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Huawei Reprieve, Tesla Drop, Ford Cuts: CEO Daily for May 21, 2019

Good morning.

Who won the Iron Throne? I confess: I don’t know. I missed the Game of Thrones finale Sunday, and then spent all day yesterday avoiding potential spoilers who wanted to talk about it.

But in my book, the throne belongs to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, whose company now owns HBO, and all the rest of the Time Warner empire. (Apparently, a replica of the iron throne has been installed at AT&T headquarters in Dallas.) My colleague Geoff Colvin calls Stephenson’s integration task “breathtaking in scale and scope.” I agree. At a time when every company is engaged in transformation, Stephenson’s is “the largest transformation underway at any Fortune 500 company.” He’s taking on Disney, Comcast, Apple, Amazon, Netflix—and, of course, Verizon—all at once. As analyst Craig Moffett puts it, “his goal is nothing less than the complete reinvention of the media ecosystem.”

Can he succeed? Given the checkered history of media mergers, and the sheer ambition of this particular task, you would have to say the odds are about as good as defeating the army of the dead at the Battle of Winterfell. But Stephenson has emerged as one of the most interesting business leaders of our times. He deserves credit in particular for his bold plan to retrain the AT&T work force—a model for the modern tech era. He just might pull it off. And in any event, it will be fun to watch.

You can read Geoff Colvin’s fascinating piece on AT&T, which is in the new edition of Fortune magazine but available online this morning, here. And our 2017 story about Stephenson’s pathbreaking training initiative is here.

Also out this morning: Robert Hackett’s piece on the race to develop quantum computing.

More news below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray
alan.murray@fortune.com

Top News

Huawei Exemption

After the Trump administration’s ban on U.S. tech sales to Huawei whacked the shares of suppliers such as Google (down 2%,) Intel (down 3%) and Qualcomm (down 6%), U.S. officials suddenly decided to grant Huawei and its vendors a 90-day reprieve. They will reportedly benefit from a temporary license as of Wednesday. The news provided a breather for Asian markets this morning, though Huawei said it “doesn’t mean much.” Wall Street Journal

Tesla Drop

Tesla shares dropped 2.7% yesterday, marking the ninth trading day in the last ten that has seen the price fall—the total decline is over 20%. The rout followed Tesla’s raising of $2.4 billion in capital earlier this month. Wedbush analyst Dan Ives, who has long been bullish on Tesla, said the issues facing Elon Musk’s electric-car firm now amount to a “code red situation.” Bloomberg

Ford Cuts

Ford is cutting at least 7,000 jobs around the world in an effort to save the company $600 million a year. CEO Jim Hackett: “To succeed in our competitive industry, and position Ford to win in a fast-changing future, we must reduce bureaucracy, empower managers, speed decision-making and focus on the most valuable work, and cost cuts.” Guardian

Dressbarn Shutdown

Ascena Retail Group is shuttering all 650 Dressbarn stores because the women’s clothing chain “has not been operating at an acceptable level of profitability in today’s retail environment.” There’s no timetable for the closures as yet. Ascena’s shares rose 2.5% on the news, having fallen over 60% in the last year. CNBC

Around the Water Cooler

Corporate Tax

New IRS data shows the tax burden is increasingly falling on individuals—corporation tax accounted for just 7.6% of the total take for 2018, which is its lowest share since at least 1960. Individuals paid 57%, and 33% came from employment taxes. Bloomberg

Trump Records

A district judge refused to block the House Democrats’ subpoena for President Trump’s financial records. Trump’s lawyers have a week to appeal the decision. If they fail to stop the subpoena going ahead, Trump’s accountants have to hand over the records, allowing Congress to check the president has not violated the emoluments clause of the constitution. Financial Times

Electric Cars

A survey in the U.K.—carried out by a transport-industry-backed foundation—showed only a quarter of British people would consider buying a fully electric car in the next five years. Why not more? Range is the biggest concern. The U.K. will stop selling conventional fossil-fuel-powered cars and vans by 2040. BBC

Niki Lauda

The three-time F1 champion Niki Lauda has passed away at the age of 70. The Austrian icon barely survived a terrible crash in 1976 at Germany’s Nürburgring track, but was back in action six weeks later, before going on to win two more world titles. Lauda was also an aviation entrepreneur, in 1979 setting up an airline called Lauda Air that ended up getting bought by Austrian Airlines. Telegraph

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer. Find previous editions here, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters here.