I spent some time yesterday with Chip Paucek, co-founder and CEO of education-tech company 2U, which is rapidly growing its business and now has a market cap approaching $4 billion. Paucek is a reminder that not all good tech companies start on the West Coast. While the Silicon Valley crowd was busy building free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), Paucek spent the last decade in the Washington, D.C. area quietly building a platform that worked with top universities to offer online degrees at full tuition. Today, MOOCs have crashed, while Paucek has a solid business with 32,000 students enrolled since inception, and is growing at 30% a year. Last week, he announced an innovative partnership with WeWork that you can read about here.
While the degrees aren’t cheap—the average cost is $75,000—they do have two huge advantages over traditional schooling: you don’t have to leave home, and you don’t have to quit your job. Those two advantages will become increasingly important as technological disruption accelerates, and as lifelong learning becomes an imperative for workers. While 2U focuses on full degrees, it recently acquired a South African company called GetSmarter that offers shorter courses for working professionals.
“We are where Tesla is for electric cars,” Paucek told me. “The market for education is going to go this way.” Not only do students like the freedom 2U offers, but “employers love it because their people can stay employed” while they go to school.
By the way, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta was part of the Trump entourage to Davos last week, and told people there that his department plans to tackle the training challenge this summer. It’s never too late.
Sony Chief Steps Down
Kazuo “Kaz” Hirai will hand over the reins at Sony to CFO Kenichiro Yoshida at the start of the next financial year. Hirai, who has been at the helm for six years, will become chairman, and strategy chief Hiroki Totoki will move into Yoshida’s post. “Mr. Yoshida combines a deeply strategic mindset with a relentless determination to achieve defined targets, and the ability to take a global viewpoint,” said Hirai. The Verge
CBS-Viacom Merger Talk
CBS’s board has convened a team to “evaluate a potential combination with Viacom Inc.” and Viacom, too, has retained independent legal counsel and financial advisors to look into the idea. For now, there are no guarantees of anything, although mutual parent National Amusements is all for it. The announcements sent both companies’ share prices upwards. Variety
Deutsche Bank Loss
Deutsche Bank has posted its third consecutive annual loss. This time analysts forecast a loss of €290 million ($363 million) but the German banking giant instead lost €497 million. Reasons included a drop in revenue from Deutsche Bank’s investment banking side, “challenging markets,” and the U.S. tax law. Without a tax-reform-based non-cash charge of around €1.4 billion, Deutsche Bank said, it would have instead posted a full-year income of €900 million. Deutsche Bank
Bitcoin’s value continues to take a kicking, thanks to reasons ranging from India planning a ban on using cryptocurrencies for purchases, to continued fears over the possibility that bitcoin prices have been artificially propped up. The price had fallen below $8,250 at the time of writing. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
As controversy rages over the Polish government’s criminalization of suggestions that Poles were complicit in the Holocaust, Politico’s Jan Cienski shares family recollections of that time in order to demonstrate the complexity of the situation. His grandparents helped to hide Jews from the Nazis, but the fugitives were eventually spotted and betrayed by other Poles. Politico
China and the Catholic Church
Pope Francis will reportedly lift the excommunications of seven state-appointed Chinese Catholic bishops. If true, this may lead to the Chinese government accepting his legitimacy as head of the Catholic Church in the country, and perhaps a reunification of the state-controlled church and the underground church that is loyal to Rome. Wall Street Journal
Belt and Road Courts
When disputes arise between Chinese companies and their counterparts in other markets, who will settle them? According to China, the answer lies in new “international courts” sited in Beijing, Xián and Shenzhen. Many companies are understandably concerned that these courts might favor Chinese companies. What happens next may be crucial in characterizing China’s “Belt and Road” foreign infrastructure-building initiative. CNBC
Zuma Tries to Hang On
South African President Jacob Zuma is reportedly determined to present the annual State of the Nation address on Thursday, despite growing calls to remove him from office. His ANC party has a new president in the form of Cyril Ramaphosa, and the scandal-engulfed Zuma is certainly on his way out at some point. The question now is how long he will try to hang onto his position, even if it means risking impeachment and losing all his presidential benefits as a result. Mail & Guardian