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Power Sheet – May 17, 2016

This morning Fortune releases a major examination of one of the most important trends in business, companies going public or staying private. It’s quite a phenomenon. How can it be, for example, that Uber is still not publicly traded, even though it’s a seemingly perfect IPO candidate and is valued by private investors at $62.5 billion as of its last funding round? It was big news last week when sources said Didi Chuxing, Uber’s Chinese rival, might go public as early as next year. But Apple’s $1-billion investment in Didi last week reportedly values the company at $26 billion. By all conventional measures, both it and Uber should have gone public long ago. So why didn’t they?

The answer to that question is another question: Why should they? Private sources of capital – venture capital firms, other investment firms, and many major companies such as Apple – are so flush with cash that they struggle to find good homes for it all. They’re supplying Uber, Didi, and other private companies with all the capital they need, without the hassles and distractions of being publicly traded. That’s why Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said last fall it would be at least “a few years” before Uber goes public.

We’re not the only ones taking notice. McKinsey has just published a report documenting the trend in the tech sector. It notes, for example, that “the average age of U.S. technology companies that went public in 1999 was four years,” while “the average age of technology companies going public in 2014 was 11 years.”

Our package of articles includes our first ranking of America’s 25 most important private companies. Most striking, at least to me, is how successful and dominant many of these businesses are. The National Football League (No. 11), for example, is America’s largest sports business by far. Vanguard is the largest mutual fund company, and Fidelity is close; they’re tied at No. 2. Cargill (No. 6) is the largest food processing and commodity firm. Ponder the list and you realize that being publicly traded isn’t necessary for a company to compete and win at the highest levels of business.

Public companies aren’t going away. There remain good reasons for them to exist – not just raising capital, but also showing customers, suppliers, employees, and others that they’re worth doing business with, enabling founders to cash out, and attracting and keeping talent with tradable stock. Nonetheless, the number of public companies has plunged from over 8,000 in 1996 to about 4,400 today. They’re getting fewer and bigger, while private companies are gaining size and importance.

Don’t miss one more part of our package: a typically insightful article by Shawn Tully about Bechtel (No. 7 on our ranking), the huge global construction company led by fifth-generation Bechtels. You’ll be fascinated.

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What We’re Reading Today

Justice Department subpoenas Lending Club  

The online lender’s CEO, Renaud Laplanche, resigned last week amid an internal investigation that showed the company sold $22 million of loans to an investor that didn’t ask for them. The DoJ noticed, issuing a subpoena to Lending Club shortly after the announcement. Acting CEO Scott Sanborn and his company had also contacted the SEC after uncovering the findings.  Fortune

Clinton hints at Bill’s role in a Hillary administration 

At a speech in Kentucky, Hillary Clinton said she envisions Bill “in charge of revitalizing the economy.” The former president seems willing to consider an economic role, saying he likes “this economic business.”  NBC News

Valeant outlines heart drug discounts 

Hospitals will receive a 10% to 40% discount on heart drugs Nitropress and Isuprel based on volume purchased. Valeant also reiterated that it would not increase the drugs’ prices or cut rebates. New CEO Joseph Papa has been under fire to reduce prices after director and investor Bill Ackman promised a Senate committee cuts were coming.  WSJ

A look at employee life in the NSA

The Intercept, the online publication that has published materials from Edward Snowden‘s data leak, has released documents that include the National Security Agency’s employee newsletter over more than a decade. It’s a look at what employee life is like at the NSA and ranges from the mundane, like discussion of  vacations, to details of top-secret surveillance programs.  The Intercept

Building a Better Leader

New crowdfunding rules for startups…

…may not provide much more funding for companies because they ease requirements for first-round investors. But finding first-round capital is easy for most; the problem arises when trying to build scale. Harvard Business Review

More businesses shun going public 

Companies like Uber, Vanguard, and Fidelity prefer private ownership. The number of public companies has fallen 45% over the past 20 years. Fortune

Board diversity efforts hit a wall…

…because so many boards look for former CEOs. But the ex-CEO pool isn’t diverse enough. Heidrick & Struggles

Competitive Pressures

Comcast CEO: We feel competitive pressure every minute

CEO Brian Roberts argues that as technology advances, Comcast faces rising competition and doesn’t need to be restrained by new or proposed regulations on net neutrality or set-top boxes. Roberts indicates few plans for Comcast, America’s largest cable company, to expand into new regions or into wireless services. Fortune

Former Google engineer foresees autonomous big rigs

A founder of Google’s self-driving vehicles initiative, Anthony Levandowski, has left the company to launch Ottomotto, which will create technology for self-driving 18-wheelers. The initial goal is make big trucks autonomous on the highway. He faces stiff competition from larger players, including Daimler and Volvo. WSJ

China targets U.S. tech companies

The Chinese government has turned its focus to encryption and data storage in Chinese-sold products of U.S. tech companies, including Tim Cook‘s Apple. Inspection of consumer products is unusual when governments question tech companies about security. For President Xi Jinping, it’s another way to keep tabs on U.S. tech companies. NYT

Up or Out

Twitter has named BET CEO Debra Lee to its board.  TechCrunch

Mark Langer has been promoted to CEO of Hugo Boss. He had previously served as the fashion brand’s CFO.  The Telegraph

Kimberley-Clark has hired Suja Chandrasekaran as CIO.  WSJ

Fortune Reads and Videos

Amazon extends free food delivery service to… 

…Manhattan and Dallas. The service provides free delivery of restaurant orders for Prime members. Fortune

The best workplaces for consulting and professional services… 

…understand the importance of human capital. The design and engineering firm Kimley-Horn ranks No. 1 on our new list, in part because president John Atz works hard at listening to employees. Fortune

Virgin Galactic CEO says space travel… 

…will soon be common. George Whitesides says we’re reaching an inflection point. Fortune

How Ikea, Coca-Cola, and Walmart are cutting waste

Ikea, for example, operates 29 wind farms and has 800,000 solar panels.  Fortune

Quote of the Day

“Do we need more regulation in this competitive, super technologically changing world that we’re living in? We feel competitive pressure every minute…We’re assuming the world is going to get more competitive.” — Comcast CEO Brian Roberts arguing against efforts by regulators to increase competition in set-top boxes.  Fortune

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Produced by Ryan Derousseau
@ryanderous
powersheet@newsletters.fortune.com