Thursday morning Fortune announces its annual list of the world’s greatest leaders. At the top is Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, of course, but also the owner of The Washington Post and sole financier of the rocketship company Blue Origin.
I wrote the magazine feature story on Bezos, and he granted Fortune rare access to all aspects of his business life. I spent an illuminating afternoon at The Washington Post, an institution that had been beaten down like much of the rest of the journalism industry and now has something of a spring in its step. I interviewed the top editorial, technical, and business leader there; each element is important in understanding the Post’s story under Bezos, who is passionate about the Post though uninvolved in its journalism.
At Blue Origin, in Kent, Wash., I encountered a surreal scene. The lobby has all sorts of space-nerd models and real artifacts from space missions. Inside the cavernous manufacturing floors I saw spaceships and rocket engines under construction. The company has been at it for 16 years, and now it is finally building a new world.
Then of course there is Amazon itself, the source of Bezos’s vast wealth—$46 billion at last count—and a hotbed of innovation. Amazon has so many things going at once that no man could possibly manage it all. In fact, Bezos delegates heavily and dives deeply into a handful of projects. Currently these include aspects of apparel, Amazon Web Services, and the company’s next-generation fulfillment centers.
Bezos is evolving, as is Amazon. This week the company hosted a conference at a swank hotel in Palm Springs, Calif., geared toward robotics and machine-learning experts. In Seattle a couple weeks ago I asked Bezos if the company was becoming less frugal, a hallmark of its corporate culture. “Some things are so hard to measure that you have to just take them as articles of faith,” he said. If he were a politician that might read as a flip-flop or a rationalization. In a business leader such thinking is called an evolution.
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BITS AND BYTES
Activist investor wants to replace Yahoo’s entire board. Starboard Value, which owns about 1.7% of the Internet company’s stock, will nominate nine new directors, reports The Wall Street Journal. The hedge fund is pushing for a sale of the business, sooner rather than later. CEO Marissa Mayer wants more time to turn things around. A showdown could come in June at Yahoo’s annual shareholder meeting. (Wall Street Journal)
Apple plans pre-holiday push for mobile payments service. As part of a big expansion for Apple Pay, the service should work on mobile e-commerce sites later this year, reports Re/code. Right now, the service works only within mobile apps, allowing consumers to pay for goods without taking out their credit card. This plan would dramatically expand its sphere of influence. (Re/code)
Square now allows merchants to buy Facebook ads. As part of a new relationship, businesses that use Square’s marketing software can place ads directly instead of relying on a third-party service. The big potential benefit is they can more closely track the impact of those advertisements on their sales. (Fortune)
Microsoft, Hewlett Packard Enterprise pour millions into data center startup. The two tech giants contributed to a $73.5 million round for Mesosphere, which automates software application management. The infusion brings the startup’s total funding to $126 million, at an undeclared valuation. (Fortune)
How many hackers does it take to crack an iPhone? It turns out plenty of security experts would love to help the FBI break into a smartphone linked to its investigation of the San Bernardino attacks. Apple doesn’t typically use outside hackers to test its security, which may be one reason the government has found so many willing to try. (New York Times, Wall Street Journal)
Top Salesforce exec steps back. The executive in charge of the cloud giant’s platform development strategy, former Microsoft manager Tod Nielsen, is moving into a “special projects” role at the end of March. His team is responsible for the various products that software developers use to write applications that work with Salesforce’s core services. (Fortune)
Amazon: We pay women just as much as men. Responding to pressure by an activist shareholder, the e-commerce giant published about its compensation based on gender. While there’s not much of a gap on pay, women make up only 39% of Amazon’s global workforce. (Fortune)
Google swears its cloud is ready for prime time. The tech giant Google pulled out the big guns Wednesday—including CEO Sundar Pichai and Eric Schmidt, chairman of parent company Alphabet—to show that it’s deadly serious about being a big-boy cloud competitor to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft.
Still missing from Google’s dance card is a list of big new financial, insurance, and other institutional users. Nor was there any sign from big software players like SAP or Oracle that their apps are certified to run on Google’s cloud platform. That sort of applications support is still needed for the biggest companies that run those applications in-house. Fortune‘s Barb Darrow reports.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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by Heather Clancy
Why Tableau Software’s stock plunged 50% in February by Andrew Nusca
Fitbit is fitter than you think by Lauren Silva Laughlin
Is software better at managing people than you are? by Jennifer Alsever
How Apple’s solar strategy evolved by Katie Fehrenbacher
Zenefits rival Gusto adds more capital by Heather Clancy
An iPhone in bed will still mess with your sleep by Jeff John Roberts
Facebook drops BlackBerry support by Jason Cipriani
The porn industry is investing heavily in virtual reality by John Gaudiosi
ONE MORE THING
Google goes to Cuba. The Internet giant played an unusual role in restoring diplomatic relations, advising the White House on how to bring the country into the digital age. (Wall Street Journal)
|This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.|