Have you seen the US TV drama Succession yet?
It takes the old-school family business power struggles of a Dynasty or a Dallas and updates them for our era, relocating to New York, with trendy sneakers instead of Stetsons, battles for control of websites instead of oil wells – and iPads as opposed to shoulder pads muscling into every other scene.
I’m addicted, though for all its dark wit and slickness I’m sure that in 20 years Succession will feel just as cheesy and of its time as its 1980s forerunners do today.
But the core – if exaggerated – plotlines won’t date, because they’re as old as business and relationships.
The moguls Succession draws inspiration from – the Murdochs, the Trumps, and even the Zuckerbergs of this world – will be looking to bite off a chunk of the next tycoon’s empire for as long as we have capitalism.
And people will still be marrying for money and divorcing for the same, while struggling to bring up kids without spoiling them with billions (and failing!) and that will inspire great TV in 2040, too, when the successor to Succession rolls around…
Made for TV
I’ll avoid spoilers – I’ve only just finished season one myself – but it isn’t revealing much to say a lot of Succession involves takeover attempts and boardroom coups.
Indeed. part of the fun of watching as an investor is that you already know the lingo.
Following the trend set by the likes of The Wire and Billions, the writers don’t bother to explain what’s involved in ‘shorting’ shares, or whether a ‘hostile takeover’ involves fisticuffs at dawn.
They just throw jargon into the script and leave you to figure it out – which is usually fairly easy given all the swearing and furniture smashing going on at the same time!
Yes it’s dumbed down – and more happens in a few days on-screen than would happen in real-life in a year – but it’s compelling nonetheless.
True, you might argue there’s not a lot about the nuts-and-bolts of running a great business.
But would anybody watch a TV show in which a valiant mid-ranking executive looks for ways to raise gross margins by trimming expenses without damaging staff morale?
It seems unlikely.
Portraying another man in blue tights hurling a skyscraper at an alien spaceship is a far easier sell.
Losing the plot
At least Succession – and the aforementioned Billions – gives us a portrayal of the Machiavellian side to building a corporate empire.
And that makes a change from superheroes.
Besides, it’s probably for the best that business is portrayed so flamboyantly on TV – because there is a dividing line between investing to get richer and investing as entertainment, and I think many people still struggle to appreciate it.
For all we’re told that boring robot-powered tracker funds are taking over the world, there remain hordes of mug punters speculating on Internet forums and Twitter about where share prices will go in the next five minutes.
And for all we talk about business-focused investment at the Motley Fool, I still see would-be stock pickers chasing gossipy rumours about imminent bids for penny stocks, or ignoring business fundamentals in favour of tin pot ventures prospecting for obscure minerals in lawless parts of Africa, or promising to cure cancer with Bitcoin.
Avoid the cliffhangers
The truth is that investing shouldn’t be particularly exciting.
Sure, it’s nice when your portfolio leaps in value after a few good weeks in the markets.
And while we usually prefer to see great companies stay independent and investable, you’d have a heart of stone not to smile when a deep-pocketed rival buys out a company you own at a 50% premium to yesterday’s share price.
But these moments are just that – moments.
Most of the time you should be saving and investing for the long term, whether that be into sensibly chosen funds or else a portfolio of carefully vetted shares that you intend to hold and watch grow for the long term.
Putting £250 a month into an index fund or spending Sunday afternoon reading the reports of your next potential share purchase would not make for great television.
But it will almost certainly make you richer!
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Motley Fool UK 2020