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Just like TV? 5 real-life ‘Succession’ tales from America’s biggest companies

May 12, 2023

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HBO’s hit series “Succession,” which gives an inside look at the world of corporate politics, comes to an end in May. At the fictional Waystar RoyCo, everyone is jockeying for lead job. But is the real world as crazy? Here are the real-life succession stories at some of America’s top companies in this week’s Five For Friday.

5: Berkshire Hathaway

Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett is “100% confident” in his succession pick Greg Abel. But the 92-year-old Oracle of Omaha has no timeline for leaving his role as CEO. Abel has been with Berkshire since 2000, spending most of his time running the energy division.

At this year’s annual meeting, Buffett said Abel is ever better than him in some areas. He’s been in the wings for a while, and named as Buffett’s successor two years ago.

4: Amazon

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos shocked Andy Jassy when he asked him to be his successor in early 2021. Jassy was instrumental in growing Amazon Web Services, which controls roughly a third of the cloud computing market. But unlike Abel, Jassy was able to officially take over the role as CEO within a year of the initial discussion.

Bezos still serves as executive chair of the board, which gives him a lot of sway when it comes to leadership within the company he founded in his garage. But as the third wealthiest person alive with his own space rocket company, he has enough outside of Amazon to also keep him occupied.

3: Walmart

Walmart likes to grow its leaders from within. In fact, CEO Doug McMillon started unloading trucks for the nation’s largest retailer as a teen. He went on to get an MBA, came back to the company and worked his way up to the top position in 2014, becoming the fourth CEO since founder Sam Walton.

McMillon plans to stay in his position for at least three more years while the company searches for his successor. The Waltons are still the world’s richest family, worth nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars. A few Waltons sit on the company’s board, and Greg Penner, Sam Walton’s grandson-in-law, is the chair. Penner also purchased the NFL’s Denver Broncos last year.

2: Apple

Apple founder and tech visionary Steve Jobs brought in current CEO Tim Cook himself in 1998. He officially took over in 2011, just months before Jobs passed away. Cook had filled the role temporarily a number of times while Jobs took medical leave. Since he arrived in Cupertino, Apple’s annual revenue has skyrocketed from roughly $6 billion in 1998 to $394 billion in 2022.

Cook says he is grooming as many people as possible to serve as the next CEO, but current Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams appears to be a frontrunner. Apple won’t need to make the decision too soon. Cook is expected to stay on until at least 2025 when his options fully mature, and he’s only 62.

1: Disney

Disney is the most Waystar RoyCo-like company on the list. After all, it has its hands in a number of businesses, including entertainment and parks. It also botched its most recent succession plan.

After fewer than three years in charge, Disney unceremoniously fired Bob Chapek and reinstated Bob Iger, who had handpicked him to take over. The company claimed Chapek hurt the brand, but there were also reports that Iger was undermining his successor at every turn. Iger signed on to assist Disney for two more years as CEO and a short list of possible replacements include a number of insiders and some eye-popping outsiders, like NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

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Simone Del Rosario: HBO’S HIT SERIES SUCCESSION HAS GIVEN US A WILD LOOK AT CORPORATE POLITICS, ESPECIALLY WHEN FAMILY IS INVOLVED. IS THE REAL WORLD QUITE AS CRAZY AS WAYSTAR-ROYCO? HERE ARE THE REAL-LIFE SUCCESSION STORIES AT SOME OF AMERICA’S TOP COMPANIES IN THIS WEEK’S FIVE FOR FRIDAY.

BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY’S WARREN BUFFETT IS STICKING TO HIS SUCCESSION PICK GREG ABEL, BUT THE 92-YEAR-OLD HAS NO TIMELINE FOR STEPPING DOWN. ABEL’S BEEN AT BERKSHIRE SINCE 2000 AND RAN THE ENERGY DIVISION. AT THIS YEAR’S ANNUAL MEETING BUFFETT SAID HE’S 100% CONFIDENT IN ABEL AND SAYS ABEL’S EVEN BETTER THAN HIM IN SOME AREAS. THERE’S NO PLAN B, SO HOPEFULLY ABEL, WHO WAS NAMED SUCCESSOR TWO YEARS AGO, ISN’T TIRED OF WAITING.

AMAZON FOUNDER JEFF BEZOS APPARENTLY SHOCKED ANDY JASSY WHEN HE ASKED HIM TO SIGN ON AS HIS SUCCESSOR IN EARLY 2021. JASSY HAD BEEN INSTRUMENTAL IN GROWING A-W-S, WHICH CONTROLS AROUND A THIRD OF THE CLOUD COMPUTING MARKET.. BEZOS IS STILL EXECUTIVE CHAIR OF THE BOARD, GIVING HIM A LOT OF SWAY AS TO WHAT HAPPENS WITH LEADERSHIP. BUT AS THE THIRD WEALTHIEST PERSON ALIVE AND HIS OWN SPACE ROCKET COMPANY, HE’S GOT OTHER THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT NOW.

WALMART LIKES TO KEEP IT IN HOUSE, ALWAYS PROMOTING FROM WITHIN. IN FACT, CURRENT CEO DOUG MCMILLON STARTED UNLOADING TRUCKS FOR THE NATION’S LARGEST RETAILER AS A TEEN. HE WENT ON TO GET AN MBA AND WORKED HIS WAY UP TO THE CEO SPOT IN 2014, THE 4TH WALMART CEO SINCE FOUNDER SAM WALTON. MCMILLON PLANS TO STAY ON FOR AT LEAST 3 MORE YEARS WHILE THE COMPANY IS STILL SEARCHING FOR HIS SUCCESSOR. MEANWHILE THE WALTON FAMILY IS THE RICHEST IN THE WORLD AT A QUARTER OF A TRILLION DOLLARS, THERE ARE A FEW WALTONS ON THE BOARD AND GREG PENNER, SAM WALTON’S GRANDSON-IN-LAW, CHAIRS IT. PENNER ALSO OWNS THE DENVER BRONCOS.

APPLE CEO TIM COOK WAS BROUGHT ON BY STEVE JOBS HIMSELF IN 1998. HE OFFICIALLY TOOK OVER AS CEO IN 2011 A COUPLE OF MONTHS BEFORE JOBS DIED, AFTER FILLING IN HERE AND THERE WHEN JOBS WAS ON MEDICAL LEAVE. SINCE COOK ARRIVED IN CUPERTINO, APPLE’S ANNUAL REVENUE JUMPED FROM $6 BILL IN ‘98 TO $394 BILL IN 2022. COOK SAYS HE’S GROOMING AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE TO BE THE NEXT CEO, BUT CURRENT COO JEFF WILLIAMS HAS BEEN FLOATED AS A FRONT RUNNER. COOK WILL LIKELY STAY ON UNTIL AT LEAST 2025 WHEN HIS OPTIONS FULLY MATURE, PLUS HE’S ONLY 62, SO APPLE HAS SOME TIME.

LIKE WAYSTAR ROYCO, DISNEY HAS ITS HANDS IN A NUMBER OF BUSINESSES AND BOTCHED SUCCESSION PLANS. AFTER FEWER THAN 3 YEARS AT THE HELM, DISNEY CANNED BOB CHAPEK AND REINSTATED BOB IGER, WHO HAD HAND PICKED HIM TO TAKE OVER. THE COMPANY SAID CHAPEK HURT THE BRAND, BUT THERE WERE ALSO REPORTS THAT IGER WAS UNDERMINING HIM AT EVERY TURN. IGER SIGNED ON TO HELP THE HOUSE OF MOUSE FOR TWO MORE YEARS, AND A SHORT LIST OF POSSIBLE SUCCESSORS INCLUDES NBA COMMISSIONER ADAM SILVER?

FROM THE OUTSIDE IT’S NOT AS CUTTHROAT AS IT IS ON TV, BUT I BET BEHIND CLOSED DOORS IT CAN GET PRETTY RUTHLESS, ESPECIALLY WHEN THERE’S NOT A PLAN IN PLACE. THAT’S FIVE FOR FRIDAY. I’M SIMONE DEL ROSARIO. IT’S JUST BUSINESS.

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