Family businesses seem to be made for the movies and television. They have everything: success, power and riches, as well as dysfunction and drama. Most are a caricature of reality, but nonetheless some useful themes emerge. Kimberly Eddleston, a professor who specializes in family business and teaches a course entitled ‘Examining Family Business Through Film’, shares some key takeaways.
This Emmy award–winning TV series is a classic for talking about the succession issue, of course. Often, we talk in family business circles about successors feeling entitled to the CEO position, but we also see in the first episode that the founder feels entitled to stay on. Logan Roy, the lead character, is 80 years old, and he’s thinking, “I can do what I want since I built this business.” Furthermore, he uses his power and wealth to manipulate his children. In my teaching, I do an exercise after watching the episode where Logan appears to be on his deathbed. Students are asked to portray several key family members in the show and to create speeches to Logan. We then discuss them and how Logan would likely react.
2. The Godfather
The classic Mafia movie starring Marlon Brando contains so much that’s relevant to succession too, particularly in relation to the pernicious effects of primogeniture. Sonny Corleone takes over from his father as the eldest child, but given what happens (he’s killed and the youngest son, Michael, reluctantly assumes the role) you are left with good material for discussing the historical assumption that it’s always the first-born son who should take over. It’s always fun talking about what would have happened if Sonny had become the successor. He was hot-headed and impulsive, and wanted to take the business in directions that went against the family’s values. We also talk about gender roles in the film, and the “Fredo Effect” – a term used to describe the middle son who was an impediment to the business. My students also learn much about non-family members through the character of Tom Hagen, the lawyer. They easily identify what he brings to the business and how critical he is to its success.