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How NOT To Build Your Empire

by Eric Baker
on 2015-10-21

When we last saw music mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) at the end of Empire season one, he was clinging to the bars of a jail cell, charged with the murder of his trusted confidant and advisor Bunkie Williams.

See, Lucious was mistakenly diagnosed with a terminal disease and believed he needed to square things away in a hurry. Apparently part of the succession plan for his music label, Empire Records, required him to shoot Bunkie in cold blood. So much for loyalty.

Fast-forward to Empire season two: Thanks to some compromising photos of a judge, Lucious is now out of jail and back in the business of running Empire Records. And like any smart CEO, he knows how important it is to groom a successor so that Empire continues to thrive after he retires (or his luck runs out). Among his choices to assume the mantle of leadership are his three sons: Hakim, who wants the job but is brash and impulsive; Andre, who wants the job but is overly emotional and sensitive; and Jamal, who has the temperament but simply wants to record his own music.

Naturally, Lucious hires an organizational-development consulting firm to commence a comprehensive succession-planning engagement that includes profiling team members’ personalities, performing a talent audit, designing individual developmental plans, and—

He doesn’t do any of that. It’s a TV show. Lucious schemes and manipulates and pits one son against another until all three have become bitter, paranoid wrecks, their relationships are destroyed, and the people they care about are left alienated and afraid.

Complicating matters is the presence of ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), the original brains and money behind Empire, who was long ago sent up the river to do hard time while Lucious became a millionaire. Now she’s out of the joint and is endeavoring to pit sons against father, take down Empire, and remake it her own way.

I’m half-expecting J.R. Ewing to stroll onto the set one of these episodes and announce he’s flipping his Ewing Oil holdings to obtain Empire in a hostile takeover (R.I.P. Larry Hagman).

Empire is one of TV’s most compelling melodramas, thanks largely to the machinations and manipulations of Lucious and Cookie as each tries to wrest control of the music label and secure its future.

You’ve probably worked for and with people who were similarly addicted to drama and political scheming but who also did not realize that what’s good for TV is often bad for business. What’s good for business is coming up with a long-term, viable succession plan that includes a well-defined strategy, assessment and development of high-potential employees, and shared values across the organization.

Eventually, even the most popular TV shows get cancelled. Make sure your business gets renewed indefinitely.

And don’t take it out on Bunkie. He means well.