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Hollywood has recently become enamored with the family business both in fiction and reality television.
Admittedly, I did not watch the Royal Rumble live, when Harry and Meghan hung their dirty familial laundry out to dry. However, there was certainly enough social commentary for me to catch the gist of the statements made and assertions proffered.
Regardless of the voracity of their statements, the Royal Juniors made a mistake one could call a cardinal sin. Never air your grievances in public. I have left many a meeting between parents and children, and owners and board, where disagreement led to a united face in public. This could not be further from the truth with “The Firm,” as Meghan liked to call the Royal family during the now omnipresent Oprah interview.
Less common in your television viewing may be two shows any family business participant may be interested in catching. “Succession” on HBO is in the second season of an aging mega-maniacal owner of a media conglomerate searching for the successor to his business. Brian Cox is the father who creates the chaos by telling each of his children that they are the heir apparent, setting up a competitive free-for-all. Complicated by a health scare and a behind-the-scenes third wife who controls power that is unforeseen, the show pivots around three children all desiring the mantle from their father through a twisted love-and-hate melee. All that is missing is an Oprah interview to stir the pot a bit more.
The show “MotherFatherSon” on BBC Two walks the viewer through another media family going through transition. Apparently, no other industry has challenges in succession ... unless you are a Royal family. Richard Gere is the aging father this time, having turned over the face of the business to his demon-addled son whose demeanor and personality do not align with his father’s Machiavellian ways. In another consistent theme, the divorced mother is exiled to volunteering in a homeless kitchen until she steps forward to help her son after a stroke and her ex-husband after removing his son from power due to weakness.
So, why the sudden interest in family businesses and their transition? Well, the truth is the interest has always been there. Harken back to the Kennedy family and our morbid fascination with that train wreck, from multiple assassinations to rape and murder allegations all taking place in America’s Royal family known as Camelot.
Sadly, the common theme in all of these stories is our prurient fascination with wealth imploding. Even those of us who call ourselves pro-business are intrigued when a family that has made it to the pinnacle of corporate success meets their demise. Even the great Medici met their end after 791 years of rule when the last Medici ruler met his untimely early death without producing a male heir. But this presents a second interesting theme that runs through these three stories: the rise of the woman.
In the case of the Royals, the males are overshadowed by their wives: Camilla, Kate and now Meghan. Even the most beloved heroine in the family was the tragic figure Diana, not the Queen, her sons or grandsons.
In the dramas Succession and MotherFatherSon, the strength and silent power of the females come to the fore and presumably will be highlighted as pandemic-interrupted seasons return from hiatus.
So, what does this tell us of the state of affairs in the family business? For too long the presumptive head of the family, the male heir, has taken their place when perhaps the most capable heir is the gender most overlooked to the peril of many a family business.