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Technology is not always the answer.
A ways back I shared a startling takeaway from Phil Wahba’s fine peek into Target’s turnaround: CEO Brian Cornell (who does not look 60) had de-emphasized innovation for innovation’s sake.
Today I write with a similar observation about the possible turnaround at Mattel, where newish CEO Ynon Kreiz (rhymes with “cries”) is emphasizing the toy company’s intellectual property over digitizing play. This is in contrast to Kreiz’s predecessor, the former Google executive Margo Georgiadis, who understandably brought a Silicon Valley mindset to the iconic, if perennially troubled, company.
I first got interested in Kreiz around the time he announced Mattel would make a live-action movie about Barbie, still Mattel’s most important franchise. Kreiz has been around the media block, working for the likes of Haim Saban and (less directly) Bob Iger. He recognized that Mattel could move merchandise better if its great and not-so-great brands got the film-and-TV treatment.
Kreiz has made great strides in cutting costs at Mattel and is pumping life into its moviemaking aspirations, all of which are nascent. He’s not ignoring tech: Hot Wheels, for example, has a new, chip-embedded aspect. But getting a technology edge is difficult, as is building great brands.
Breakingviews.com’s Robert Cyran made a great observation Monday, when eBay announce its sell of StubHub: The online auction pioneer has proven to be a far better venture capital firm than e-commerce operator. eBay blew a big lead to Amazon. But its purchases and investments in the likes of PayPal, Skype, and Flipkart have been world-beating.
Speaking of old, behind-the-curve Silicon Valley companies, here’s a line from the earnings release of HPE—that’s the piece of the old Hewlett-Packard that Xerox is not trying to buy—that no technology company really wants to brag about: “Revenue: $7.2 billion, stable for the last three quarters.”
As tomorrow you’ll hear from Aaron, and after that Data Sheet will take a breather until Monday: Happy Thanksgiving to all.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.
Keep a lid on it. Employee relations at Google aren't getting any better. The company fired four employees for what it described as violations of data security policies. Employees who have been organizing to pressure the company on other policy matters said the fired workers were hit for their activism.
I'm gonna bounce. Your profit margin is my opportunity, wool sneaker edition. Hip sneaker maker Allbirds is complaining after Amazon started selling similar footgear at one-third the price. Allbirds says its kicks are made with renewable materials. "Please steal our approach to sustainability," co-founder Joseph Zwillinger wrote in a post on Medium.
Driving me to distraction. All your personal information isn't just traded by tech giants. The California Department of Motor Vehicles makes more than $50 million a year selling drivers' data, Motherboard reports. In one of the less humorous yet still humorous responses, the agency said: "The DMV takes its obligation to protect personal information very seriously."
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The rise and fall of the company formerly known as WeWork is starting to raise broad questions about the big investor behind the scenes. SoftBank Group, led by its billionaire founder Masayoshi Son, raised a $100 billion fund and then poured money into startups around the globe with seemingly little rigor or analysis. Bloomberg reporters Peter Elstrom and Pavel Alpeyev followed the money in a feature on SoftBank, and what they found won't inspire much confidence in the rest of the $100 billion portfolio.
When SoftBank buys shares in a startup and then invests again at a higher valuation, Son says he has made a profit. That is legal under accounting standards, but SoftBank receives no money. The only change is that SoftBank has boosted the value of its original stake from, say, $1 billion to $2 billion by raising the value of the startup. In SoftBank’s income statements and return calculations, at least some of the additional $1 billion can be counted as profit. "They pump up valuations to get higher returns to look good to investors," says Eric Schiffer, chief executive officer of Patriarch Organization, a Los Angeles-based private equity fund. "That kind of fundraising apparatus is essentially unicorn porn."
ON THE MOVE
Ellen Kullman, former CEO of chemical company DuPont, is taking over at six-year-old 3D-printing startup Carbon, where she has served on the board of directors since 2016...The chief operating officer at Airbnb, Belinda Johnson, is stepping down and will not be replaced. Johnson will join the company's board of directors and Airbnb will hire for a new, lower-ranking position of vice president of operations...Tech equipment maker A10 Networks hired Dhrupad Trivedi as its new CEO to replace former boss and founder Lee Chen, who announced his retirement in July. Trivedi was EVP and CTO at Belden, where he oversaw the company's Tripwire security software unit.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The Seattle Seahawks’ Real Twelfth Man? Amazon Web Services By Chris Morris
Valued at $3.2 Billion, Canva Is Ready to Design a New Future and End ‘Death by PowerPoint’
By Alyssa Newcomb
Exclusive: Facebook, Apple, and Google Among 50 Tech Companies Working to Save America’s Largest Guest Worker Program By Nicole Goodkind
Alibaba’s Hong Kong Debut Is the Biggest IPO of 2019—By Far By Naomi Xu Elegant
CEOs Are Facing Fierce Pressure on Climate Change—From Their Own Kids By Katherine Dunn
Epidemic of Fear: How the Trouble-Ridden Debut of a Breakthrough Vaccine Sparked a Panic By Erika Fry
This French Billionaire Is Closing in on Title of ‘World’s Richest Man’ Following the Tiffany Takeover By Adrian Croft
BEFORE YOU GO
This year's Information is Beautiful Awards came out last week. And the winners are all amazing. Send your imagination soaring with the online version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus, but try not to get too depressed when you view the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Marine Research's interactive maps of plastic polluting our oceans. Writer and "datavisualizer" David McCandless, author of the brilliant design tome Information is Beautiful, has organized the awards series to highlight great dataviz for the past few years.
On Twitter: @ampressman
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