HBO Max’s hit drama series Succession, arguably the best-written and produced television series since The Sopranos, aired its final episode yesterday evening after four glorious seasons of brutal internecine famiglia drama, shining a black light on the dark underbelly of a fictional (or are they?) uber-wealthy American family’s magnanimously oversized and ubiquitous influence on world commerce, business, media, and politics.
Succession is a fictional television series that offers its viewing audience a nonfictional torrent of business strategies and tactics.
This article unwinds several business themes and takeaways from Succession and how they impact small, community-based businesses.
As the sun rises on Main Street, the vibrant hues of the political banners adorning the local mom-and-pop stores herald a new day and a charged era of political awakening in the business world.
Traditionally seen as neutral spaces of commerce and community gathering, small businesses are increasingly stepping into political discourse, wielding their influence in previously unimagined ways.
Yet, beneath the rosy dawn, shadows stir, whispering cautionary tales of the intricate dance between business viability and political expression.
How does a small business’s political voice resonate in the crucible of civic life?
Does it echo through the corridors of power, prompting change and igniting discussions?
Or does it ricochet back, prompting boycotts and impacting bottom lines?
In this article, A Miner Detail’s Ryan Miner delves into the multifaceted world of politics in small businesses, analyzing the opportunities, risks, and the enduring question of how much politics is too much for the small business on your street corner.
Succession Is Better Than An MBA | Business Lessons Learned
Writing as an MBA whose non-linear career path is somewhat of a case study in and of itself, I am fascinated with analyzing large corporations (fictional and nonfictional) to understand the mechanics of how small businesses can or should employ corporate tactics for scaling growth through brand development and market penetration.
You can totally hear Kendall Roy, Succession’s self-described “number-one boy,” using similar language in nausea-inducing dialogue with an insufferable twenty-something SoHo art startup duo reluctantly seeking billionaire venture capital to “increase the reach of young artists and the democratization of art.“
(Kendall Roy and I even have somewhat of the same haircut – though not intentionally.)
Despite the nefarious depiction of human nature brought to life by Succession’s brilliant and endlessly talented A-list actors, the Emmy award-winning series (with likely more to come) is an authentic educational experience for small business owners and future corporate raiders alike.
Open a new Google Doc and prepare your pitch decks.
Succession business lessons | Small business owners take note
Succession Planning (obviously!)
The show’s title itself refers to the importance of succession planning in business.
It’s crucial for businesses, especially family-owned ones, to have a clear and agreed-upon plan for who will take over when the current leader steps down or cannot continue leading.
The series highlights the importance of sound corporate governance practices.
It shows the potential consequences of conflicts of interest, lack of independent decision-making, and the absence of a competent board of directors.
The characters often have to make hard business decisions under pressure, highlighting the importance of clear-headed, strategic thinking.
Many of the show’s conflicts arise from poor communication.
Transparent, honest, and effective communication is crucial in any business environment.
Ethics and Reputation
The series showcases how ethical missteps can have far-reaching consequences for a company’s reputation and public image.
It underscores the importance of adhering to ethical business practices.
The show underlines the importance of diversification in any business portfolio to mitigate risks.
The characters’ personal lives often suffer due to their work, highlighting the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Remember, while Succession provides some fascinating scenarios for discussion, the series is a dramatized and fictional representation of business dynamics.
Real-world business decisions should invariably be made based on careful consideration, sound advice, and ethical principles.
Now let’s look closely at a few business lessons we can glean from Succession and apply them to a small business setting.
The Impact of Politics on Small Businesses
Many of Succession’s conflicts between characters stem from miscommunication or lack of transparency.
For small businesses, fostering an open and honest communication culture can help avoid misunderstandings and ensure everyone is working towards the same goals.
Succession comically exposes the cynical world of American greed and corporate fuckery.
The characters are indeed written as horrible, indecent, unimaginably foul-mouthed scorch-earthed, take-no-prisoners corporate bastards.
(Siobhan Roy’s nickname is “Shiv.” Do you think they gave her that name as a mere coincidence?)
Logan Roy – the patriarch of the almighty Roy family business empire and the show’s primary antagonist – exposes several uncomfortable and penetrating truths about life, business, and human nature.
Mr. Roy astutely – almost scientifically, even – has the propensity to read and fundamentally understand the cultural and political tea leaves of the times.
His enviable Machiavellian-like business acumen is in part responsible for his mega-accumulated wealth.
Logan Roy gave his politically right-learning media-viewing audience a fresh helping of the red meat they desperately crave.
Think back to the memorable scene from Succession’s season one between Logan Roy and U.S. Sen. Gil Eavis, a far-left liberal United States senator from Pennsylvania.
The setting: Shiv’s U.K. wedding.
Click to watch the scene.
“Well, I didn’t make human nature, but I do know what they read and what they watch. I make my nut off what people really want,” Logan Roy tells Gil Eavis, the fictional Bernie Sanders-like American politician and presidential aspirant who loathes the “values” of Waystar Royco, Mr. Roy’s fifty-year-old company.
Logan Roy cuts through Senator Eavis’ philosophical, high-hat, man-of-the-people political bullshit and schools him on human nature.
Small Businesses Must Understand Their Customers
Small and large businesses should study their physical and cultural landscapes closely before making public pronouncements – primarily political statements.
Business owners must understand to whom they’re appealing while considering their location’s social, political, and economic demographics.
It’s incumbent upon business owners to invest the requisite time to truly understand the demographics of the people and the community they serve.
Throughout Succession’s four seasons, Logan Roy’s business acumen, like it or not, propelled him to achieve significant success worldwide.
Mr. Roy saliently understood how to appeal to an audience that craved what he was offering; he responded accordingly by catering to their needs and desires.
Of course, Logan Roy was a corrosive fictional business mogul and media figure who manipulated his audience with garbage television disguised as news.
Nevertheless, he understood what his viewing audience and customer base truly wanted.
It’s how Logan Roy, in his own words, “makes his nut.”
Should Small Businesses Use Their Platforms For Political Expression?
What happens when a local small business – let’s say, for example, a small, family-run restaurant centered squarely within the confines of a culturally and politically conservative-leaning rural American town – inexplicably uses its business as a platform for political expression?
Here’s a scenario to chew on:
While seemingly admirable, the small-town restaurant owners’ political expression is driven by their innately good-willed desire to create an “inclusive environment.”
That certainly sounds nice, but the owners’ tone and execution are another matter.
Political expression by small business owners in certain circumstances may be accepted, depending on the tone of the expression and the restaurant owner(s) resolve to face an onslaught of criticism and potentially unfair negative online reviews.
But it’s a different story when a small-town restaurant owner and its management brazenly insult the town’s locals and intermittently engage in time-wasting futile social media fights.
How do you think the townspeople will inevitably respond when a local restaurant owner routinely insults their primary customer base?
Do you think the townspeople will continue to eat at that restaurant?
And what happens when the locals abandon the restaurant in droves?
To whom, then, will the restaurant market?
College students at a nearby far-left academic institution of higher learning?
Likeminded politically-affiliated organizations?
Suddenly that restaurant’s SWOT analysis changes.
Of course, a small-town restaurant’s political expression – liberal or conservative values, regardless – is likely to elicit a range of positive and negative outcomes.
These outcomes likely and largely depend on the political climate and the community’s cultural and political demographic makeup.
Potential outcomes when small businesses engage in political expression
This could swing in either direction.
The small business might garner praise and loyalty from customers who agree with the political stance, potentially increasing their customer base.
Conversely, it could also attract criticism and boycotts from those who disagree, leading to losing customers and revenue.
Employees who agree with the business’s political stance may feel more engaged and loyal to the company.
Those who disagree might feel alienated or even choose to leave the company.
Staff morale and productivity could be impacted.
Reputation and Branding
The small business could (and likely will) become associated with specific political causes, strengthening its brand among supporters of those causes.
At the same time, this could also narrow its appeal and potentially turn off customers who do not support these causes.
The business might be seen as an active community member, potentially strengthening its relationships with like-minded local organizations.
However, this could also create rifts with community members, most of whom hold opposing political views.
The business may see financial gains or losses based on the reaction of its customer base. Supportive customers may patronize the business more frequently or make larger purchases in solidarity.
On the other hand, customers who disagree with the political stance may boycott the business, leading to decreased revenue.
Risk of Polarization
The business may become a locus of political conflict, particularly in highly politically charged times or places.
This could lead to protests, negative media attention, or even threats or acts of violence in extreme cases.
The political stance might create a competitive advantage if it helps the business differentiate itself.
Alternatively, it could be a disadvantage if competitors capitalize on the backlash from those who disagree with the stance.
Businesses, especially those in small towns, rely heavily on the local community.
Businesses can inadvertently alienate a significant portion of their customer base by taking a political stance that opposes the majority’s beliefs.
Polarization can lead to strong emotional responses in today’s highly charged political environment.
This can impact the business directly if customers boycott due to a difference in political ideology.
Businesses in small towns rely significantly on word-of-mouth for promotion.
Negative sentiments can spread quickly, affecting the business’s reputation and, consequently, its profitability.
By concentrating on political activism, a business may lose focus on its primary objective: to provide excellent service or products.
This can affect operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Perceived Lack of Neutrality
A business that openly takes a political stance can lose its perceived neutrality, making it less attractive to customers who prefer companies that don’t promote specific political ideologies.
Increased Vulnerability to Political Changes
Tying a business to a political stance increases its vulnerability to changes in political dynamics.
If the political tide shifts, the business could face new challenges.
Potential Legal Issues
Taking a political position may invite legal challenges, especially if a business’s stance infringes on the rights of employees or customers, which could inevitably lead to costly litigation.
Decreased Employee Morale
If employees do not align with the political stance of the business, it could lead to a decrease in morale and productivity and potentially increase staff turnover.
Aligning a business with a particular political ideology limits its market to followers of that ideology.
This can result in a smaller customer base and lower sales.
Increased Business Risk
Any form of controversy, including the owner’s personally-held political beliefs, adds an element of risk to a business.
This can impact everything from customer relations to potential investment opportunities.
Difficulty in Scaling or Selling
Businesses that are politically charged may face challenges when trying to expand to new locations or when trying to sell the company, as potential buyers might see political affiliation as a risk or liability.
Potential Supplier Issues
Suppliers may be less willing to engage with a business with strong political affiliations due to potential backlash or disagreements, potentially disrupting the supply chain.
Decreased Customer Loyalty
Customers may choose to patronize a business based on the quality of the product or service rather than their political views.
By introducing politics, the business may lose customers’ loyalty based on these non-political factors.
Increased Competitive Vulnerability
Competitors can exploit the situation and attract customers turned off by the business’s political stance.
This can lead to a loss of market share.
Loss of Objectivity
Businesses that take a solid political stance can lose their objectivity.
They may make business decisions based on political motivations rather than what’s best for the business, leading to potentially poor strategic choices.
The intersection of commerce and political expression is a delicate balance.
It is a dance on the knife’s edge, a negotiation of personal beliefs and public perception, advocacy, and potential alienation.
Whether to raise a political banner or stay silent is a choice that each small business must make individually, informed by the values of their customers, their communities, and their conscience.
Yet, amid the flux and frenzy of the political tide, let us remember that the beating heart of every small business is not politics.
It’s the barista who knows your coffee order.
It’s the bookstore owner who recommends your next great read.
It’s the corner diner that’s been your family’s Sunday tradition for years.
And so, as we traverse this charged political landscape, let’s cherish these connections that ground us, remembering that before anything else, small businesses are the lifeblood of our community, politics aside.
Ryan Miner is the Editor & Founder of A Miner Detail.