80s, and yet there is no plan for who the CEO of Waystar Royco will take over should he die or become incapacitated, nor does there appear to be a plan for what happens to his wealth and power happens. controlling shares of the company. While not uncommon, this is completely irresponsible. A succession plan ensures a smooth transition in the event of a CEO’s resignation, death or disability and helps to avoid the risks of lost revenue, reduced 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 property subject to divorce proceedings. Had Logan Roy had a prenuptial agreement, his shares in Waystar Royco could have clearly been classified as non-marital assets to which his ex-wife was not entitled. He could have kept full control of the company and his children would never have had the chance to cooperate and possibly block a sale or merger of the company. Even worse, the negotiated stipulation actually incentivizes Logan to turn his kids against each other so they never form a united front — which brings us to our next problem.
Related: Are You An Authoritative Leader Like Logan Roy Or A Personality Tenant Like Cousin Greg? Which “succession” character are you at work?
3. Family success is based on healthy communication and trust
One 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 lack of communication and trust within the family unit. The Roy family could be the poster children for this study.
There is absolutely no trust between the family members and there is no healthy communication either. As a result, the reality is that Logan’s fortune will most likely be squandered soon after his death. If Logan wanted his fortune to last for generations, he would need to create healthy lines of communication between the family that emphasized transparency and trust. Regular family gatherings and outings are one way to achieve this. A client of mine even had a family newsletter that went out regularly.
4. Money doesn’t buy happiness
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a member of the Roy family. Despite their wealth, they just don’t seem like happy people. Maybe that’s because, as the old saying goes, money can’t buy happiness. Well, that old saying has been backed up by science. According to positive psychology, happiness in the sense of your overall well-being and flourishing as a human being consists of five elements (also called “PERMA“): positive emotions, commitment, positive relationships, meaning and achievements. Money and material possessions only bring temporary satisfaction 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 basic flaw with every character in HBO’s Succession is that each lacks a sense of life purpose. We don’t know why Logan Roy created Waystar Royco or what the company’s mission is. It is suggested that Logan grew up in poverty and harsh conditions around the start of World War II. Are we to believe that Logan’s drive is fueled by a desire to escape from, and never return to, those conditions? His children, on the other hand, just seem 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 a larger life purpose.
The most successful clients I have worked with, in terms of living a happy, fulfilling life while acquiring great financial wealth, are those who are not defined by their circumstances and have lived their lives in pursuit of a higher purpose.