What It’s Like to Have a Family Like Succession

Photo: Peter Kramer/HBO

For the overwhelming majority of viewers, HBO’s Succession — which returned for its second season on Sunday — is an act of glorious escapism. The show allows those of us in the non-private-jet-owning classes to live vicariously through the extravagances of the billionaire Roy family, while also laughing at their greed and stupidity as they vie for control of the family fortune. The show is fiction (though showrunner Jesse Armstrong wrote a screenplay about the Murdochs, leading to lots of speculation that it’s based on them). So what’s it really like to grow up in a family that meets around a boardroom together? I talked to five 30-somethings, all of whose families run multimillion- or multibillion-dollar companies (“the lower billions,” as one put it) to find out.

“I don’t think my grandpa wanted my mom to take over, since she’s a woman.”

The business has been in the family for 150 years, but it really started to affect my life when my mom ended up taking over the business from her brother. He was driving it into the ground. I don’t think my grandpa wanted my mom to take over, since she’s a woman. But then my mom took it and made a small fortune for everybody. Now it’s worth $400 million or something.

The first time that we really started talking about having money was when I was about 14 or 15. I never had a moment of want or need, but there weren’t piles of cash sitting around. I mean, I’d go out and get a Burberry coat or something, sure. I think my most common extravagance would be ridiculous money spent on food deliveries. Like, 100 bucks on Chinese food, or 100 bucks on sushi. And sometimes I’ll go to David Yurman and buy a $5,000 chain.

Other branches of my family reacted way more extravagantly. My uncle has like, 14 cars — a Ferrari, a Porsche, old GPs, plus power boats, Jet Skis, ATVs, and two massive houses. And the kids all have penthouse apartments and drive Range Rovers and Porsches. My aunt’s a pretty stereotypical gold digger, like in the movies. But I mean, she’s really lovable. She’s my favorite aunt. Some people in my family have never had jobs. They’ve just been on the dole for their whole lives. My other aunt will just be like, “I’m very fatigued right now, I’m going to Sedona for a 20-day drum-beating retreat.” She just went to Africa to do music therapy for the animals, like for rhinos and elephants.

I’m always afraid of disappointing my mom. I can’t just go like 100 percent piece-of-shit, lazy rich guy, because my mom would not be onboard with that. She wants to use what we have to change in the world and help people. Not like I’m going donate all my funds to charity, but to use it for good and use it to set myself up for success and be involved in the community. I want to open a restaurant and stuff, so I can kind of show my mom that I haven’t just been taking everything that she’s done and using it for my own personal gain. —Leo

“My summer house is technically owned by a corporation, made up of all of our family members.”

Our family company has been around for over a century; it’s a manufacturing business. I think it’s in the lower billions, like a few billion. The first ten years of my life my dad didn’t get any money from the trust; you only start getting money from it when you’re 40. That’s when it became more apparent. We always use to drive to my summer house and then suddenly we started flying in a private plane.

My summer house is technically owned by a corporation, made up of all of our family members. It’s run like a business. I got in trouble for having a party there when I was a teenager, and I was temporarily banned by the board. There’s all these rules. When we turn 30, everyone’s supposed to pay money to stay there.

I guess I’ve always known that I could always borrow money from the trust if I needed to. I start to get small amounts of money from the trust when I’m 40, like dividend payments, and then it increases when I turn 50. No one really knows how much we get, it’s all very secretive, but I know that my dad’s lifestyle changed a fair amount when he turned 50. It’ll be weird when that happens. I just try not to overthink it.

Some of my cousins are already kind of planning to just get by and then not have to do anything once they start getting their money. There’s a trust set up specifically for education. When you’re in school, you get your rent and tuition paid and a small amount of spending money. But a few of my cousins have just essentially used that to do nothing in their 20s. One of them in particular has just been taking like one class for the past ten years, to get them to pay for his life. It’s almost like a competition with some of my cousins for who can abuse the trust more. —Alexandra

“One day he said to us: ‘I’m not going to leave you guys anything.’”

On my dad’s side we are old money; they sold our company for around $600 million. And my mom’s side of the family is in the real-estate business.

When my maternal grandfather passed, he left whatever was in his Swiss bank account for my mother and my grandmother. But my mom can’t even speak to one of her brothers anymore because he’s so upset he didn’t get anything. He doesn’t even know how much is in there.

My father, meanwhile, has never worked a day in his life. My parents do not talk. They hate each other. And that’s all because of money. When they got divorced, my dad claimed he had nothing, so my mother didn’t get anything from him. When were young, I remember my dad asking my mom why she was putting us into private school because it’s so expensive; meanwhile he’s buying villas in France and going on boats. He wakes up at noon. He has four cars. He’s obsessed with his Range Rover and gets a new one every year. One day he said to me and my brother, “I’m not going to leave you guys anything.” —Lia

“The emotional tie that this money has is really messed up.”

My dad started a small construction business out of our basement. It grew really quickly while I was in college, from around five to 100 employees; I think the revenue was about $60 million. We sold that part of the business, but now we have a real-estate-holding company.

I remember the first time I realized how much things had changed was when I was sitting with my dad at this fancy hotel, and he told me, “I would divorce your mother, but it would be cheaper to have an affair.” I was like, Oh, like, things are kind of getting dark here. Then I dropped out of university and came home, and he had me go out and work in the field.

I worked for the family business for six years before starting my own business. My mom is an artist, and so is my sister. My sister hasn’t worked for six years. She lives in Europe.

I think there’s both my mom and my sister are jealous of my relationship with my dad, because he is so much the patriarch of the family. When I was in high school, my dad would bring me to business dinners, but not my mom. He took me under his wing and created these weird competitive dynamics. My sister left the house when she was 17 and still hasn’t figured out a way to properly communicate with my parents. I’m the person who is supposed to make everything work. I have had to do so much therapy around not being the caregiver and putting the needs of the family before I attend to my own needs.

The biggest motivation for my success with my own business is that I want to make so much money and be in such a place of financial freedom that I can fully stop and be like, I don’t want anything to do with it. I just want to have my sister and my mom and my dad back, and not have it not be these other dynamics of like, okay, this is my future business partner. I recognize this privilege has given me the ability to open my business, but sometimes I wish I had just got a bank loan, because the emotional tie that this money has is really messed up. —Kat

What It’s Like to Have a Family Like Succession