The business world is changing in front of our eyes. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Fortune+Time Global Forum, held last week at the Vatican in Rome.
It was a heady two days. We assembled about 100 business and thought leaders at the invitation of Pope Francis, who asked us to discuss the role of businesses in alleviating global poverty. After determined discussions followed by a glittering gala, our group met the next day with Francis. “Your very presence here today is a sign of such hope, because it shows that you recognize the issues before us and the imperative to act decisively,” he told us.
In fact, business leaders already are rising to the occasion. Tom Wilson, CEO of insurance giant Allstate, for example, sees corporations as uniquely positioned to address society’s changing needs. “Corporations should be encouraged and rewarded for stepping up to solve society’s problems,” Wilson, a participant in Rome, wrote recently in The Washington Post. “That will require a change in mindset. Today, corporate leaders are graded on stock price, not on the amount of good their companies do. We must broaden our evaluation of corporations beyond share prices to provide space, light and water for their role to grow.”
Indeed, measurement and communication of mission were two consistent themes of the conference, particularly in a working group I hosted on technology’s contribution. The group advocated for a thorough re-evaluation of the metrics that encourage short-term thinking, on the assumption that a longer-term mindset by definition is more caring. Leila Janah, who runs the San Francisco non-profit Sama, which helps the unskilled find digital employment, thinks technology can help record and legitimize the track records of non-professionals. Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, puts stock in new labeling: We should focus, she says, on “new collar” jobs, rather than the white or blue variety.
As the Pope said, that these conversations are happening at all is a sign of progress. My colleagues and I will report back periodically on our plans to facilitate turning some of this talk into action.
BITS AND BYTES
Uber buys artificial intelligence startup. It’s paying an undisclosed sum for Geometric Intelligence. The New York company’s 15-person team will form the foundation of a new division focused on software for autonomous vehicles. (Wall Street Journal)
VW gets more serious about digital services, à la Uber. Europe’s largest automaker has launched a new division called MOIA that will lead its strategy for mobility services. First up starting sometime next year: an on-demand shuttle. (Reuters)
Businesses may soon spend more on social media ads than on newspapers. The tipping point could come by 2020, according to new data from advertising agency Zenith Optimedia. Spending on social media should hit $50 billion by 2019, its data suggests. (Reuters)
Data center hardware startup Datrium snaps up $55 million. The company sells servers, storage devices, and other equipment that can support cloud services. Its primary rivals are Nutanix, EMC, and NetApp. (VentureBeat)
Apple offers some opinions about self-driving car regulations. Little is known (officially) about the tech giant’s intentions when it comes to autonomous vehicles, but that hasn’t discouraged Apple from offering some feedback about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed rules. (Fortune)
New rules could make it simpler for fintech startups to expand nationally. A special license created by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency could help companies like Square and Lending Club introduce offerings that facilitate electronic payments or lend money across state lines more quickly. Right now, they’re governed state-by-state, which means approval takes longer. (New York Times)
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
Tech billionaires award $25 million to top scientists. The Breakthrough Prizes began five years ago when Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire and investor, and his wife Julia said they would annually reward theoretical physicists for outstanding scientific achievements. Now, the founders of Facebook, Google, and Alibaba also participate. (Fortune)
Zenefits needs a new CEO. David Sacks, who took over from founder Conrad Parker to help fix the insurance software startup’s regulatory problems, may be joining his long-time friend and co-author Peter Thiel on President-elect Trump’s transition team. (Fortune)
Another Twitter exec heads for the exit. Top ad sales manager Richard Alfonsi, a former Googler, was hired as head of global revenue and growth at Stripe. His departure comes on the heels of COO Adam Bain’s resignation a couple of weeks ago, and marks the latest in an executive exodus over the past year. (Recode)
These tech jobs are about to get a major bump. Big data engineers are hotter than ever, with average raises of 5.8%, according to new data from Robert Half. The salary range: $135,000 to $196,000. (Monster)
One benefit of cloud migrations may surprise you. For anyone following technology trends, the notion that many businesses are supplementing or even replacing their own data centers with a cloud like Amazon Web Services is no longer a shock, or even news. In particular, businesses with uneven or “spiky” workloads like the ability to pay for data center resources when they need them and shutting them down when they don’t.
That flexible, pay-as-you-go pitch resonates with many companies. But at the annual AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas last week, several big AWS customers said that by moving from legacy systems to the cloud, they’re better able to attract, hire, and keep the best programmers and software engineers. Don’t underestimate the human factor.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
FCC Blasts AT&T and Verizon Over Net Neutrality, by Aaron Pressman
Is the Tech Industry Doomed to be Hated? by Erin Griffith
Amazon Alone Accounted for 30% of the Cyber Weekend Traffic, by Phil Wahba
Juniper CEO Talks Amazon, Google, and Trump, by Jonathan Vanian
Intel Could Risk Losing Its iPhone Business, by Aaron Pressman
ONE MORE THING
Elon Musk is the most admired leader in technology. At least according to a poll of 700 startup founders surveyed by venture capital firm First Round. (Fortune)