Succession 101: Money lessons from TV’s dysfunctional empire

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) – There are a lot of guilty pleasures out there, but here is one common to plenty of movers and shakers on Wall Street: Watching “Succession.”

The fourth season of the popular HBO series premieres on March 26, tracking the dysfunctional Roy family as they continue to gobble up the media universe and destroying all enemies.

“Succession” is filled with instructional business tales – some about what to do and some about what not to do. But the world-dominating aspirations of Waystar Royco’s Logan Roy, the cut-throat patriarch of a conglomerate portrayed by Brian Cox, make it impossible to look away.

To tease out key money lessons, we talked to a few leaders in the financial world about their best takeaways.

Ken Lin

Founder & CEO, Credit Karma

Money lesson: Who is on your board matters more than the size of the check

“When it comes to the business fundamentals, looping in outside investors – particularly those who you don’t trust – is a risky move.

“Someone once told me, ‘All money is green, but not all board members are the same.’ That stuck with me. On the fundraising trail you can get money from all kinds of investors, but it’s more important to optimize for board members who bring the most value to the business – including sector expertise, operating experience and their networks, over investors who can write the biggest checks.”

Liz Davidson

Founder & CEO, Financial Finesse; Author, “Money Strong”

Money lesson: Focus on financial independence so you can fulfill your true purpose

“The purpose of money is to live your own purpose, but the Roy children are extremely tied financially to their father. His purpose has become their purpose. They have aligned their own futures with the success of that company, and that’s very dangerous. They don’t have the independence to stand on their own.

“All the siblings ultimately want to take their father’s position, but the chances of that happening are very low. If they had built their own financial security, separate from dad, they wouldn’t have to be fighting each other all the time.

“There is a really poignant scene in one of their old childhood bedrooms. They are just behaving like siblings, and they obviously have love for each other. But when it comes to business, they will do anything to get ahead.

“Succession is about what goes wrong when you don’t have your own sense of identity. It’s incredibly toxic to make someone else’s dreams your own – and that’s why it’s such a fascinating show.”

Doug Lebda

Founder and CEO, LendingTree

Money lesson: Be careful mixing family and business

“One lesson is separating family and personal ties from making smart business decisions. You’ll see in Succession where they are compromising on talent by ignoring their paid experts in favor of family.

“As [management consultant] Jim Collins has said, it’s vital to have the right people on the bus. As a business, if you’re investing in having the right employees, it’s a massive missed opportunity to not take their advice.”

Ryan Serhant

Founder and CEO, SERHANT; star of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York”

Money lesson: Beware of margin loans

“In the show’s first season, as the company’s stock is tanking, there is a margin loan call. You have to be very careful with that, if you have taken on a big loan but your stock can’t go below a certain price.

“That kind of financial drama is what is so great about shows like ‘Succession’ and ‘Billions’.

“I have equity built up in businesses and homes, but I have never borrowed against them because that’s a loan that doesn’t go away. Why would you take on a fixed cost, against something with variable value? You can obviously do it, but that only works when everything works.”

(Editing by Lauren Young and Josie Kao; Follow us @ReutersMoney)