Skip to Content

CEO Daily: Tuesday, August 4

FORTUNE Editor Alan Murray is taking some R&R for the next two weeks. In his absence, a number of his fellow editors are filling in. Today, Clifton Leaf, Fortune’s Deputy Editor, delivers the morning paper.

We are, it would seem, always looking for the next Big Idea: Entrepreneurs hope to create or discover it, investors to capitalize on it, and magazine editors like me to write about how big and disruptive the thing is. But as I was reading the extraordinary new biography of the Wright Brothers by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, staring bleary-eyed at my Kindle until two in the morning last night, I was struck by the notion that one of the biggest ideas in history—mechanical flight—was in reality a multitude of smaller discoveries meshed into one.

In one “study” after another—from watching birds and kites take flight to ginning up homemade wind tunnel experiments to catapulting themselves fearlessly off the ground in their own wood-and-muslin contraptions—brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright pieced together, deliberately, steadfastly, the hidden laws of lift and drag and midair equilibrium. Over the course of years, through storm and injury and public ridicule, they took their newfangled machines to wing, crashed them, rebuilt them, and practiced anew until they gained mastery. And in the end, writes McCullough, the sibling bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, achieved what had long seemed preposterous: “They could soar, they could float, they could dive and rise, circle and glide and land, all with assurance.” Human beings could fly.

This discovery—this ultimate disruption—was not the result of a grand Aha, but rather of “unyielding resolve,” to use McCullough’s term. It was born, simply, of relentless work.

Three summers ago I was lucky enough to interview McCullough, whose lyrical biographies of U.S. Presidents John Adams, Harry Truman, and Teddy Roosevelt often read like poetry. McCullough said that one of the most commonly held misconceptions about exceptionally successful people—the Wright Brothers included—was that they had glided to their success on the strength of inherited brains, skills, or some other rare gift rather than through their fortitude.

There is a widespread notion, he said, “that if you’re really talented you can do it naturally and surpass other people just because you’re so talented. It doesn’t work that way. It is my understanding that talented people, generally, work harder than anyone.”

The hard work springs out of a kind of drive or determination, he said: “Call it ambition, call it resolve to achieve, but it’s there. It doesn’t belong to a certain type of person, any more than leadership belongs to a specific type. Just look at U.S. presidents. They don’t run to a type. They’re as different from one another as anybody could be.”

The notion is wonderfully reaffirming—and quintessentially American. Just like McCullough’s remarkable books. Here, today’s news.

Clifton Leaf
@CliftonLeaf
clifton.leaf@fortune.com

Top News

Puerto Rico defaults on $72 billion

Puerto Rico has defaulted on debt by paying only a fraction of what was due Aug. 1, highlighting the island’s cashflow problems and potentially opening the door to broader defaults and litigation from bondholders. Interestingly, Puerto Rico is arguing a missed payment isn’t a default, though credit agencies and investors see it differently. “Moody’s views this event as a default,” said an analyst at the credit agency. Reuters

China cracks down on short-selling

China unveiled rules that make it harder for speculators to profit from hourly price changes, as some of the nation’s major brokerages suspended their short-selling businesses. The nation’s stock exchanges are cracking down on short-selling as part of a government-run effort to prevent a collapse of China’s markets, which has been badly bruised and lost 30% of their value since peaking in June. Reuters

Sprint reshuffles management

Sprint announced a reshuffle among senior management, including a new chief financial officer, moves that come as the wireless provider struggles to compete in the tough telecommunications market. Part of Sprint’s troubles are tied to the resurgence of T-Mobile, which has lured more than 1 million subscribers to its network for nine straight quarters. Sprint’s shares, meanwhile, have lost 25% of their value in the past month and 55% in the past year. WSJ (subscription required)

Twitter tests “News” tab

Some U.S. users will start to see a “News” tab appear in their Twitter apps, an experimental feature that is part of the social network’s effort to make its best content easy to find. The idea is that the tab can grab the best tweets from Twitter’s raw feed and present them in more digestible form. Though Twitter is popular, active user growth has been slow and has frustrated observers, partly because not everyone finds the site easy to use. Buzzfeed

Ex-UBS trader sentenced

A former trader with UBS and Citigroup has been sentenced to 14 years in jail after becoming the first person to be convicted over the rigging of the global benchmark interest rate LIBOR. Tom Hayes was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud on eight counts by a London court. The case is tied to a series of fraudulent actions by several banks who led a cartel that systematically abused the interest of clients in order to maximize their own profits. Regulators have since imposed billions in fines on the banks.  Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

Hackers force carmakers to boost security

Of all the hacking-related stories percolating in the news these days, we find the auto sector’s challenges particularly fascinating. Take this stat for example: tech-savvy criminals used a key-cloning system to steal some 6,000 cars and vans in London last year. That’s 42% of all vehicle thefts. As cars become more high tech, they become more vulnerable to cyber attack. Car makers are adding additional layers of security, but the industry remains in a defensive mode. Bloomberg

Intel spending big to promote diversity

Intel, which earlier this year announced a $300 million diversity initiative, is putting its money to use by reportedly offering to pay employees a higher referral bonus if they refer a candidate that is a qualified woman, veteran or minority. The lack of diversity in tech has been widely reported, but it is particularly problematic at Intel. The company ranks dead last for gender diversity in Fortune’s analysis of the latest figures for nine top tech firms: just 23.8% of its workforce is female. Fortune

Starbucks CEO for president?

High-powered friends of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz are reportedly urging the executive to challenge Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Schultz has long been vocal about the failure of the role of government, and major initiatives like the one he started at Starbucks earlier this year to openly talk about race relations in America generated a ton of headlines. But ask the executive himself and he doesn’t seem that interested. As recent as February, he was adamant he would not run in 2016. Fortune

5 things to know today

CVS and an update from Disney–5 things to know today. Today’s story can be found here.