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The great Jerry Useem—that’s how we referred to him when he worked at Fortune a publishing world eon ago—has a marvelous profile of Ford CEO Jim Hackett in the March issue of The Atlantic. I recommend it for its delicious nugget of insight, that Hackett is effectively a new kind of industrial-company leader, the “UX designer” as CEO.
Hackett is a proponent of design thinking, the approach to product design that says user experience, or UX, is paramount. Features are great so long as users use them. Otherwise they aren’t so great. That Ford would put a guy in charge of the storied institution whose chief virtue is his intellectual framework for listening to customers speaks volumes to the ascendancy of the concept. (I covered some similar ground in my own profile of Hackett about 18 months ago, shortly after the former Steelcase executive was tapped to run Ford.)
Profiles of Hackett tend to end with the ultimate “to be sure” derogation. To wit: To be sure, no matter how clever his ideas Hackett has yet to distinguish himself financially. Ford’s stock is off nearly 30% since I wrote about the company, compared with a 10% jump in the overall market. Ford Chairman Bill Ford, a former CEO himself, personally recruited Hackett as chairman. Still, Hackett can only last so long if the company’s stock remains a single-digit embarrassment. (It trades below $9 a share.) Many have noted that Ford is worth less than Tesla on the stock market. That delta is a shocking $15 billion (including debt, however, Ford is still worth almost triple Tesla).
It’s a good day to talk about design thinking, by way. This morning in Singapore Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference began. It’s a conclave of businesspeople who apply design in their work. It’s also a fascinating collection of people, and you can follow the proceedings at Fortune.com.
Absentee ballot. Canada’s new transparency rules for political ads are too difficult for Google to meet, so the search giant says it won’t accept any such ads for the upcoming 2019 elections there. “It is painful for us,” Google Canada’s head of public policy Colin McKay says. Separately, a particular group of male software engineers at Google was underpaid relative to their female counterparts, the company said on Monday. They were an undisclosed portion of almost 11,000 Google employees who got a total of $10 million of pay adjustments in 2018.
Cold case. The FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are said to be looking into the implosion of Quadriga, a cryptocurrency exchange that has been unable to account for at least $136 million in customer funds since the mysterious death of its 30-year-old CEO in December. After the death of Gerald Cotten, the company said he was the only person able to unlock large reserves of customer cryptocurrency—implying the funds are now gone forever.
To the quick. After 5G wireless and Wi-Fi 6, the folks behind the USB connection standard must have felt left out. They’ve come up with a USB 4 standard, which it appears will use the same USB-C ports that work for USB 3 devices. Oh yeah, and the top speed for data transfer doubles to 40 Gbps.
Slipping in. Cybersecurity is tough, but it shouldn’t be this tough. I found this headline hard to avoid clicking: “IBM interns find 19 vulnerabilities in corporate check-in systems.”
Making friends and influencing people. Wondering how Apple products have avoided becoming ensnared in the trade war between the United States and China? It’s at least partly because CEO Tim Cook and his team worked their tails off lobbying to avoid tariffs on the iPhone. The South China Morning Post has a behind-the-scenes story. Perhaps in the same vein, Microsoft hosted First Lady Melania Trump on Monday as part of her campaign against cyberbullying.
Lock down. The wide open ecosystem of podcasting has spurred growth in programming but not so much in ad dollars. New startup Luminary, backed by $100 million of venture capital, has a new idea: a closed ecosystem.
ON THE MOVE
As AT&T this week reorganized its vast entertainment properties acquired in the Time Warner deal, the company appointed former NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt as head of programming…Mehmood Khan, Pepsi’s co-vice chairman and chief scientific officer, is retiring and joining Boston anti-aging startup Life Biosciences as CEO…Cannabis review site Leafly hired Amazon vice president for Prime Video International Tim Leslie as its new CEO. Prior CEO Chris Jeffrey was removed by the board last year due to “concerns about his management”…Online music gear marketplace Reverb hired Kristen Cho as chief marketing officer from Luxury Garage Sale where she was also CMO.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
While employees at tech companies fret about projects for the military, the military has a lot more projects it would like tech companies to tackle. That’s one theme that emerges from Wired editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson’s long and winding interview with Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics. In an earlier Pentagon role, Roper started Project Maven, the controversial effort to use A.I. to analyze drone footage that got some Google employees up in arms. One upcoming project involves building self-flying fighter jets, Roper explains:
So we’ve got a group working for us and they’re working on a program called Skyborg—cute name—that is exploring that concept. What do smaller, unmanned tactical air vehicles look like? How should they be built? How should we integrate them with the F-35, for instance, which is able to network with other systems. I think it’d be pretty cool to explore an F-35 that is able to control small or tactical vehicles that are around it or ahead of it.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Does Design Pay Off? Yes. (And There’s Data to Prove It.) By Robert Horn
MIT’s MiniCheetah Robot Flips People (and Itself) Out By Alyssa Newcomb
BEFORE YOU GO
Everyone wants to snap the most amazing photo that will blow away their friends on Instagram, even grandmothers. But Judith Streng suddenly found herself swept out to sea in Iceland after posing for a cool pic of herself seated on a glacier. Be careful out there.