Happy Friday, Broadsheet Readers. Reynolds American CEO Susan Cameron has been making headlines for her historic bid to acquire tobacco giant Lorillard. The merger, if approved by the FTC, would be the largest deal led by a female CEO. Read on for Cameron’s take on the future of the tobacco industry. Have a great weekend!
• Heather Bresch presses on with tax inversion. The CEO of Mylan will not stop the pharma company’s controversial purchase of some non-U.S. businesses from Abbott Labs. The deal would allow Mylan to move its tax address to the Netherlands and avoid high corporate tax rates here in the U.S. “Being punitive and not allowing us to be competitive, I do not believe, is in our country’s best interest, and I hope that prevails at the end of the day,” Bresch said during an earnings call. Meanwhile, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are aggressively trying to prevent tax inversion deals from legally happening in the first place. Illinois-based Walgreens reversed course by announcing it would not relocate its headquarters after buying UK-based pharmacy chain Alliance Boots. For more on the issue, check out Fortune’s cover story by Senior Editor At Large Allan Sloan about tax inversions.
ALSO IN THE HEADLINES
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• IBM unveils brain-like computer chip. The tech company helmed by CEO Ginni Rometty unveiled a microchip that can simulate neurons, synapses and other brain functions. IBM disclosed that it has “commercial ambitions” for the technology that ranges from supercomputers to devices that could sense tsunamis.
• Wal-Mart gets serious with women-owned businesses. The retailer reportedly is $400 million ahead of its goal to source $20 billion worth of goods from women-owned companies in the U.S. by 2016.
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• Lululemon founder reaches truce (for now). Chip Wilson, the brand’s controversial founder who stepped down as chairman in December, has agreed to sell half of his stake in the apparel maker. The agreement should prevent any hostile takeover attempts for now. Company executives desperately needed to call a truce with Wilson so they can focus their attentions on regaining lost ground in the athletic-wear market.
• Reverse gender dynamics. The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a three-day conference in early October, is expected to attract 8,000 female technologists. “You walk into this conference with thousands of women, and there might be 75 men,” says Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College. Klawe also spoke boldly about the importance of education to getting more women into tech at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in July.
Reynolds American CEO: E-cigarettes will “normalize” the tobacco industry again
Susan Cameron spent 30 years at tobacco giant Reynolds American, rose to CEO and retired in 2011. Two years later, she made the unexpected decision to return. Now she is engaged in an aggressive growth plan that includes a pending agreement to buy Lorillard for roughly $25 billion, the largest acquisition ever by a female CEO and the biggest tobacco merger in decades.
In an exclusive interview this week, Cameron talked to me about her grand plan to transform the tobacco business. Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., but Cameron thinks e-cigarettes and other “non-combustible” products will make the tobacco industry more socially acceptable.
CF: How did the Lorillard deal come about?
SC: There had been talks going back to the fall of 2013. I (re)joined the board of Reynolds in December of 2013. Talks were ongoing, but always in theses kinds of transactions you’ve got to bring it home. Coordinating four parties, two in Britain and two in the United States, it was fascinating. I have the relationships. I think I was fairly instrumental in bringing it to a close, and we have a great team that put it together.
CF: Are you confident that the FTC will approve the merger?
SC: I do feel confident. I do feel we will get this done in the first half of 2015. I know that Imperial Tobacco, who is in 160 countries around the world, has a very robust business plan to be a very strong third competitor in the market. I do believe that when all the factors are considered, including consumer pricing vis-à-vis competition, that they will be satisfied and close the transaction.
CF: Why are e-cigarettes so hot right now?
SC: I believe that our Vuse, the digital vaping cigarette, is a game-changing product, and I believe that it satisfies smokers significantly better than anything that is on the market today. Our goal is to become the vapor authority. Many companies bought companies to get into vapor, or had them made in China, but they are a very standard style of e-cigarette that did not satisfy the consumer and, as you use them, their efficacy declines. We knew that wasn’t good enough so we designed our own. I feel very committed to giving smokers alternatives that may reduce harm and can satisfy them in a way other than combustible cigarettes.
CF: You’ve switched over to smoking e-cigarettes personally, is that correct?
SC: Yes, I am puffing on my Vuse menthol as we speak.
CF: What is it like to be the head of a company that sells products that so many people think are unhealthy?
SC: It is frustrating. We have made this commitment in terms of reducing smoking. The history of the tobacco industry is not a positive one. We want to offer choices so people can make alternative choices and I feel very good about that.
CF: What does the future of the tobacco industry look like 20 years down the road?
SC: I would love to see that combustible cigarettes have declined and more people are using products that have the potential to reduce harm. I would like to see the industry be viewed as more normalized, as really trying to change the public health curve and making a difference.
CF: Is it challenging being a female executive in a male-dominated industry?
SC: When I was made CEO of Reynolds the first time, someone asked me what it was like to be a female CEO. But I said I don’t know what its like to be a male CEO so I can’t really answer that question. But you are right that tobacco is a male-dominated industry. I grew up in the early years, I will never forget being in some big meeting, and it never really dawned on me until I went to the ladies room and there were only two people there and it was a conference of 400.
What’s your take on e-cigarettes and the future of the tobacco industry? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
• The Beyoncé sales bump. Although The NY Times declared that the singer is no fashion icon, sales numbers tell a different story. A jewelry designer saw her sales triples after Beyoncé Instagrammed a photo of herself wearing one of her designs.
• Bye Bye Barbie? Two engineers are well on their way toward raising $75,000 to make a doll modeled after the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace. The engineers-turned-dollmakers also hope to create a scientist doll based on Marie Curie and one for aviator Bessie Coleman
• Gender roles may be bad for your kids’ health. After observing 14-year-olds in Portugal for three months, a researcher found that societies that adhere to rigid gender roles can negatively impact children’s physical and mental health. The researcher contends that children will regulate their behavior to fit gender roles (e.g., girls won’t play sports) which has a negative impact on their well being.
ON MY RADAR
|I'm just happy I picked the right sport. It has been suggested to me that this wouldn't have happened in Major League Baseball. I think the diversity among NBA players certainly helps. There is an inability to push back on diversity in the NBA because of the diversity of the players. On the league side, there are so many women as well. There is still work to do, but give the league credit for this: There are women in significant positions.|
|-- Newly-appointed NBA union chief Michele Roberts talking to ESPN.|