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 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. 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 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.
Global domination watch. Amazon’s march to conquer the retail world took another step forward, with Sears agreeing to sell its Kenmore appliance line on Amazon’s site. Sears shares jumped 11%, but the stock prices of appliance retailers Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Best Buy all fell. The march is also drawing more scrutiny from federal antitrust regulators reviewing Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, however. Reuters reported that regulators have made informal inquiries about a complaint alleging Amazon posts fake list prices on some products to make its own “discount” prices appear more significant. Amazon called the study “deeply flawed.”
Global lawman watch. A considerably more formal investigation has led to the worldwide takedown of two sites on the so-called dark web that were facilitating sales of drugs, firearms, hacking tools and other contraband. Authorities from the U.S. to Lithuania to Thailand cooperated on the effort to close AlphaBay and the Hansa Market.
Global fish tank watch. Hackers used security holes in the set up of a major casino’s “smart” Internet-connected fish tank to infiltrate its computer network. “Once they were in the fish tank, they scanned and found other vulnerabilities and moved laterally to other places in the network,” explained Justin Feir, director for cyber intelligence at security firm Darktrace, which disclosed the incident without naming the casino involved.
Global earnings watch. Microsoft’s quarterly earnings and revenue beat analysts expectations, fed by CEO Satya Nadella’s cloud-first strategy. One milestone reached last quarter: cloud-based Office 365 apps brought in more revenue than the traditional version of Office for the first time. Total adjusted revenue rose 9% to $24.7 billion. Microsoft shares, up 19% this year and touching an all-time high of $74.30 on Thursday, were about unchanged in premarket trading on Friday.
Global earnings watch, part II. eBay had sales and profits about in line with what Wall Street expected for its last quarter, but the e-commerce site’s tip about the next quarter was a little lighter than analysts were anticipating. eBay’s shares, up 25% so far this year, lost 4% in premarket trading on Friday.
Global tunnel watch. Tesla CEO Elon Musk caused a Trump-like kerffule on Thursday when he tweeted he had “verbal government approval” to build his underground Hyperloop transportation system from New York City to Washington, D.C. Big city mayors on the route quickly said they’d heard nothing of this. Then the White House told Bloomberg it may have been the one giving verbal approval. And Musk tweeted later he still had a lot of work left to get “formal approval.”
Global smartphone watch. Samsung sent out invitations to an August 23rd press conference in New York City, where it’s expected to launch the new Galaxy Note 8. The predecessor Note 7 was recalled after battery flaws led to overheating and exploding phones.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
YouTube’s TV Service Is Now Available in These 10 New Cities by Jonathan Vanian
Judge Blasts IRS Over Bitcoin Probe, Lets Coinbase Customer Fight Summons by Jeff John Roberts
How Twitter Is Stepping Up Its War Against Online Abuse by Tom Huddleston, Jr.
GoDaddy Pulls the Plug on Its Amazon-Like Cloud Business by Jonathan Vanian
Steve Jobs Opera Premieres This Weekend by Chris Morris
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Podcasting will continue to grow in popularity, if our e-mailbag over the last week is any indication. I asked for your suggestions following my four and I got quite a few good ones. Thanks for all the input. A couple of well known and wonderful podcasts got multiple nominations. I’ll just call them out: Planet Money, Freakonomics Radio, and the Leadership Podcast.
Then I checked out some that I hadn’t previously known. Here are a few less-well-known suggestions:
—In Our Time. BBC host Melvyn Bragg discusses the history of ideas with a wide range of guests.
—Note to Self. From WNYC in New York, this show focuses on the human and every day implications of technology.
—Office Hours. Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff sits down to talk with other chief executives and business leaders.
—99% Invisible. This podcast seeks to delve into “the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about—the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.”
So, thanks again to everyone who wrote in and keep the feedback coming.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few interesting longer reads I came across this week, suitable for perusing over the weekend. The first one is particularly good, but have a box of tissues on hand, it’s a real tear jerker.
A Son’s Race to Give His Dying Father Artificial Immortality
“My father receives his cancer diagnosis on April 24, 2016. A few days later, by happenstance, I find out that PullString is planning to publicly release its software for creating conversational agents. Soon anybody will be able to access the same tool that PullString has used to create its talking characters. The idea pops into my mind almost immediately.”
How Lyft Could Defeat Uber
“Just about everyone who has ever read a children’s book knows the fable of the tortoise and the hare. That’s the one about the footrace in which the cocky hare sprints ahead, leaving his reptilian rival behind in a cloud of dust and trash talk—and then takes an overconfident nap before reaching the finish line, allowing the plodding tortoise to win in a blaze of slow-but-steady glory.”
The Tiny Satellites Ushering in the New Space Revolution
“Thanks to modern software, artificial intelligence, advances in electronics and materials, and a generation of aggressive, unconventional entrepreneurs, we are awash in space startups. These companies envision an era in which rockets take off daily, filling the skies with satellites that sense Earth’s every action—in effect building a computational shell around our planet. The people constructing this bustling new economic highway promise it will improve life down below, but the future they describe is packed with wonder and controversy in equal measure—and although few have noticed, it’s coming to pass right now.”
10 Years Ago, Mad Men Began a Story of Men Who Tried to Change—and the Women Who Actually Did
“For as much as Mad Men was about the cyclical frustrations of petty men, it was also about the determination and creativity of women. Just as much as Mad Men knew Don Draper would never change, it discovered that its women—especially Peggy and Joan—were destined to take the kinds of journeys he never could.”