5 Lessons from HBO’s Succession about Reputation management and Family firms

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In an era in which television is redefining its place in the artistic pecking order, HBO’s Succession is another example of a TV blockbuster that has struck a chord with audiences. The acclaimed series examines the decaying empire of a dysfunctional media family and exemplifies how family ties can count for little once big money rules the roost. Perhaps the reason that Succession has struck such a chord is that while there may only be a select few media moguls, most of us have experienced fissions within our usual domestic bliss! And such issues can absolutely come to the fore in the process of running family offices, where there is always the possibility of discourse and discord over how the project operates. Dealing with engagement, succession and communication appropriately, while also ensuring that your family office has a greater purpose that is clearly defined can be hugely challenging. And even if everyone involved has the best intent, delivering this guiding principle when faced with the reality of daily business and family affairs can be far from easy. So here are five lessons that we can learn from the HBO mega-series, before putting them into practice in the process of running family offices.

1. Keep Your Friends Close and your Enemies Closer

One of the most well-known lines in movie history, this Godfather philosophizing has proven to be a highly perceptive remark. In Succession, all of the characters, with their thrusting ambition and suspicions of those that can dethrone them, understand the value of keeping their enemies within touching distance. But close ties with allies are also important. When thinking about family offices, perhaps things are not quite so grave! However, there is wisdom here that we can learn from. It’s wise to grow your portfolio as much as possible, but you should also be careful who you choose to associate and fraternize with. Your image and reputation will be critical to your business, so make sure that you protect them.

2. Know When to Hand Over the Reins

One of the central premises of Succession is that the patriarch of the media empire is in poor health and on the verge of expiration, which then provokes a massive power struggle between the younger members of his family. Meanwhile, the father isn’t quite ready to release the reins just yet. Naturally enough, this doesn’t lead to a healthy culture of family situation in the HBO drama, and it’s certainly something to be avoided in family offices as well. Failing to hand over responsibility at critical moments can stifle innovation, while also indicating a lack of trust in workers who need to feel valued. The best approach would be to have a succession plan ready from as early on as possible. Succession should be on the mind from the moment a new leader steps into their role. By planning for succession from the start, there will be plenty of time to implement a carefully considered strategic plan.

3. Secrets Come to Light

Succession is a typical TV pot-boiler, with more twists, turns and tumultuous revelations than one could reasonably expect to occur in real life. However, there is something to be learned even from this most dramatic of melodramas. Secrets that are kept beneath lock and key backfire spectacularly, underlining just how important it is to be transparent at all times. Again, this is a simple matter of trust; all great leaders believe in giving their people information, to ensure that they are kept in the loop. Don’t instead make the mistake of treating them like mushrooms; keeping them in the dark and feeding them.

4. It’s All a Game

In Succession, all of the characters become antagonists, who are in competition with one another all of the time. The business that they’ve built together becomes a grand playing field for their personal ambitions and petty rivalries, underlining one of the immutable aspects of human nature – sheer greed. This was once summed up aptly by the Australian cricketer Shane Warne. Whatever it is in life, it’s never enough. So what’s the takeaway here for family office proprietors and employees? Expect this world to be competitive — Anything worth doing is. Expect and respect the fact that you will have to compete on a daily basis and that nothing will be handed to you on a silver platter. Life is rarely like that.

5. Know Why You Are Doing This

And, finally, understanding and remembering your guiding motive at all times is always essential. Maintaining a greater purpose and consistent values is critical, or else why did you get into this industry and situation in the first place?! Succession’s carousel of characters fails to pay heed to this and fail to serve the greater good of their family and empire. Don’t make the same mistake yourself. Succession may be entertaining but there are real and valuable lessons here for family offices. By learning from the topics explored in the series, families might recognize themselves and maybe even gain insight into their own familial issues and human nature.

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com


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