Is BP really going ‘beyond petroleum’ this time around?

October 12, 2020, 1:14 PM UTC

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Reinvention is the holy grail of business, both for tech companies trying to bend the arc of the universe and old-line companies desperately attempting to stave off oblivion. Two long years ago, Fortune hosted a conference in Chicago that spotlighted stories of reinvention, realized and aspirational. Some of the companies featured were unambiguous successes and have become more so since: New York Times Co., Microsoft, Slack. More, in retrospect, were putting on a brave face and have slid further: IBM, Wells Fargo, Ford, AT&T, WW International.

Obstacles aside, reinvention is an imperative, for companies and individuals. The world doesn’t stand still. The pandemic has cruelly made this clearer than ever.

Fortune senior editor Beth Kowitt and I have started a podcast expressly to examine reinvention. In our first episode, we pondered the plight of restaurants in a time when crowding indoors isn’t possible. In our latest episode, we revisit Vivienne Walt’s fine feature on BP’s attempt at reinvention. The former British Petroleum recently made a bold goal that amounts to reducing its commitment to oil and gas. Reducing doesn’t mean ending. But it does mean funneling more resources into alternative energy and less into carbon-extraction businesses.

Older business readers will recall that this isn’t BP’s first reinvention rodeo. In the 90s, it tried convincing consumers it had moved “beyond petroleum.” It hadn’t. And that was before Deepwater Horizon. When companies say they are “reinventing,” it is necessary to probe beyond the headlines to know if they are truly changing or more likely putting a fresh coat of descriptive paint on a decaying fence, cheered on by a pliant press and a complicit business lobby.


On Wednesday at 1:30 Pacific, I’m moderating a panel for the Milken Institute’s annual global conference. It’s on the future of investing in software companies and features varying-stage investors Orlando Bravo, Anu Duggal, Anton Levy, and Deven Parekh. When the Milken event happens in person in Los Angeles, it is a high-wattage barrage of tailored suits, bright ties, and liberal dollops of hair product. This year, though participation is limited to registered guests, anyone can watch online. Watch a livestream of my panel here.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


App-extraction-ectomy. Long ago, Google realized it was vulnerable to a couple of its larger rivals that controlled browser software, so it built its own browser, Chrome. Now federal and state antitrust regulators are considering ordering Google to sell its crown jewel, Politico reports. And what an awesome, decade-long court battle that would be! Speaking of awesome court battles, in her first far-reaching decision of the battle between Epic Games and Apple, District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers issued a split verdict on Friday. The judge declined to force Apple to return Fortnite to the iOS app store while the litigation is ongoing, but also forbid Apple from messing with Epic's Unreal Engine game development platform.

Caps for sale. While you've been mulling cider, bobbing for apples, and engaging in other fall foolery, Kberg and the Whit have been busy with more serious business. The Quibi bosses approached Apple, Facebook, and AT&T to see if they wanted to buy the struggling short video service, The Information reports, but there were no takers. While we're on the subject of mobile apps, TikTok wannabe rival Triller is looking to raise some more backing and go public by merging with a SPAC. For Reels?

Pajama coding. The new normal will include the need for less office space, obviously. Exhibit seventy-four zillion: Microsoft chief people officer Kathleen Hogan announced that the software giant would allow many, but not all, of its workers to continue to work from home indefinitely. “It is our goal to offer as much flexibility as possible to support individual work styles, while balancing business needs and ensuring we live our culture,” Hogan wrote. And while at home, we are still buying laptops like crazy. Worldwide PC sales shot up 13% in the third quarter from a year earlier to 79 million devices, research firm Canalys says. That's the highest rate of growth in one quarter since 2010. Lenovo, HP, and Dell continue to hold the top three spots in the market.

You got your peanut butter in my API. Cloud communications specialist Twilio is making its biggest acquisition ever, agreeing to pay $3.2 billion for startup Segment, which helps companies combine data from different sources and different formats.

Vroom-less. The first of Amazon's all-electric delivery vans arrived last week. Built by startup EV maker Rivian, the truck has a pretty standard boxy appearance and a broad front windshield. No word yet on range or other specs. Amazon is planning to put 10,000 of the vans on the road in 2022 and ultimately 100,000 by 2030. Meanwhile, Rivian rival Tesla is getting ready to beta test its full self-driving software next week. The beta will be “limited to a small number of people who are expert & careful drivers,” Elon Musk tweeted on Monday.

Also, clean your damn phone screen!


Physicist Lee Phillips knows a thing or two about software programming, but even he was surprised by how his fellow scientists have embraced a new coding language called Julia. He reports for Ars Technica on this year's (virtual) JuliaCon meeting:

There are presentations on everything from fluid dynamics to brain imaging to language processing. Despite the stunning variety of fields, however, watching the presentations gives a sense of community around a shared attitude that seems to have been influenced by the free software movement.

Everyone’s code is on GitHub. If you are interested in using someone’s algorithm in your research, you can read the source, and you will have access to the latest version as it is developed. Scientists of a certain age will know how vastly different this is from how computational research used to proceed. In the old days, code rarely left the lab.

The Julia community is unified by something else, as well: a shared delight in the magical (this word cropped up more than once) power of Julia to facilitate collaboration and code reuse.


How major conventions likes SXSW and CES are working around the extended pandemic timeline By Chris Morris

Google’s new Nest Thermostat is geared toward smart-home newbies By Jonathan Vanian

The next President will hold a lot of sway over Tesla’s biggest profit center By Shawn Tully

This plant-based ice cream startup celebrated its first summer season during a pandemic By Rachel King

IBM showcases latest A.I. advancements on Bloomberg’s “That’s Debatable” TV show By Jeremy Kahn

A Chinese app managed to scale China’s Great Firewall, then got taken down By Grady McGregor

America’s backwards privacy laws leave women vulnerable By Kathryn Kosmides

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


Can you feel it? We're getting really close to Mars. With no moon in the sky on Tuesday and Mars near its closest approach to the Earth, astronomers say conditions will be perfect for checking out the red planet. So there's something to raise your outlook for this week!

Aaron Pressman


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