Steel Twist, Facebook Privacy, Autonomy Conviction: CEO Daily for May 1, 2018
Humility isn’t a trait typically associated with self-made billionaires. That’s doubly true for buccaneering types like Brazilian beer and food magnate Jorge Paulo Lemann, who made his bones as a ruthless cost-cutter. His 3G Capital is infamous for its efficiency techniques, applied to great effect at Anheuser-Busch, Burger King, and Heinz, now Kraft Heinz.
Yet there was Lemann in Los Angeles Monday at the Milken Institute Global Conference humbly admitting where he’d gone wrong. On a panel to discuss “strategy and leadership in an age of disruption,” Lemann, who is 78, called himself a “terrified dinosaur” whose companies had missed changing tastes and innovation in the marketplace.
Consumer demand for different foods delivered to their homes have hammered Kraft, he noted. (Bloomberg BusinessWeek summarized this well recently.) Craft beers caught his AB InBev by surprise. He said consumer companies like Starbucks, Nike, and Zara had done an admirable job of innovating, better than the companies he controls. (I asked if he’d buy any of them; he said he hadn’t considered that.)
Don’t feel too sorry for Lemann, who is hardly panicking. He noted that his beer empire has now bought upwards of 20 craft brands. AB InBev’s Zx Ventures scouts ways the company can disrupt itself. Given his success, Lemann also doesn’t lack for confidence. “I’ve had many careers,” he said. “I’ve adjusted,” he added, implying he’ll do so again when necessary. (Forbes has a comprehensive write-up of the panel.)
Another big company that has had to adapt, and do it humbly, is Wells Fargo. CEO Tim Sloan, on the same panel, said the scandal-plagued bank became complacent several years ago but won’t let it happen again. He said Wells is “very far along” in putting its problems behind it.
Sloan also gave a nifty internal innovation example of how Wells has begun auto-filling mortgage applications for customers, eliminating a common pain point (read: annoyance) in the borrowing process. He said the century-plus-old-company realized it couldn’t speedily design the product itself, so it turned to Blend, a San Francisco startup, for help.
President Donald Trump has at the last minute delayed the imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs on U.S. allies such as the European Union. The EU was set to be hit today, but now has until the start of June to come up with a new agreement with the White House that could ward off tariffs. The same deadline applies to Canada and Mexico, although this extension to Trump's self-imposed deadline was anticipated. Wall Street Journal
Facebook just can't stay out of the limelight regarding privacy. Now Jan Koum, the CEO of Facebook-owned WhatsApp, has quit. According to the Washington Post, he clashed with Facebook management over Facebook's attempts to use WhatsApp users' personal data and "weaken its encryption." WhatsApp uses very strong encryption that has led to issues with law enforcement in countries such as Brazil. Another co-founder, Brian Acton, recently joined the #DeleteFacebook movement after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. WaPo
Sushovan Hussain, the former chief financial officer of British software firm Autonomy, has been found guilty of fraud for his role in inflating the company's financial position before its sale to Hewlett Packard. It's the first conviction in the long-running legal battle over the sale—HP wrote off most of the value of the $11 billion purchase in 2012, claiming it had subsequently uncovered accounting irregularities. Hussain's lawyers say he will appeal the San Francisco federal court's ruling. BBC
Stormy Sues Trump
Stephanie Clifford—better known as porn star Stormy Daniels—is suing President Trump for defaming her in a tweet last month. In the context of a (now on-hold) suit against Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, Clifford released a sketch of a man who she said threatened her, telling her to remain silent over her alleged affair with Trump. The president tweeted that the man was non-existent and the sketch a "total con job." Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
Netanyahu on Iran
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done another one of his grand presentations, this time claiming that Israel has "new and conclusive proof" that "Iran lied, big time, after signing the nuclear deal in 2015." Experts say Netanyahu did not actually present anything that wasn't known before the Iran deal. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the documents displayed by Netanyahu are real, but as for whether they prove Iran's non-compliance with the terms of the deal, he'll "leave that to lawyers." NBC
Mnuchin on Rusal
Oleg Deripaska's Rusal has been hit hard by U.S. sanctions on Deripaska, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the aim isn't to put the aluminum giant out of business. However, Mnuchin said Deripaska must reduce his holding in Rusal to below 50%. Deripaska has agreed "in principle" to reduce his stake in En+, the vehicle through which he controls Rusal. Bloomberg
Trump and Bill Gates
Microsoft founder Bill Gates says Trump asked him whether he would be interested in becoming his top science advisor. The directorship of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has remained vacant since the end of the Obama presidency (former director John Holdren says Trump is a "science and technology talent repellent.") Gates's response? "That's not a good use of my time." Fortune
Gas prices are likely to rise this summer, thanks to rising crude oil prices. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects prices of around $2.74 a gallon, versus the $2.41 average earlier this year. "This will be the most expensive driving season since 2014," said Tom Kloza, the head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service. Associated Press