How Ford Lost $181 Million Betting on a Technology Startup—Data Sheet

July 29, 2019, 1:11 PM UTC

This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

In May, 2016, two months after former Steelcase CEO Jim Hackett left the board of automaker Ford to become head of its “mobility services” unit, Ford invested $182 million in a Silicon Valley company called Pivotal Software. “The investment is part of Ford’s expansion to be both an auto and a mobility company,” Ford said at the time. The emphasis was theirs. Hackett subsequently became CEO of Ford and has staked his tenure on Ford’s mobility future.

It wasn’t altogether clear why Ford needed to own a stake in a cloud software company, which subsequently got on the wrong side of an open-source software push led by Google.  (If you must know more about kubernetes and containers, you might start here.) As a result, Pivotal’s stock, which though public is controlled by computer maker Dell, has plunged. And on Thursday, Ford announced it had marked down the value of its stake by an amount equal to nearly its entire initial investment in the company (Ford says it still owns Pivotal shares worth $170 million). Ford’s shares fell 7% on Thursday on a weak earnings report, including the Pivotal write-down.

It’s yet another story not only of how fast technology moves—Pivotal was an IPO darling just last year—but also how difficult “digital transformation” is. Ford can use all the italics and buzzwords it likes. It is right to play all the latest trends including autonomous vehicles, bike rentals, shuttle bus services (like its now-shuttered Chariot offering), and also to slap the word “mobility” on its efforts.

At the end of the day, though, Ford is really good at making sturdy pickup trucks and marketing them globally. Hackett’s mobility future has yet to arrive.


Some nice writing and a perfect summation of Facebook’s situation, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal: “Facebook’s results show the duality that currently defines the company: It is a punching bag for critics, who pummel it for privacy missteps and misinformation on its platforms, but a darling of investors, who prize the earning power of its targeted advertising.”


When Geoff Colvin wrote about the new AT&T in May, he noted the company’s problematic and massive debt. But with asset sales and its cash flow, the phone-company-turned-media-empire has been chipping away at the net debt, down from more than $180 billion to about $150 billion in the last quarter. Here’s what Geoff tells me: “The company still faces lots of big issues: 1) What happens when its late-to-the-party, high-priced streaming service really rolls out next year; 2) Effects of a combined Sprint-T-Mobile; 3) How it fares in the eternal ground war against Verizon; 4) What happens if there’s a big slowdown or recession?

Adam Lashinsky

On Twitter: @adamlashinsky



Winner, winner, chicken dinner. The great contest with millions of dollars of prize money at stake finished over the weekend and the winner was...16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf, aka "Bugha." Yes, I'm talking about the Fortnite World Cup, the online battle for $30 million that drew some 40 million players and ended Sunday with the final 100 participants at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. In that other globally-watched contest, 22-year-old Egan Bernal became both the youngest-ever winner of the Tour de France and the first winner from Colombia.

A demon on wheels. Next year's Apple iPhone models will all have 5G capability, plugged-in analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts. That's good news for iPhone fans and the wireless industry, which is spending billions to build the super-fast new networks. But in less good news, BMW has started charging customers $80 per year for connecting their iPhones to Apple's Carplay feature in its cars. And in even less good news, Apple contractors are listening to Siri recordings, some unintentional, that have included medical information, drug deals, and couples having sex, The Guardian newspaper reports. "A small portion of Siri requests are analyzed to improve Siri and dictation," Apple explained.

I just want to stand on the podium. The mystery press conference was not much of a mystery. On Friday morning, the Justice Department finally gave its blessing to the Sprint-T-Mobile merger. The carriers agreed to spin off some airwave licenses and Sprint's prepaid business to Dish Network, which–at least in theory–becomes the "new" fourth major carrier. But a lawsuit from 14 attorneys general is still pending. Speaking of giant telcos, in less that four years, startup Reliance Jio has become the largest carrier in India, with 331 million customers, edging ahead of Vodafone last month.

Breezing through. United Airlines invested an undisclosed amount in airport security service Clear, following a similar move by Delta. Top frequent fliers on United will be enrolled for free in the $179-a-year service that uses biometrics to speed passengers through security checkpoints in 31 airports and counting.

Getting the munchies. European food delivery service is acquiring rival Just Eat in a merger valued at about $11 billion. CEO Jitse Groen keeps his title, while Just Eat interim chief executive Peter Duffy is out.

Virtual doctoring. The Department of Health and Human Service's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, is investing $27 million in Spectral MD, a Texas-based startup creating an A.I. systems to help assess burns and other wounds. The money will fund a clinical trial for pediatric patients.

Pay me the money. The $5 billion Facebook settlement with the Federal Trade Commission did not please all of the people all of the time. Nonprofit advocacy group the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, filed a lawsuit challenging the deal.


Why are companies switching to open floor plans and unassigned offices, aka hot desking? Research is pouring in on the trend–and it's not good. Financial Times columnist Pilita Clark was invited to a talk about the benefits of the practice. She was not impressed:

Hot-desking apparently goes cold when workers try to cling on to a desk by sticking a family photo on it or draping a coat over a chair, moves she described as “signs of encampment.”

Rules had been brought in to stem such practices. Anyone away from their desk for more than a couple of hours was supposed to “clean and clear” it. When the coat problem had worsened in winter, “we had to have facilities going around with a gentle reminder.” Disciplinary action was also taken when workers grumbled about the loss of roomy personal cupboards or shelves to stash their stationery and work papers.


Satya Nadella Cheated at ‘Civilization,’ Now He Wants to Conquer Cloud Gaming: A Q&A With Microsoft’s CEO By Jonathan Vanian

Recycling Efforts May Undermine China’s Rare-Earth Monopoly By Eamon Barrett

Hajj Hackers Are Bringing Tech to the Mecca Pilgrimage By Daniel Bentley

Tulsi Gabbard’s Google Lawsuit Is About ‘Paranoia’ Against Big Tech, Says Legal Expert By Alyssa Newcomb

Autonomous Trains Are Ready to Roll By Aaron Pressman

Valuation: I’m a Google Shareholder. Here’s Why I Think More Regulation Would Be Good for Google By Adam Seessel

How Intel Made a 528% Return on China’s New ‘Nasdaq’ By Lucinda Shen


Tonight should be the peak for seeing the Delta Aquarids meteor shower. If you're in an area with clear skies, check out the scattered fireballs. But you'll have to stay up late. Best viewing is around 2 a.m.

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

Read More

Artificial IntelligenceCryptocurrencyMetaverseCybersecurityTech Forward