Apple is sitting on an unimaginably huge pile of spare cash —roughly $250 billion. This corporate wealth reserve will only grow if and when the Trump administration makes good on its desire to help tech giants repatriate profits that they have stashed overseas to evade U.S. taxes.
What should Apple do with all that money? There are only so many perfect doorknobs a company can buy, after all. In Quartz, David Mattin proposes a suitably grand goal for the company: Fund a giant pilot-test of a universal basic income scheme.
So it was Tech Week for the Trump administration this week! What ended up happening?
(1) We got to see lots of photos of tech executives looking unhappy or perplexed or biting their tongues as they sat next to the president on Monday. Tony Romm in Recode has a good roundup of the discussions about modernizing government tech, federal procurement, and healthcare.
The term “emotional labor” was invented by sociologist Arlie Hochschild to describe the ways workers, particularly women, are expected to put on a happy face in the workplace and for customers. In the future, though, expect to see the phrase “emotional labor” repurposed to describe all the socially skilled, interpersonally intensive jobs that will thrive in an AI-driven world, where anything that can be automated will be (Livia Gershon in Aeon).
Today’s job market is already seeing “growing real-world demand for workers with empathy and a talent for making other people feel at ease.” Salaries haven’t caught up yet — we still underpay people whose jobs involve caring for others — but they will. Meanwhile, we need to rethink how we measure productivity, because right now it fails to account for any kind of “emotional labor.”
It took a shareholder revolt on the part of investors representing roughly 40 percent control of Uber to force out its founding CEO, Travis Kalanick, (Mike Isaac in The New York Times). VC and Uber board member Bill Gurley led the effort to oust Kalanick, despite the CEO’s close grip on a majority of the company’s voting shares (The Washington Post has the details).
After a season of relentless scandal, Kalanick’s departure gives the company its first real chance to press “reset” and see how much can be rescued from his legacy: a wreckage of toxic management and ethical lapses — along, of course, with the creation of a transformational ride-hailing service that has begun to reshape our cities.
Apple’s secrecy is a legendary and defining corporate trait. Like the quasi-government the company is increasingly becoming, it has an extensive program to fight leaks. We know that because, well, somebody leaked a recording of an hour-long presentation on Apple’s campaign (William Turton in The Outline). It turns out Apple employs a global team of leak-stoppers that includes former employees of the NSA, the FBI, the Secret Service, and branches of the U.S. military.
The purpose of all this secrecy, Apple execs insist, is “surprise and delight” among customers when they finally learn of some new Apple product or feature at the time of the company’s choosing. That kind of choreographed product launch has long been an Apple trademark, to be sure. But the company’s insistence on secrecy, like the inward-turning design of its gigantic new headquarters, underscores the increasingly insular nature of Apple’s culture.
Many companies enter the fray for possession of the coveted default seller position on Amazon pages — the seller you end up choosing when you click the big orange “buy” button — but only one can win. Since an estimated 85 to 90 percent of the sales for a given product page go to the winner, it’s a consequential choice. In Buzzfeed, Leticia Miranda lays out how this struggle has evolved, and what criteria Amazon uses to resolve it.
The answers are to some extent opaque: Amazon won’t detail its formula for fear it will get gamed, but says companies can win by “keeping prices low, updating their inventory, and offering multiple shipping methods and fast, reliable service.” Also, it helps if they are Amazon Marketplace veterans and if they ship from Amazon warehouses.
The recent exits of chief executives at General Electric, Ford, and U.S. Steel are the latest indications that “the American era of the baronial chief executive” is over, writes Nelson Schwartz in The New York Times. That’s the result of massive changes in both the nature of the businesses these leaders run and the shape of the jobs that investors, employees, and the public expect them to tackle.
The landscape is full of new forces that make long-term, high-profile tenures like that of Jeffrey Immelt at GE less and less common. One of them is the rise of “activist investors,” who buy up chunks of stock and then make demands for higher profitability that often put a CEO’s strategy and job in jeopardy. Another is the speed of technological change, with advances in artificial intelligence, sensors, and processing beginning to collapse the boundaries between businesses.
Sometimes the day-two and week-two takes on big stories are more valuable to read than the breaking coverage. Here’s a couple of examples.
For Investors, Travis Kalanick Was Great, Until He Wasn’t
Before he became the icon of toxic management and bad-boss behavior that he is today, Travis Kalanick was, in the eyes of the venture capitalists who funded his company, the perfect startup CEO. He had the vision. He had the hard-charging spirit, the “won’t take no for an answer” stance, the “I’ll do anything to win” determination. As long as VCs value “manic, headstrong sociopaths,” we’ll be stuck with more Kalanicks, writes Adrianne Jeffries in The Outline.
“Tech Week” for the Trump administration begins today — although if the effort to set a policy agenda is as ineffectual as the recent “Infrastructure Week,” this might be the last thing you hear about it. Tech CEOs — many of the same faces who trooped to Trump Tower last December, including Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Alphabet/Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt, and a host of others (but no one, apparently, from Facebook) — are gathering at the White House under the auspices of Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner’s American Technology Council (Tony Romm in Recode).
This week, Kushner is slated to bring peace to the Middle East while he also interviews a bevy of lawyers to protect him from the widening net of the Russian election-interference investigation. So he might be a little busy. But the Tech Week agenda is packed too, with issues like modernizing gov tech, cyber-security, and high-skilled immigration. Cook and others will reportedly also raise the topics of privacy and human rights (Axios). We’ll see how far that gets.
If you fear Amazon is about to swallow up the entire retail industry in its hungry online maw, this morning’s news that the company is buying Whole Foods will not reassure you. Amazon intends to pay $13+ billion to buy the high-end organic and luxury supermarket chain that customers love/hatingly refer to as “Whole Paycheck” thanks to its high prices (Bloomberg).
John Mackey, the Whole Foods CEO, would remain in charge of the business. In Texas Monthly profile published this week, Mackey vowed to stick to Whole Foods’ “conscious capitalism” mission despite pressure from equity investors to boost profits or sell the company.