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CEO Daily: Thursday, September 17

Carly Fiorina made the most of the debate spot she had to scrap to secure. The Hewlett-Packard CEO-turned-Republican presidential candidate on Wednesday proved she deserved her place on the main stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library by becoming the first contender to land a body blow on the GOP leader, Donald Trump. And she did it on her way to what many early reviews declared a winning performance on a crowded stage, amid 10 other contenders scrambling for airtime.

Maybe it took another business leader to accomplish what experienced pols could not in taking on Trump without looking diminished for it.

The key exchange between the two — arguably the most memorable in the entire three-hour debate —came when CNN moderator Jake Tapper gave Fiorina a chance to respond to Trump’s recent disparaging comments about her appearance. Fiorina wryly noted that Trump had just needled former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for a remark that sowed doubt about his commitment to women. “You know, it’s interesting to me,” she said, while a split-screen captured Trump looking braced, “Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly in what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”

And that was it; that was all she said. Her concision packed a punch, especially in a setting where rivals rarely volunteered available time back to the moderators. And it left Trump reeling, compelling him to try to make amends by praising Fiorina as beautiful (a retort many no doubt understood as missing the point).

The two clashed again later over their respective business records. Trump, obliquely referencing a Fortune piece on Fiorina’s rocky performance at HP and her earlier troubles running Lucent Technologies, said “she can’t run any of my companies.” Fiorina, who throughout offered a crisp foil to Trump’s ragged-edged bluster, had a ready reply, pointing to the developer’s history of bankruptcies as evidence voters can’t trust him with the nation’s finances. Her answers may have made a hash of facts at points but its doubtful it will matter.

The polls in the Republican primary so far have followed a mysterious logic, not necessarily tethered to events in the world. It’d be hard to play back the first debate, for example, and conclude that retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson turned in a standout performance, and yet he zoomed in its wake. So Fiorina may not pose an immediate threat to Trump, now solidly ensconced atop the field. But following her performance in Simi Valley, Calif., last night, it does seem the race is primed for a Carly Moment.

Tory Newmyer

Top News

• Altice to buy Cablevision

European cable company Altice agreed to pay about $10 billion to acquire Cablevision Systems, a deal that will create the fourth largest cable operator in the U.S. As Fortune reported last night when there were rumors a deal would be confirmed on Thursday, the Altice-Cablevision deal is the latest sign of consolidation among North American cable operators, as companies angle to better face off against digital streaming and cord cutting.  WSJ (subscription required)

• Apple seeks to overturn ebooks ruling

Apple is intending to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a federal judge’s ruling that it conspired to fix the prices of ebooks when it launched its original online marketplaces back in early 2010. Back in 2013, a U.S. District Court found Apple liable in the case, and a court of appeals ruling upheld that decision earlier this year. While the financial stakes are modest for Apple, the gadgets maker has said the case “is about principles and values,” asserting it did nothing wrong in 2010.  Fortune


• Investors await Fed decision

U.S. stock-index futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropped in London, as investors brace for a decision by the Federal Reserve on interest rates. Speculation has increased that the Fed will punt on a potential hike as traders are now pricing in a 32% chance of action on Thursday. That is down from 48% before China’s currency devaluation last month, Bloomberg reports. Equities have been particularly volatile of late as investors fret about the Fed decision and growth worries in China.  Bloomberg

• GM poised to reach settlement

Federal prosecutors are reportedly close to settling a criminal probe into General Motors, various media outlets have reported, in a case that accused the automaker of failing to disclose safety defects tied to at least 124 deaths. Prosecutors will impose a penalty of nearly $1 billion on GM but they are not expected to include charges against individual GM employees. The penalty is slightly less severe than one imposed on Toyota in a separate case last year because GM earned some credit for cooperating with the investigation.  New York Times (subscription required)

SAP CEO in recovery

Bill McDermott, the CEO of Europe’s largest software company, is recovering after a July fall led to the loss of his eye. The 54-year-old leader of SAP is expected to travel to the company’s Germany headquarters next month for the first time since the accident, WSJ reports, indicating some progression. After the accident occurred, McDermott has told the media he is fit to fulfill his CEO duties, with his current term expiring in 2017.  Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

Another ride-sharing unicorn

A ride-sharing startup that focuses on long-haul travel in emerging markets like Turkey and India has raised $200 million in its latest funding round. BlaBlaCar is now valued at about $1.6 billion – giving it unicorn status (a term that means a startup has been valued at $1 billion or more). BlaBlaCar’s strategy differs from Uber and Lyft, as it launched in France and expanded across Europe but also focuses on emerging markets and has completely ignored the U.S. market. Fortune

• Honda unveils new Civic

Japanese auto maker Honda has unveiled the company’s next-generation Civic, a vehicle that features high-tech credentials, slightly lower seats to enhance the “sportiness” of the car and an overall longer vehicle. Honda is saying the new Civic is “the most ambitious remake” the auto maker has ever done. There will also be two new engines and the new model will feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.  USA Today