Good morning from Paris, where I am moderating a luncheon program today for the city of Guangzhou, host of the 2017 Fortune Global Forum, which will take place in December in that important southern China business center.
The significance of the events today in Washington, D.C. will be lost on nobody here in the French capital, in China, or in Davos, Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum is wrapping up. The new president of the United States cast a pall over the elites in Davos this week, particularly Europeans put off by his nativist tone and the prospects for protectionism he brings.
This was my first time in Davos since 2012, and the decline in American importance at the meeting was palpable. In the past, the conference arguably was too American, overly focused on the dominant political and commercial voices that fuel and fund its host’s activities.
This time, the conversation often turned to how the world will cope if the U.S. refuses to lead on issues from international trade to human rights to environmental policy. On Thursday, for example, I attended a panel on the future of Asian commerce. Ostensibly about Asia, the conversation quickly focused on the premise that China might take the place of the U.S. as trade-policy leader, a notion that felt equally uncertain and inevitable. “We need to prepare for a new world, where America is an obstacle to international trade,” said Kishore Mahbubani, a professor of public policy at the National University of Singapore.
This shift was in motion well before the election of Donald Trump. “It doesn’t make sense for a player from far away to come to a region and impose a set of rules,” argued Tsinghua University economist Li Daokui, referring to the now extinguished Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and the prospect of a China-led pact, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, taking its place. The U.S. remains critical, of course, making the prospect of a trade war with China all the more worrisome. “Protectionism is a direct threat to the Asian economy,” said Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist. “It’s the market of first and last resort for Asia’s exports.”
Uncertainty over the change in power in Washington was omnipresent in Davos. “I’m quite worried about the Constitution,” Chris Eisgruber, president of Princeton University and a constitutional law scholar, told me. He noted that the Founding Fathers explicitly feared demagoguery. Three facets of today’s U.S. civic discourse would worry the Framers, said Eisgruber: “mistrust of institutions,” which they considered crucial to forming a republic; the “geographic sorting” that finds people of like-minded views grouping together rather than being more evenly distributed throughout the country; and the rise of technologies (read: Facebook) that are keeping people from reading facts and views that give them proper “civic understanding.”
For all this, my time in Davos ended on a high note. Thursday night Fortune and Time hosted a dinner for global CEOs where the discussion turned to how business makes a positive impact on the world. In a continuation of a conversation we began last month at the Vatican, the assembled corporate chieftains shared specific examples of best practices, highlighting the good their companies do as part of their everyday business activities. Their examples were inspiring; expect to see coverage of this important—and hopeful—topic in months to come.
Mathew Ingram will assist Heather in keeping you in the know next week; I’ll be back the following week.
BITS AND BYTES
IBM still insists it’s on the right growth path. The company posted its 19th consecutive quarter of declining revenue on Thursday—it’s overall sales for 2016 were $80 billion, off about 2%. IBM is counting on cloud computing, its Watson data crunching technology, and security to offset sales declines for its more traditional businesses in software licenses, servers, and consulting services. Those newer initiatives now account for about 41% of IBM’s overall revenue. (Fortune)
Don’t blame Tesla’s self-driving technology for its fatal crash last year. A six-month-long federal investigation into potential flaws in Autopilot, the electric vehicle company’s technology for helping avoid on-the-road obstacles in a semi-autonomous mode, found no evidence supporting the need for a recall. The probe was motivated by a fatal accident involving an avid Tesla owner last year, which occurred while AutoPilot was engaged. (Fortune, New York Times)
Telecommunications equipment stalwart Avaya declares bankruptcy. The company has seen its revenue decline as part of an industry-wide shift to cloud services. It is carrying a debt load of $6.3 billion, but has decided that selling its call-center business to help appease creditors isn’t in its best interests. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal)
Copying Google, Oracle buys a specialist in application programming interfaces. The software giant is paying an undisclosed sum for Apiary, which sells technology for connecting software applications. The startup has some pretty big-name customers including Salesforce.com, Microsoft, and Viacom. Google bought one of Apiary’s competitors, Apigee, for $625 million last year. (Fortune)
Social network LinkedIn gets a big, long-awaited facelift. The redesign mimics changes that LinkedIn made to its mobile app last year. It streamlines the user interface and cuts down on the notifications that visitors receive. (Fortune)
Samsung will blame bad batteries for Galaxy Note 7 fires. The South Korean conglomerate thinks manufacturing defects that resulted in irregular battery sizes caused the smartphones to overheat and ignite, reports The Wall Street Journal. Samsung plans a press conference Monday to discuss its findings and detail how it will avoid future problems. (Fortune, Reuters)
Why Amazon is both a boon and a threat to startups. You can thank Amazon and its cloud computing business for ushering a wave of fast-rising startups like Airbnb and Lyft that are upending industries like hospitality and transportation.
But while Amazon Web Services is making a big business out of selling computing resources to companies on demand, it may not fare as well as it expands to related areas like business productivity software or other document management services. At least, that’s the belief from a few business software companies that have both benefited from the rise of AWS while facing increased competition from the retail giant as it steadily debuts new features. Fortune‘s Jonathan Vanian reports from a panel discussion Thursday about enterprise software and the workplace.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
In Win for Tech Industry, Patent Office Head to Stay Under Trump, by Jeff John Roberts
Twitter Makes Small Steps Toward a More Diverse Workforce, by Michal Lev-Ram
Here Are Three Hot Apps You May Never Have Heard Of, by Barb Darrow
How Peter Thiel’s Latest Investment Could Shake Up Airline Pricing, by Jeremy Quittner
3 Ways Facebook Is Diversifying Its Workforce, by Valentina Zarya
Apple’s Next iPads May Include a New Screen Size, by Don Reisinger
ONE MORE THING
Derek Jeter hits home run with another $40 million for his sports media startup. The Players’ Tribune, which the ex-New York Yankees shortstop co-founded in 2014, began with just a few dozen contributors writing about their experiences in the sports world. Now, more than 1,200 athletes are generating content for the site. (Fortune)
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Spark Summit: Data science and engineering at scale. (Feb. 7-9; Boston)
IBM Connect 2017: Redefine work with Watson. (Feb. 20-23; San Francisco)
CIO Leadership Forum (West): Strategy in the age of digital disruption. (Feb. 26-28; Phoenix)
Microsoft Envision: Drive digital transformation. (Feb. 28-March 2; Los Angeles)
Pure//Accelerate: The future of data storage. (March 6-8; San Francisco)
Gartner Data & Analytics Summit: Strategies for generating business value. (March 6-9; Grapevine, Texas)
Google Cloud Next: Products and perspectives for developers and customers. (March 7-10, 2017; San Francisco)
CIO Leadership Forum (East): Strategy in the age of digital disruption. (March 19-21; Hollywood, Fla.)
IBM Interconnect: Tap into advanced cloud technology. (March 19-23; Las Vegas)
Enterprise Data World: Become a data-driven business. (April 2-7; Atlanta)
Open Networking Summit: Discussion on the future of open source communications technology. (April 7-9; Santa Clara, Calif.)
MuleSoft Connect: Connect apps, data and devices. (April 18-20; San Francisco)
JiveWorld: Strategies and technologies for workplace collaboration. (May 1-3; Las Vegas)
Apttus Accelerate: Perspectives on automating the “quote-to-cash” process. (May 2-4; San Francisco)
Build: Microsoft’s annual conference for software developers. (May 10-12; Seattle)
Signal: Twilio’s annual developer confab. (May 24-25; San Francisco)
Cisco Live: Education for technology innovators. (June 25-29; Las Vegas)