Succession's Kendall Roy's Business Decisions Reflect A Very Real And Disastrous CEO

Kendall Roy of HBO's "Succession" likes to aim big. He has huge dreams, the kind of ambitions that befall someone whose wealth has bought them everything — nothing new for the billionaire class. He's addicted to the manic high of success — among other things — and in "Living+," as Shiv puts it, "He's got that gleam in his eye." His vision for the newest and freakiest addition to the Waystar family is an empty promise of eternal life that sounds a lot like the promises of a real-life CEO that famously crashed and burned after a meteoric rise: Elizabeth Holmes.

Living+ at its core is modeled after Disney apartments, but Kendall gives it a twist. It boasts an electronic security system and interaction with movie stars and cartoon characters but, above all else, it promises "our incredible links with tech and pharmaceutical companies, which mean privileged access to life enhancement and extension therapies that right now are the preserve of tech billionaires, but we're gonna deliver them at home, at scale, targeted and supported."

The product is an obvious ploy for a chance at eternal life in the wake of Logan's death, Kendall makes this connection himself and manipulates it to his advantage by bringing a video of his dad into the presentation. "Well, if you asked me, would I take an extra year, right now, with my dad, say the unsaid, that would be priceless," he says, tearing up.

On a tactical level, it is Kendall's ploy to hold onto his father's legacy by driving the stock up so that Gojo can no longer afford to buy the company. "He is cynically using — and in a mercenary way, even weaponizing — this loss," Jeremy Strong explained his character's motives to Vulture. "And monetizing his grief. For business."

Kendall's Living+ promises sound just like Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes — depicted above by Amanda Seyfried in "The Dropout — gave a nearly identical speech at a TedMed conference in 2014. Just like Kendall, she promised to deliver premium healthcare affordably. "We see a world in which every person has access to actionable health information at the time it matters [...] a world in which no one ever has to say goodbye too soon," she mused.

The Theranos CEO also used her late uncle to promote her product and empathize with the audience, just as Kendall uses Logan's death in his own presentation. She talks about her uncle's late diagnosis of a quickly progressing cancer, citing that she "never got to say goodbye." Theranos promised early diagnosis of diseases by reading blood data before outward symptoms started to appear.

Also just like Living+, Theranos' success was built on fudged numbers. Kendall completely fabricated the projected earnings for the product and even edited a posthumous video of his father to lie about his predictions for the earnings. Holmes also repeatedly lied to her shareholders, most notably in 2014 when she was pressured to produce test samples and exaggerated the results, per Brittanica. She was named Forbes' youngest self-made woman billionaire that same year. In 2022, she was charged with several counts of fraud.

The touches of real-life CEOs were not lost on Strong and the "Succession" team. Kendall's wardrobe was inspired by Elon Musk, a famously and perhaps dangerously ambitious tech billionaire. Strong had a flight suit specially made to match one made for the Tesla founder.

"It was a 'Chief Twit' thing I wanted to embody," the actor explained to Vulture, referring to Musk's strong-armed post-ironic purchase of Twitter. Interestingly enough, Holmes also imitated other CEOs when styling herself — particularly Steve Jobs' signature black turtleneck.

He's going to crash and burn like Holmes

Living+ was Kendall's first big win in a long while. He's pretty much been eating it since the first episode, and he finally had a brief moment of true success — the only problem was that it was all built on a complete lie.

"There is a real sense of triumph the character experiences — one that has eluded him to this point," Strong said. "I don't think I've ever felt triumphant in this series. It has always been about not meeting the moment — or missing the moment. And while that triumphant moment in this episode might seem delusive from the outside, Kendall feels like he knocked it out of the park."

Kendall might be riding a high in "Living+," but he is setting himself up for a catastrophic collapse by echoing Holmes' business model. This delusional and maniacal power grab was "the closest the character has flown to the sun," as Strong put it, and it was pretty unnerving for the actor to play.

"What I found slightly terrifying about this episode was when Kendall is saying to his brother that you lose your faith in capitalism when you realize you can just say anything," he admitted. "It's very funny and very scary. And the manipulation of his father's voice to lie to the shareholders is Kendall showing extreme moral flexibility to get the job done. I think he feels like possession is nine-tenths of the law. He wants to hold on to what he has."

It's a good move in the short term and a bad move in the long run

It would make sense for Kendall to lie about Living+ if he didn't want it to succeed long-term. By driving the stock up, he could drive the price of Waystar up and improve his own fortune. But that's not what Kendall wants to do — he wants to drive the price out of Matsson's reach, tank the deal altogether and hold onto his father's company. Living+ is a last-gasp effort at helplessly holding onto his father's legacy.

If Kendall succeeds in tanking the Gojo deal then he is going to be left to meet the insane promises that he made to shareholders with Living+, and there's no way that he's going to be able to meet them. He has alienated his CFO Karl by falsifying the numbers and Roman has fired their senior counsel Gerri, one of Waystar's most valuable assets. The company is in shambles and it can't keep up with streaming, but rather than improve the streaming site, Kendall wants to open up "prison camps for grannies," as Shiv eloquently phrases it.

Kendall may be on top for now, but Elizabeth Holmes was on top for a while too. When Kendall's fudged numbers are inevitably exposed for what they are, he is going to fall from this high just as hard and fast as the disgraced Theranos CEO. The golden failson is playing an Icarian game that he is sure to lose.