By Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky
September 29, 2017

First, we had the Anti-Uber Alliance. Then the Anti-Amazon Alliance. As of Wednesday, a new coalition exists that nearly might be the Anti-Samsung Alliance.

I say “nearly” because the group of U.S., South Korean and other investors that came together to take control of the memory-chip unit of Japan’s Toshiba have other motives than to thwart Samsung. Led by investor Bain Capital, the group includes Apple, a venture capital unit of Dell and disk drive maker Seagate. It is pumping $14 billion into beleaguered Toshiba, a distant second to Samsung in the market for the kind of memory required by smartphones and similar devices. Without a financially viable Toshiba, Samsung would be an even more powerful supplier.

This isn’t the sexiest deal of the day, but it might be the most important. It also illustrates the tangled web technology companies weave. Apple battles fiercely with Samsung over smartphones. It also buys Samsung’s chips and other technology by the containerload. (They might be airlifted, actually, but you get the idea.) Samsung once held a major stake in Seagate, but it sold it off last year, and Seagate is more interested in stymieing competitor Western Digital. That U.S. company claims it can veto a sale of Toshiba because of an operating agreement between the two companies.

The deal illustrates some other business truisms. Apple, for example, has become creative in spreading around its prodigious cash. In the past 18 months alone, it has invested $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing startup Didi, $1 billion in SoftBank’s Vision Fund, and now what looks like another billion or so in Toshiba. (According to a Toshiba statement, U.S companies Apple, Kingston Technology, Seagate, and Dell are investing a combined $3.7 billion.)

The deal also shows the power of diversification. Weakened Toshiba survives because of its position in memory chips. The same is true for Samsung, which not so long ago suffered the indignity of having a public announcement before every flight in the U.S. that its phones were not allowed onboard. Without its chip business it might have suffered more than humiliation.

Adam Lashinsky


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