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CEO Daily: Friday, August 28

Coursera CEO Rick Levin stopped by Fortune yesterday, having just closed on $50 million in new funding for the online education provider. The former president of Yale, Levin has a business model that is unique in that it depends on working with top universities — even though its courses cost less than lunch on most of the participating campuses.


Levin argues the model is working. Three-quarters of Coursera’s users come from outside the U.S., and colleges and universities find they can use Coursera as lead generation for new students for their degree programs. Inside the U.S., the users are mostly beyond college age.


The company is also making progress providing groupings of courses, called “specializations,” that allow people in careers to master new skills. He says Coursera, for instance, has become the leading trainer of data scientists.


When will the company turn a profit? Levin won’t predict, other to say it will be within a decade. When will it begin to disrupt elite four-year colleges like the one he used to run? Longer than that.


More news below.




Alan Murray

Top News

• Google rebuffs EU on antitrust claims

Google unveiled a new legal argument against a European Union demand that the company change how its search engine functions, a move that signals a lengthy legal battle could be underway in the high profile antitrust case. Legal experts say the Google case could be prolonged for years. The clash is one of several between U.S. tech firms and Europeans over a number of issues related to privacy. WSJ (subscription required)

• Glowing review revved up Tesla stock

Tesla shares enjoyed a jolt on Thursday after a magazine published a highly favorable review about a luxury electric sedan that costs an eye-popping $127,820. The vehicle was the best-reviewed car in Consumer Reports history. And while the magazine loves the energy-efficient vehicle that it says offers a “glimpse into the future of automotive technology,” there are still worries about the heavy research and development spending at Tesla, as well as how much demand there can be for such expensive cars.  USA Today

• Labor board sides with fast-food unions

The National Labor Relations Board made a decision on Thursday that some experts say could likely be one of the more significant moves by the group in the last 35 years. The ruling makes it easier for unions to negotiate on behalf of workers at fast-food chains and other companies that rely on contractors and franchises. The decision, likely to face a challenge from employers like McDonald’s and Yum Brands, was immediately attacked by business groups.  New York Times (subscription required)

• Buzzfeed, WPP sign ad partnership

Buzzfeed, which recently scored a $200 million investment from NBCUniversal, has signed a partnership with global ad giant WPP Group in a pact that includes access to its proprietary data platform for tracking social content. Buzzfeed did the deal with a unit called Group M, which places about $75 billion worth of ads and marketing money for its clients each year.  The pact is expected to significantly boost what the group spends with Buzzfeed.  Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

• The Gray Lady’s greatest challenge

Fortune calls out New York magazine on the assertion that the greatest challenge facing the New York Times is a scramble among several Sulzberger family members to outmaneuver each other for the publisher’s seat. But Fortune says the biggest challenge is how the newspaper hopes to compete at a time when so many new platforms (like Facebook) are far more successful at luring ad dollars. That is a challenge confronting every member of the “traditional media” today. Fortune

• Dole CEO liable for millions over buyout

A Delaware court has ruled that Dole Food CEO David Murdock got too sweet of a deal when he took his fresh-fruit producer private in a $1.2 billion deal. Murdock was ordered to pay $148.1 million over allegations he received an “improper personal benefit” from the deal by paying $13.50 a share to regain control of the company. Shareholders had accused Murdock of conspiring with others to drive down the value of the food company so he could take it private for the second time in his career.  Bloomberg

• 1 billion use Facebook in one day

Facebook this week said that for the first time ever, one out of seven people on Earth logged in to the social network within a single day. The milestone occurred on Monday, when a billion people used Facebook. (This statistic is believable if you ever look around while riding on an elevator: everyone is on their phone). Overall, Facebook has had well over 1 billion users for a while now, but they don’t all log in on any given day or even within any given month. Still, that reach helps explain why Facebook shares have steadily climbed since 2013.  Associated Press