When I was a cub reporter on the business desk of a prominent New York wire service, I learned to pay particular attention to corporate disclosures that came Friday afternoon—a surefire sign that the company wanted to downplay or bury the coverage as much as possible. Naturally, my ears perked right up when Google last Friday disclosed that one of its high-level executives, Nest co-founder and CEO Tony Fadell, is moving into an “advisory” role at Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
If you read Fadell’s blog post about the development, his departure sounds amicable, and less sudden than the timing of the announcement warrants—in the works for six months. It may simply have been the time he agreed to stay as part of Google’s takeover in January 2014. He’s certainly got plenty to keep him busy, including the smart go-kart startup, Actev Motors, which he co-founded and introduced to the world at the New York toy fair early this year.
But hints that all was not going according to plan surfaced months ago, and the number of key managers taking flight has to be unsettling for Nest employees.
The crux of the matter: Since Google plunked down $3.2 billion for the smart thermostat company, the team hasn’t done much extraordinarily new while apparently spending a whole lot of money in the process. Consider that Nest has made at least two acquisitions—the $555 million buyout of video specialist Dropcam and smart home “hub” maker Revolv, which it absorbed for an undisclosed sum. Yet, it hasn’t managed a breakout product since its original device. And when Google decided to introduce its next-big-thing device for home automation—the voice-controlled, Amazon Echo-killer Google Home, which will eventually be able to control thermostats along with other household appliances—the product didn’t originate with Nest, which seems like the natural parent for such an effort.
It’s doubtful that decision was predicated merely on all the negative chatter about Nest’s workplace issues and concerns about its long-term strategy for expanding beyond the thermostat. Google’s whole motivation for creating the Alphabet holding structure was to force more financial discipline at its various “moonshots” and other businesses, like Nest, that didn’t fit neatly into Google’s core focus.
It’s likely that Alphabet’s chief enforcer, CFO Ruth Porat, had a say in deciding that such an important product for the company should be fledged elsewhere—so that it could earn its wings free of the division’s drama, financial or otherwise. Technically speaking, Google Home is simply a home automation device, like Amazon Echo. Strategically, however, both gadgets represent the first big consumer-facing expressions of both companies’ ambitions for artificial intelligence and the Internet of things. Google needs to make sure Home’s flight path is a smooth one.
Heather Clancy is a contributing editor at Fortune. Reach her via email.
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BITS AND BYTES
Microsoft's chairman wants it to move quicker on cloud transition. The software giant's board is considering a sales reorganization that would help it transition away from traditional business more smoothly, reports Bloomberg. That's actually nothing really new, as Microsoft revamps its sales structure almost annually, but it could mean big changes for how the company works with partners. (Bloomberg, Fortune)
SoftBank sells stake in online gaming company. The Japanese company's sale of a $685 million stake in GungHo Online comes on the heels of its big decision to sell $10 billion of its position in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Signs indicate that there's more to come as founder Masayoshi Son moves to reduce the company's debt. (Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal)
Computer error costs T. Rowe Price millions in Dell deal. The huge asset management company was a vocal opponent of the decision to take Dell private back in 2013, believing the offer was underpriced. But a computer system glitch caused it to vote in favor of the buyout. That means its shareholders can't take part in a settlement announced last week—a mistake that could cost the firm more than $100 million. (Wall Street Journal, Fortune)
American Airlines: No go on Gogo. The airline will use a competitive, satellite-powered wireless Internet service from ViaSat on 100 of its newest planes. The move comes after American's public spat with Gogo earlier this year. It's still a vital supplier, but now it has to work harder to win the airline's business. (Los Angeles Times)
Walmart plays up technology. The company is the second largest online retailer in the U.S. But its web sales grew just 7% worldwide last quarter, so the company is diversifying its investments into untested new areas such as inventory-logging drones and online grocery orders. “There is momentum in this business. It’s real,” Walmart CEO McMillon told the audience at the company's annual shareholders meeting. (Fortune)
How PayPal plans to get back on top in digital payments. PayPal, the payment juggernaut of Silicon Valley, is by no means a new name to the average consumer. But the company is a fresh face to the newly updated Fortune 500 list after a high-profile split from eBay last summer. During its first year as a standalone company, PayPal raked in a revenue of $9.2 billion—enough to lead this year’s cohort of newcomers at No. 307.
Now the trick is to expand far beyond its core business in web-fueled e-commerce into services such as mobile payment processing, money transfers, and peer-to-peer payments, and credit. As Fortune senior writer Leena Rao reports, PayPal's post-spin-off CEO Dan Schulman is moving quickly to acquire new technologies, such as the money-transfer service Xoom, and to build on promising holdovers from the eBay years, like Venmo, a peer-to-peer payment app popular with millennials.
"I want consumers to use PayPal not just twice a month but twice a week and then from there, every day,” says the effusive New Jersey native, a Richard Branson protégé and former American Express exec who favors cowboy boots and jeans. For the complete profile.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
One year in, Ruth Porat remains Google's financial disciplinarian
by Leena Rao
Here's why we need a first amendment for social platforms
by Mathew Ingram
As bitcoin payouts halve, uncertainty looms by David Z. Morris
How Facebook is changing the rules of Hollywood by Geoff Yang
HBO's 'Silicon Valley' takes on the haters by Kia Kokalitcheva
I tried the latest fitness tech gear—here's what happened by John Kell
ONE MORE THING
Oops, some of Mark Zuckerberg's social media accounts were hacked. Someone briefly took control of the Facebook founder's Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn accounts over the weekend. (Engadget, Fortune)
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.