Autonomous vehicles are in the news this morning. A top Pentagon official says the U.S. Air Force is working on turning the F-16 into an unmanned fighter, which he expects to be plying the skies before unmanned cars become common on the ground.
Meanwhile, former Cisco CEO John Chambers has invested in, and joined the board of, a drone startup called Airware, which creates software for businesses to collect and transmit data on drone flights. Chambers believes drones will be a key element in the coming Internet of Things.
And Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, in his continuing search for the perfect partner, says he is talking to “many players outside the car sector” – feeding speculation that he could link up with an Apple or a Google on the road to autonomous cars.
Separately, the McKinsey Global Institute releases a report this morning saying “emerging demographics” are replacing “emerging markets” as the source of global growth. Over the next fifteen years, people over the age of 60 will generate more than half the total urban consumption growth in developed countries. “The glamorization of youth by marketers and advertising buyers is a vestige of the past,” says Richard Dobbs, a director of the institute. Power to the oldsters. Read the report here.
• FBI preparing to unlock another iPhone
The FBI, which last week successfully found a way to get into the work iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, has offered to do the same with a separate iPhone to help investigators in an Arkansas murder case. According to the Associated Press, the FBI has agreed to help prosecutors in a case involving an iPhone and iPod belonging to a teenager who stand accused of murdering a couple. The details of the technique used to unlock the San Bernardino phone remain undisclosed, and it is not clear whether the FBI will use the same methods this time round. But Apple had warned that the agency’s ability to obtain data from an iPhone would threaten the security of other smartphone users.
• MetLife ruled Not Too Big To Fail
MetLife, one of the country’s largest insurance companies, won a case against the Financial Stability Oversight Council in a Washington D.C. federal court after a judge struck down its designation as a systematically important financial institution, or SIFI. That designation was introduced as part of the Dodd-Frank Act in order to impose special rules on the nation’s biggest financial firms in a bid to keep the banking system safe. MetLife investors rejoiced at the news, because dumping the designation means less government scrutiny and a lower reserve minimum. Earlier this year, the insurance company unveiled a break up in part to avoid the Too Big To Fail designation. There is no word from MetLife on whether it still plans to pursue the break up.
• PepsiCo may have found CEO heir
PepsiCo on Wednesday announced a few leadership changes and, in doing so, might have tipped its hat as to which executive will eventually replace Indra Nooyi, who’s served as the company’s CEO for nearly a decade. The beverage and snack giant promoted Al Carey, the current CEO of its North America Beverages division, to CEO, North America. In the new role, which reports directly to Nooyi, the 35-year Pepsi vet will oversee the company’s three North America businesses—North America Beverages, snack unit Frito-Lay North America, and Quaker Foods North America. Analysts see this move as boosting Carey’s credentials to succeed Nooyi, 60, in the future.
• Chipotle may launch a burger chain
Chipotle Mexican Grill filed an application to trademark the term “Better Burger” earlier this month ahead of a potential move into the hamburger business. The burrito company’s application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was made on March 11 and could presage the launch of a new chain of hamburger restaurants, a company spokesman confirmed. There are already two non-Chipotle growth investments now open — ShopHouse and Pizzeria Locale — and the restaurant chain has said before that the Chipotle model could be applied to a wide variety of foods. The potential expansion into the hamburger business comes as Chipotle tries to recover from a series of food safety crisis last year that have continued to hit sales this year.
• Fidelity marks down startups
Mutual-fund giant Fidelity Investments cut the valuation of some well-known startups in February, including Dropbox, Cloudera and Zenefits. The fund’s monthly reports are closely watched in Silicon Valley because they offer among the few public gauges for how closely held startup values are trending. Mutual funds, which have invested billions in high-flying startups, last fall began marking down the values of their stakes after the stock market dropped and doubts grew about the world’s economic stability. The largest markdown in February was in enterprise-software company Cloudera, cut by 38%. Web-storage firm Dropbox was sliced by 20%, while health-benefits broker Zenefits was down 25%.
The Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
• Yahoo OKs proxy access for board nominations
Yahoo will allow investors who have held stake of at least 3% in the struggling Internet company for a minimum of three years to nominate directors to its board. The company amended its bylaws to allow those investors to nominate up to 20% of its board, according to a regulatory filing on Wednesday. It joins several firms, including Apple, AT&T and Staples, in adopting new “proxy access” rules that make it easier for shareholders or groups of shareholders to nominate board candidates. “Proxy access” is shareholders’ ability to nominate directors to run against a company’s chosen slate of director nominees using its annual meeting materials.
Around the Water Cooler
• Cisco’s John Chambers invests in startup
Even Cisco executive chairman John Chambers can’t help but be mystified by drones. The networking giant’s former CEO has invested in and taken a board seat with fast-rising drone software startup Airware. This is Chambers’ first investment and board seat since he resigned as Cisco CEO last summer, as well as his first board seat position since he joined Walmart’s over 15 years ago, Chambers said in an interview with Fortune. Airware creates drone software for businesses to help the flying robots navigate to their destinations and collect and transmit information like aerial photographs to servers on the ground, where the data can be analyzed.
• Firms nervous about role in GOP convention
Some corporations are reportedly worried about what role they should play at the Republican National Convention, given the potential nomination of Donald J. Trump, whose candidacy has alienated many women, blacks and Hispanics. Apple, Google and Walmart are among the companies assessing their plans for the convention, which will be held July 18 to 21 in Cleveland. Coca-Cola, for example, already declined to match the $660,000 it gave for the event in 2012. This year, it will only donate $75,000. Meanwhile, an array of activist groups are organizing a campaign to pressure companies to refuse to sponsor the gathering. That could ultimately hurt the host committee’s goal to raise about $64 million for the event.
The New York Times (subscription required)
• How Porsche designed its first electric sports car
Porsche’s team that is working on the company’s first all-electric car are trying to create a vehicle that is exciting and new without ignoring design features that make a Porsche instantly recognizable. The German automaker released a video Tuesday that provides a behind-the-scenes look at how engineers and designers worked through that particular challenge. The video provides a few hints about what could end up in the production version of the sports car, including holographic technology that gives the dashboard display a 3D look and software that recognizes hand gestures, eye movements, and the driver’s voice to control functions like air conditioning and music.