Five Business Lessons from Logan Roy
Retaining your humanity is optional.
This post will contain spoilers through the first 3 episodes of Succession Season 4.
As head of Waystar Royco, Logan Roy from Succession presided over a vast empire. From news to movies to theme parks and cruise ships, there were few aspects of American life that his company didn’t touch. Logan was the American dream personified — an immigrant who came to the U.S. with very little, but who managed to scale the heights of America’s ruling class.
Logan was also a brute. He was ruthless to family, friends and enemies alike. He would zero in on people’s weaknesses and exploit them. And when he didn’t get his way, he often had an explosive temper. Beyond his business dealings, his legacy is one of mayhem, destruction, and misery. His children will live with the trauma of their father’s behavior for the rest of their lives. In other words, we should absolutely not take lessons of any kind from Logan Roy.
But what if we did?
As Succession wraps up its final season this Sunday, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at Logan’s behavior to see what lessons we can glean from how he handled himself in corporate environments. In doing so, I think several clear patterns emerge. Below, I’ve summarized what I think are the five biggest business lessons from Logan Roy’s life. To be clear: I don’t think you should follow this advice if you want to still be a decent person. But if you enjoy the world of private jets, lavish meals, and tastefully luxurious sweaters, maybe you’ll find this list helpful. Let’s begin.
1. Non-commitment Is Strength
There is no such thing as loyalty in Logan’s world. He will discard you at the first sign that you aren’t serving your purpose or when it becomes clear you are hurting his interests more than you are helping. Over and over, Logan has shown that he’s willing to turn on a dime, even against those who are fully devoted to him. In the very first episode of Succession, Logan fires Frank after 30 years of loyal service. In season 2, when Rhea Jarrell decides to abandon the CEO job, Logan explodes at her (Despite the fact that Logan is fond of her and the two of them are implied to have been intimate, we never hear from Rhea again). There’s no room in Logan’s life for anyone that doesn’t fall in line; often, there’s no room even for people who do.
Take Logan’s dealings with Tom Wambsgans. In S4E01 (“The Munsters”), Tom has recently betrayed his wife (Logan’s daughter Shiv) to give Logan a strategic advantage. Tom is a relative outsider and has little credibility with the family or at Waystar; he is desperately searching for reassurance that Logan will back him up. Tom begins probing Logan with some characteristically elaborate word salad:
Tom: One thing has been on my mind though, sir. Well, with one thing and another, and you know, I’m sure we’ll iron it all out, but the rocky old road of life, um, and the wife part of that can be a difficult part of it. As you know. Not to comment, just to say it would be great to get your take. You know, hopefully it won’t come to that, but in the end if there is too much emotional shrapnel, I wondered what you would be, not that you’d necessarily need to have one, but, what would happen were a marriage, such as mine, and you know, even in fact, mine, uh, if that were to falter to the point of failure.
Logan: If you and Shiv were to bust up?
Tom: I guess, you know, Shiv and I have had this experiment. This trial separation. But, whatever happens, we’ll always be good, right?
Logan: If we’re good, we’re good.
Tom: Okay! Well, that’s heartening. I’m heartened by that. That’s great.
“If we’re good, we’re good.” A perfect way to say nothing, yet everything about how deep Logan’s loyalties run.
2. Be a Killer
In the series premiere of Succession, Logan delivers a startling rebuke of his son Kendall. After planning for months to turn the reins of the company over to Kendall, Logan abruptly reverses course. Presumably, there are many reasons for this but Logan cites one explicitly: Kendall’s decision to attend Logan’s birthday instead of overseeing an important acquisition. To succeed in this world, Logan implies, you can’t be weighed down by sentimentality.
To be a killer in the business world is to be ruthless. Killers are not slowed down by people’s feelings in the pursuit of profit. They are willing to hurt, to destroy, to pillage. And at the end of the day, they aren’t bothered about any of it. “Life is not knights on horseback,” Logan explains. “It’s a number on a piece of paper. It’s a fight for a knife in the mud.”
During the second season of Succession, a scandal at Waystar Royco’s cruise line forces Logan to make a “blood sacrifice” to appease shareholders and avoid a takeover. In S2E10 (“This Is Not for Tears”) he decides that Kendall will be the one who’s offered up. In a poignant conversation between the two of them, Kendall asks how his father really feels about him.
Kendall: Just out of interest, did you ever think I could do it?
Logan: Do what? The top job? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe?
Kendall: You can say.
Logan: You know, you’re smart, you’re good, but I just don’t know.
Kendall: What? Come on.
Logan: You’re not a killer. You have to be a killer. But nowadays, maybe you don’t. I don’t know.
The line comes with its own weight, given that Kendall may be a literal killer and not just a figurative one. He is arguably responsible for the death of a waiter at Shiv’s wedding in season one.
Kendall has always been weak, unsure of himself and overly deferential to his father. But prompted by this conversation, Kendall unexpectedly betrays his father. As Logan watches his son put him on blast during a national press conference, the camera closes in on his face before we cut to credits. Many people have interpreted Logan’s final expression as having some amount of pride and acceptance in his son’s new turn.
Logan is unhappy and heavily inconvenienced by this development. But at last, one of his lessons seems to have broken through to his son.
3. There’s Always a Million Reasons Not To Do Things - Trust Your Gut
To be a leader requires vision, and vision requires seeing a world that doesn’t already exist. Logan is used to making difficult and even controversial decisions, as are many CEOs. They have to operate on gut instinct because that instinct is the only thing that has brought them the success they’ve had so far.
In the first episode of the show, Logan articulates this:
Logan: Yeah yeah yeah, everything changes. The studio was gonna tank when I bought it. Everyone was gonna stay home with video tapes, but guess what? No! They wanna go out! No one was gonna watch network, except you give it zing, and they do.
You make your own reality. And once you've done it, apparently, everyone's of the opinion it was all so fucking obvious.
Logan’s faith in his own instincts becomes a sticking point in season 3, when he and his son Roman are trying to acquire a tech company called Gojo. When Logan and Roman meet with Lukas Matsson, Gojo’s CEO, Matsson unexpectedly turns the tables on them and offers to merge the companies instead, leaving Matsson in charge. While Logan is initially resistant, he eventually comes around to the idea and a deal quickly begins to come together. This leads to the concluding confrontation in S3E09 (“All The Bells Say”), where his children try to stop the deal:
Logan: So, the market capitalizations of our firms have been on the move. Ours is a declining business. There’s a wave of consolidations happening that mean this is the optimal moment, in my opinion, to make a deal with a serious tech operation like GoJo. And that’s what I’ve been exploring, okay?
Shiv: Okay, so I would say, on behalf of all of us: Can you ease up and let us in? Stop this until we see exactly how we’re impacted?
Logan: No, it has to be now.
Logan: Because I feel it in my bones.
Shiv: Oh wow, no arguing with that huh?
Logan: End of the day that’s all I fucking got.
The Roy children think they have the upper hand but quickly discover that Logan has already planned for their rebellion, resulting in Logan being able to push the deal through. But beyond his maneuvering, this storyline is also about Logan’s willingness to act decisively. When you’re CEO, there’s no one else to tell you you’re doing the right thing or assure you that the path ahead is the best one. You have to trust your gut. End of the day, that’s all you fucking got.
4. If Your Opponent Is Happy, You Shouldn’t Be
I find the concept of Buyer’s Remorse fascinating. At its core, it attempts to explain why people feel regret after they purchase something (e.g. it required too many resources, it doesn’t achieve what the purchaser wanted, etc.). One of those explanations has always resonated with me: If the seller wanted to sell you something, then s/he probably had a good reason to be unhappy with what you just purchased.
Logan Roy takes this concept to the extreme. In S1E08 (“Prague”), Logan is in a meeting where he’s considering acquiring 70 TV stations. His team sends the seller out as Logan considers the offer. Meanwhile, Roman is happy with the sale price of $5.3 billion dollars:
Roman: Good, right? Is it whiskey time?
Logan: Shut the fuck up.
Roman: Uh, it’s a good price.
Logan: What the fuck is going on? He’s selling me things I want at a fair price. So what’s next? Fellatio?
Roman: I think he just wants out fast.
Logan: If he does, we fuck him.
Roman: I think we did just fuck him.
Logan: He’s smilling.
Gerri: It’s no good if he’s smiling.
Roman: Well, objectively if we get what he wants and he gets what he wants…
Logan: You screw them out. You chisel them out. You fuckin’ hurt them. And then, you watch them squeal. Walk him to the elevator and tell him 4.9 [billion].
Any time a business proposition is in play, it’s not enough for Logan to get what he wants. His opponent should also be miserable.
5. Nothing Is Sacred
Roman Roy once said of his father, “He can do whatever the fuck he likes. He's like a human Saudi Arabia.” Logan has his own sense of morality, one that is not dictated by the conventional constraints of human decency but by a belief that the strongest person is most deserving.
In episode S3E04 (“Lion in the Meadow”), we get the clearest articulation of this worldview. Logan’s daughter Shiv has recently been empowered to be Logan’s surrogate at Waystar but the company’s CFO Karl finds her to be a nuisance. In a subsequent phone call between Logan and Shiv, Logan doesn’t exactly back Shiv up:
Logan: Karl’s not happy with your level of input.
Shiv: Ok? Well, fuck him, right?
Logan: I don’t need another toothache.
Shiv: Well, you okayed me to go in there and kick some ass.
Logan: I gave you a destination. I can’t walk you there, okay?
Shiv: Okay, Dad, but if you give in to Karl, then everyone starts to carve me out. There’s a line.
Logan: Nothing is a line. Everything, everywhere is always moving forever. Get used to it.
It’s a relatively minor moment in a solid, middle-of-the-pack episode of Succession. But I actually think of this scene as presenting the defining ethos of the show. The exchange has always stuck with me because it gets at the nihilism behind Logan Roy’s philosophy. There is no line. There is nothing to grasp onto for purchase and no one you can rely upon — not even your father. There is only your cunning, your skill, and your ability to win.
“Everything, everywhere is always moving forever.” It’s a dark reminder of how the people who run the world view things and, perhaps, explains why things are the way they are.
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Other Stuff David Chen Has Made
Of course, if you enjoy my thoughts on Succession, be sure to check out the Decoding TV podcast where Kim Renfro and I are recapping every episode. Our current plan is to livestream our thoughts on the finale so be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel as well!
Also on Decoding TV, Dan Gvozden and I finished discussing of Mrs. Davis season 1 with Dan Gvozden. Dan will be joining me for a few episodes this summer and I’m excited to be working with him over at Decoding TV again!
On The Filmcast, we discussed Fast X with Jen Yamato from the LA Times. Jen has been discussing Fast movies with us for years and it was such a delight to have her back on the show this week.
[PAID ONLY] On my personal Patreon page, I spoke with David Cho about what it was like to celebrate my birthday last weekend. We discussed the wonderful party @Joyonapping threw for me and reflections/resolutions for the year.
I’m experimenting with posting a lot more videos on my Instagram and my Tiktok accounts these days, so be sure to follow me if you want to see what I’m up to. Eventually I’m hoping to get to a workflow where I can make one video and post it across all three major video platforms (YouTube being the third one). In the meantime, here’s my breakdown of how Elon Musk’s Twitter Space with Ron DeSantis went. Spoiler: Not well!
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