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Data Sheet—Why Even the Best Corporate Leaders Can Be Replaced, Intuit Edition

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Good morning. It is a time of transitions, in the world and in Silicon Valley. The United States has lost a heroic public servant in John McCain. Elon Musk might be entering his realistic phase, acknowledging that he’ll keep Tesla public. (Fewer distractions, more car manufacturing.) And, improbably, Intuit’s CEO of 11 years, Brad Smith, is calling it quits.

Smith, 54, and his success make his retirement improbable. He has guided Intuit from a too-diversified software maker to a focused subscription-service company. Its returns under his leadership have far outpaced the market.

So why leave now?

Smith explained himself as best he could to Fortune’ Geoff Colvin, who repeatedly has chronicled and interpreted Smith’s tenure at Intuit. The Intuit chief, himself a successor to the legendary Silicon Valley coach Bill Campbell, told Colvin it’s time for someone else to lead Intuit and that it’s time for Smith to think about his next chapter. “You are capable of reinventing yourself, as a company or as a leader, while preserving the core of what you are,” Smith told Colvin last week.

Leaders rarely step down just because. McCain, for example, served his country to his last breath, an honorable man and role model at a time when honor and admirable behavior are in horribly short supply in Washington, D.C.

But Smith has shown that even a superbly accomplished business leader isn’t indispensable. A career is about more than service to one company, especially when companies think nothing of dispensing with the services of any one individual.

Intuit will do great things without Smith—who undoubtedly will do more great things outside of Intuit.

Have a great week.

Adam Lashinsky


Prepping the fireworks. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hear from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey at a hearing on September 5 reviewing how the service “monitors and polices content,” chair Rep. Greg Walden said on Friday. Expect Republican lawmakers to make hay with Dorsey’s recent remark that his employees may have a “left-leaning” bias.

Quick action. China’s Didi Chuxing suspended its Hitch carpooling service after a second female customer in three months may have been killed by a driver. The incident occurred in the city of Wenzhou, where a Hitch driver is suspected of killing a passenger on August 24. An earlier killing by a driver happened in May in Zhengzhou.

Small bucks. Back on U.S. soil, American car hailing service Uber potentially has settled a 2017 class action lawsuit over allegedly underpaying thousands of drivers. But the proposed agreement, presented for approval to District Judge William Alsup on Friday, would pay each affected driver just $75. And in one of those interviews that feels like the company may need to clarify later, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi apparently told the Financial Times that the company increasingly will be emphasizing bikes and scooters for customers on short trips. “During rush hour, it is very inefficient for a one-tonne hulk of metal to take one person 10 blocks,” he told the paper.

Wrong number. A hacking attack may have exposed the personal information of about 2 million T-Mobile customers. T-Mobile said the data included including names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, zip codes, and account numbers.

Existential blues. As Adam mentioned, on Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced he would keep the electric carmaker public. The Wall Street Journal has quite a few inside details of the less-than-three-week struggle, including that when Tesla’s board met in a conference room last Thursday, Musk’s sleeping bag was still on the floor. The key to Musk’s change of heart appears to have been the recommendations from his financial advisers about the nature of the deal he’d have to pursue and the investors he’d have to take on. (Spoiler alert: Musk is a not a fan of other car companies.)

Courtly counterpunch. After New York lawmakers cracked down on Airbnb last month, the company is going to court to fight back. Airbnb filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that a part of the new law requiring the monthly disclosure of every rental violates the Constitution and is designed for “intimidating New Yorkers into abandoning homesharing.”


Everyone knows that the biggest and most problematic gatherers of personal data about consumers are tech giants like Google and Facebook, right? Not exactly. As Ian Bogost reports in a historical investigation for The Atlantic, the reason why those tech companies have been able to track and use consumer data so easily is because of the path laid by retailers, banks, credit reporting firms, and (worst of all) data brokers. These pre-Internet companies ensured that no law seriously restricted their ability to vacuum up the most intimate details about consumers and use the information for many purposes. Here’s one almost 20 year old example from Bogost:

In 2012, Charles Duhigg published a watershed article, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets,” about how a team of statisticians at Target figured out how to predict customer behavior and capture their business preemptively. “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that?” the marketing team had asked—and in 2002, before Google had gone public and before Facebook even existed. The company started correlating any customer interaction—purchases, emails, surveys, coupon use, purchases—to a “Guest ID.” Target also purchased data from brokers, which might include consumer habits, political predilections, financial tendencies, and more, and attached them to those IDs. The result allowed the company to make predictions about future consumer habits, and to market to them accordingly. Target was hardly alone in this practice.


Warren Buffett’s Next Investment Will Be a First for Berkshire Hathaway By David Meyer

Tech Giants Convene to Discuss Midterm Election Protections By Chris Morris

An Instruction Book for 3D Printed Guns Was Uploaded to Amazon. Then Amazon Removed It By Natasha Bach

Why a Russian Anti-Vaccine Trolling Operation Failed to Resonate on Twitter By Jonathan Vanian

China’s Alibaba, Tencent Bar Cryptocurrency Transactions on WeChat Pay, AliPay By Lucinda Shen

Smartphones Need Cobalt—But It’s Mined by Children. What Should Manufacturers Do? By Peter Seligmann

‘Mass Shooting’ Erupts During Jacksonville Madden Tournament That Was Being Livestreamed By David Z. Morris


Palmer Luckey is the guy who helped invent the Oculus virtual reality system now owned by Facebook, though he left the company last year. Now he’s out with a review of the somewhat competing headset from Magic Leap. And even if he may be a biased reviewer, he is also a serious and knowledgable reviewer–and an entertaining writer, starting with his headline: Magic Leap Is a Tragic Heap.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.