Peter Drucker, the greatest management writer ever, was famous for asking several insightful questions, of which the most famous was: “What business are you in?” Answering it was never easy, but this morning’s news makes you realize how tough it’s getting in a tech-dominated economy.
Nokia has just sold its digital mapping business, Here, to Germany’s Big Three automakers, BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen (through VW’s Audi division). What business are they in? Cars? I guess. Transportation? Sounds more like it. But software? Just five years ago, did BMW chief Harald Krueger, Daimler’s Dieter Zetsche, or VW’s Martin Winterkorn imagine they’d be buying a digital mapping business from a Finnish telecom company for $3 billion? I strongly suspect not. Yet now they’re in that business, and not just through their own use of the technology; non-auto companies including Amazon, Baidu, and Facebook buy data from Here, and the German automakers will now be selling to them.
The hottest topic at last winter’s Geneva Auto Show was the increasing likelihood that Google and Apple would introduce cars of their own by 2020 or so. What business are they in? Could even geniuses like Larry Page and Tim Cook have foreseen it five years ago?
The three Detroit carmakers just reported excellent July sales after a strong first quarter. Which is wonderful, but aren’t they in the same business as the German companies? If GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler don’t want to rely on Apple or Google for mapping (because doing so could give those companies too much customer information and control)—and if these companies don’t want to buy it from the Germans, and if Apple, Google, and Here have the best mapping tech available—then as cars increasingly become apps with engines, what business will the Detroiters be in?
Let’s not forget Nokia. It has answered Drucker’s question more flexibly than almost any other company, over its history making wood pulp, cables, rubber boots, chemicals, cell phones, and much else. For the moment, its main business is telecom networking equipment.
Meanwhile, in another industry, Comcast is investing billions in the Universal Studios theme parks it got when it bought NBC Universal from GE. Nobody expected Comcast to keep the parks. But now this company that started in cable TV, then bought a broadcast network under CEO Brian Roberts, is also in the very different business of in-person entertainment.
In case you haven’t asked yourself lately: What business are you in?
What We’re Reading Today
Obama plans to cut power plant emissions
The first ever emissions cuts to power plants represent a major part of President Obama’s effort to reduce greenhouse gases by a minimum of 26% by 2025. In lockstep, Republicans voiced skepticism of the president’s strategy. WSJ
Comcast finds unlikely growth engine
It’s throwing billions of dollars at Universal theme parks, once considered a throwaway business when it bought NBCUniversal four years ago. Some question, however, if Comcast has looked close enough at the downsides to this corner of the entertainment market. NYT
Could Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz make a run for the presidency?
Trader gets 14 years for rigging Libor
Tom Hayes became the first person ever to face prison for manipulating the rate, which serves as a benchmark for global borrowing. BBC
China and the U.S. fight over business leader
Ling Wancheng, whose brother served in a role within the Chinese government similar to White House chief of staff, could become the most prominent defector in recent Chinese history if he seeks asylum. The Obama Administration has so far ignored China’s demands for his return. NYT
Automakers ride to levels not seen since 2001
It turns out low interest rates and cheap gas really encourage auto sales. Who knew! Trucks and SUVs lead the way, but higher priced vehicles have also benefitted from cheap lending. Detroit Free Press
Jerome Kohlberg Jr., 90, KKR founder, passes away
He launched the private equity firm in 1976 with his two proteges Henry R. Kravis and George R. Roberts, pioneering the leveraged buyout, now a $2.6 trillion industry. CNBC
BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz join forces…
To buy Nokia’s mapping business, as the race against Silicon Valley for self-driving vehicles heats up. Wired
Jim Harbaugh hangs out with The Supremes
The new Michigan University football coach’s unusual offseason continues as he met with five Supreme Court judges. His favorite? The “enthusiastic” Clarence Thomas. WSJ
Two Schumers have a family reunion
Actress Amy Schumer discussed gun control with her “second cousin, twice removed,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Fortune
Building a Better Leader
How GM CEO Mary Barra found her voice
Thanks to her mentor, who suggested she take over an HR role even though the now-General Motors CEO had an engineering background. LinkedIn
To keep your best employees, all you need to do is…
Keep them unstuck and unafraid of bumps in the road. Fortune
Recessions are great at one thing
Pushing women into STEM fields at higher rates than men, according to new research. Reuters
Up or Out
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba appointed ex-Goldman Sachs banker Michael Evans as its president, making him the highest ranking foreign executive at the company. FT
Dave Hager will take the reins as President and CEO of Devon Energy. Nasdaq
Sprint has announced that Tarek Robbiati, most recently CEO of Australian consumer finance group FlexiGroup Ltd., will replace Joseph Eutenauer as CFO. WSJ
In one of Marvin Ellison‘s first moves as J.C. Penney CEO, he has hired Michael Amend as executive vice president of omnichannel and Mike Robbins as senior vice president of supply chain. Yahoo Finance
BMO Financial Group has named Monique Chan head of BMO Private Bank Asia. Reuters
Former president at E*Trade Financial, Jarrett Lillian will serve as interim CEO of its Investment Technology Group, replacing Robert Gasser, who departs a week after announcing a potential SEC settlement over charges related to improper disclosures. Pensions & Investments
Intel offers $4,000 for women, minority, veteran job referrals
Tweaking its referral policy, it’s the latest tactic to improve diversity after the chipmaker announced a $300 million initiative this year. Fortune
Macy’s follows Amazon’s lead
The retailer will offer same day delivery in 17 cities. Fortune
As Donald Trump touts American jobs for American people
His companies have filed for 1,100 foreign work visas since 2000 to fill roles such as waitresses, cooks, and vineyard workers. Fortune
Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible comeback
Is the scandal-plagued movie star finding his second wind? Fortune
A big presidential salute to the commander-in-chief as Barack Obama turns 54. Biography
Hewlett Packard head and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman turns 59. Biography
Sheldon Adelson, chief executive and president of casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp., turns 82 today. Biography