Good morning from San Francisco. While Aspen is amazing, it’s also good to be home. And it’s good to return to be at sea level.
The task of summing up a long, action-packed week feels daunting. (Fortune’s Barb Darrow figured out a way, though, with her incisive “5 Big Takeaways from Fortune Brainstorm Tech.”) Retail was an unintentionally big part of Brainstorm Tech. I mentioned at the start of my interview with Jeff Wilke, head of Amazon’s (AMZN) retail business, that I left a breakfast on retailing, walked into a venture-capital breakfast where the discussion was about retail investments, and then sat down to listen to Brian Cornell, CEO of retail giant Target (TGT). Wilke’s hypothesis: As one of the biggest markets of any kind it’s ripe for change and investments by technologists.
As I look for themes, though, my mind turns not so much to technology as it does to talent, including management talent. I listened, for example, to Jamie Miller, head of GE’s (GE) locomotive, mining and marine business, and came away impressed by the management acumen and admirable ambition she has brought to her job. An accountant by training and then a chief information officer, Miller has the unenviable task of digitally optimizing a 19th-century business. For her digital knowledge, ability to manage a complex organization, and demonstrated ability to move among radically different corporate functions, she just might be an outstanding dark horse candidate to be CEO of Uber.
Many in the room were impressed with Amazon’s management techniques, as described by Wilke. He explained the concept of “separable single-threaded teams” at the retail giant, which is how they refer to their process for keeping teams and individuals focused on discreet projects. People working on Alexa, he said, shouldn’t have to worry about Kindle. That reminded me a lot of Apple, with its “directly responsible individual” and siloed product teams. Great companies tend to have similarities.
Some non-traditional business leaders showed their mettle in Aspen. Not being a wrestling fan, I had never heard of Paul Levesque, executive vice-president for talent and live events at WWE. He’s better known as the wrestling superstar Triple H, and his wife, WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon is better known as the daughter of the legendary WWE founder and CEO Vince McMahon. Listening to these two articulate executives speak, it’s easy to see why WWE is such a success. McMahon spoke about the entertainment company’s shrewd approach to broadcasting its shows. Levesque commented that he can’t stop seeing production value at any event he attends, including a Katy Perry concert. As something of an event promoter myself, that comment resonated.
In a similar vein, our conference got to see a star athlete who clearly is destined to be a star in other arenas: Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks. Sherman is a contributor to Players’ Tribune, a cut-out-the-middleman (a.k.a. sportswriter) site that lets athletes speak directly fans. Sherman is a passionate and eloquent advocate for players’ rights. It’s easy to see a future for him as an investor, executive or even politician when he hangs up his cleats.
One last comment for the ‘keeping things in perspective’ file. Regarding the subject line of yesterday’s email, “Do VCs need a conduct board for sexual harassment?”, I got the following email from a reader: “What the heck is a VC? I searched the entire article for a clue.” Most readers know that VC stands for venture capitalist. But the query was a good reminder for me that a journalist’s job is always to explain and de-mystify.
Here’s wishing you a crystal-clear and relaxing weekend.