The Mouse is Going After the Fox; Dollar Wise for Fast Food; A Wrinkle in Allergan’s Plan

Fox-y mouse…

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Today’s juicy merger gossip is brought to you by Fox and Disney. Apparently, a deal is thisclose that will have Disney scooping up Fox’s studio and television production assets. The deal, which is rumored to be worth about $60 billion, will also include the acquisition of Fox’s stakes in Hulu and Sky. As for its news and sports division, Disney is taking a pass on those entities. But Disney isn’t the only one with its sights set on Fox. Comcast and Verizon are also trying to get in in some Fox action. It’s just that right now Disney seems to be getting the best crack at the media conglomerate. Wall Street seems to like the news considering it sent shares of Fox up over 3%. But the question you might be wondering about is why Disney even needs  $60 billion worth of Fox’s assets? Doesn’t it have more than enough of its own? Well,  yes, it does. However, in case you missed it, the entertainment industry is changing, with a big push towards streaming and direct to consumer models and believe it or not, picking up those particular assets over at Fox will give Disney a much much bigger global reach. And who couldn’t use some more global reach, right?

Bucking the trend…

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Fast food restaurants are engaged in a bloody dollar war. But that just means good news for consumers. McDonald’s is bringing back its dollar menu, which it ditched just four years ago because it didn’t pull down the kind of cash McDonald’s wanted to see. As for the term “dollar,” well that might be a bit generous in its definition. To be clear, the fast-food chain is offering the $1-$2-$3 Dollar Menu. If you’re in the mood for a sausage burrito, cheeseburger or any-size soft drink, well then, feel free to fish out that dollar bill that’s burning a hole in your wallet. Otherwise, prepare to shell out more. Not to be left out of the fast food fiscal fun, Burger King and Wendy’s are also trying to woo you with their version of “value” menus. But it’s Taco Bell that’s really taking aim at the Golden Arches with 20 items listed for just a dollar.  For McDonald’s, the cheapy menu is its answer to win back customers. The company apparently lost out on some “500 million transactions” because it didn’t have a value menu. Ironically, or not, Taco Bell’s dollar menu actually generated $500 million in sales. To make up for the lack of profitability that comes with McDonald’s having a value menu, the chain is expanding its “Signature Crafted Recipes” – which is really just code for more expensive menu items that will offset the value items.

A wrinkle in time…

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There’s a new Botox sheriff in town and Allergan doesn’t like it. Not one bit. Enter Revance Therapeutics Inc., a small biotech company that holds the formula for RT002, aka “the better, longer-lasting botox.” If it’s approved people can start sticking their faces with the stuff as early as 2020. Which is great news for everyone. Well, everyone except for Allergan, the pharmaceutical giant behind Botox, the original, whose stock fell over 4% on the news today. In fact, today Allergan hit its lowest price since 2013, after losing a third of its value in the last five months. And, while RT002 uses the same main ingredient for wrinkle reduction as Botox does, that being botulinum toxin Type A, it also uses the company’s proprietary peptide technology, which is apparently the reason why this particular formula lasts about a month longer than Botox.  In any event, Allergan wasn’t especially impressed by Revance’s new data released today and called it “underwhelming.” As for Allergan’s response, you could probably just call it sour grapes.

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Alaska Airlines Giving the Boot to Virgin America Brand; So Not Cool-atta: Frozen Drink Going Away; Disney Can’t Shake Iger. And it Doesn’t Seem to Want to

So long…

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If you’re anything you’re like me, then I bet you look forward to those fun safety videos played on Virgin America flights. But alas, come 2019, those videos might just become a sweet memory as Alaska Airlines plans to retire the Virgin America brand at that time. Apparently, extensive accounting research was done to arrive at this conclusion. That conclusion being that if Alaska Airlines wants to be successful on the West Coast after throwing down $2.6 million to merge/acquire Virgin America, then it would be prudent to stick with one name. And considering that Alaska Airlines is the one paying all that money, it’s only fair, I suppose, that it should get to stick with its own name. Alaska Airlines, however, has promised to keep the mood lighting, music and other features that made Virgin America more fun than other airlines. Virgin America will be joining the not-so-distinguished-anymore ranks of Continental Airlines and US Airways, whose names also used to grace airports all over the country. Once the merger is finalized, Alaska Airlines will have the dubious distinction of being the fifth largest airline in the country.

Just not good enough…

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After much soul-searching and presumably a lot of accounting research – Dunkin’ Donuts is ditching the Coolatta drink that refreshed so many parched palates over the years. The official word on why Dunkin’ Donuts is ditching the beverage is because it “…isn’t good enough.” It doesn’t get more scientific than that. But fear not Dunkin’-lovers, as the donut chain will not leave you empty-handed and un-caffeinated. Enter the “Frozen Dunkin’ Coffee.” Sure the name lacks the “cool” vibe of its predecessor, but its rumored to have a lot more coffee in it. In fact, part of the push for the new beverage has to do with the fact that special new brews are all the rage right now. And naturally Dunkin’ wants to cash in on that momentum. Also be on the lookout for the Dunkin’ Energy Punch and the Caramel Shaved Ice Espresso, among other new offerings. As for social media, plenty of Dunkin devotees didn’t take too kindly to the announcement with one disgruntled Coolatta drinker writing: “@DunkinDonuts getting rid of the coffee coolatta? Are you insane?” Nuff’ said.

So hard to say goodbye…

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Apparently Disney is super pleased with Bob Iger’s performance since the House of Mouse just extended the CEO’s contract until 2019 (when the Virgin America name will be retired. Coincidence? I think not. Really. I don’t) Actually it’s because Disney still hasn’t found a suitable replacement for Iger. The plan was for Iger to only stay on in his post until 2018. But since there’s no heir in the wings just yet, it was thought best to hold onto him until that could be determined. Former Disney COO Tom Staggs was rumored to be the one to fill that role, but then he left, leaving Disney to go back to the drawing board. This is the third time an extension was added to Iger’s contract. And who can blame Disney. Whoever replaces Iger is going to have some massive shoes to fill and will constantly find themselves being compared to a CEO whose leadership the board calls “outstanding.” In fact, under this outstanding leadership for the last ten years, Disney became the first movie studio to hit the $7 billion ceiling for global box office receipts. News of this latest extension sent the company stock up. Which makes perfect sense since during Iger’s tenure, investors took in a 448% return on Disney shares.

Tesla Banks a Profit. Finally; Twitter’s Getting Rid of Employees Despite a Beat; Latest IPO Fails to Wow Wall Street

Booyah!

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Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk is super-pleased with himself after his electric car company posted a quarterly profit for the second time since the company went public. The first time that happened was waaaaay back in 2013. And Musk is banking on the fact that he can pull it off again next quarter. The news was particularly welcome to Musk since he is eager to merge Tesla with his other company, SolarCity. Except investors aren’t as enthusiastic about the prospect or presumably the $2.6 billion cost of the merger. But come November 17 Musk is going to find out if shareholders will have a change of heart and are willing to embrace the move when a vote takes place. In any case, Tesla’s profit came in at a very lofty $21.9 million with a record $2.3 billion in revenue. That would be a 145% increase over last year’s same quarter revenue. Yes you read that right.  The company also scored 14 cents per share when analysts only expected 4 cents. Add that to the fact that last year the stock lost 58 cents per share and we’ve quite a nice comeback story. So what made this quarter different from all other quarters? Ramped up production of Tesla’s Models S sedans and Model X Crossovers. With Musk urging employees to move the vehicles with all their heart and soul, a 92% increase was seen on deliveries of 25,185 cars. But it wasn’t just the current crop of cars that contributed to Tesla’s winning quarter. Apparently, 373, 000 people already pre-ordered the $35,000 Model 3, which won’t even hit the streets until 2017.

Boohoo…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Twitter announced its third quarter results and yet again, failed to impress anybody. One of the more significant highlights, or rather lowlights, is the company’s decision to lose about 9% of its workforce, or roughly three hundred employees, out of over 3,800 worldwide. That number could go higher but the ultimate goal is to help the company reorganize sales, partnerships and marketing efforts. And who doesn’t like to reorganize, right? The social media company did manage to pull down revenues of $616 million, beating estimates of $605.5 million. Some might consider that an impressive achievement. Except it’s not, since it marked Twitter’s ninth straight quarter of declining growth. And while the company also earned 13 cents per share, once again beating estimates of just 9 cents, growth of monthly active users stayed relatively flat, despite all kinds of exciting new changes.  In the meantime, both Disney and Salesforce.com have passed on potentially acquiring Twitter, as CEO Jack Dorsey said that he’s done talking about reports of possible acquisitions.

That’s NYSE…

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Chinese company ZTO Express made its big Wall Street debut today but failed to dazzle the Street. Unlike the Chinese IPO darling of 2014, Alibaba, ZTO dished out over 72 million shares for $19.50 a pop, only to open today for the first time on the New York Stock Exchange at $18.40. The stock later slid even lower to $17.70. But considering that the company’s original range fell between $16.50  – $18.50, its slide isn’t exactly tragic. Just disappointing. In any case, ZTO still managed to raise $1.4 billion and the company plans to use $720 million of that to purchase more trucks, land, facilities and equipment. In other words, big expansion plans are in the works. As a package delivery company, it handled close to 21 billion parcels just in 2015. It should come as no surprise, however, that ZTO’s main business deals with delivering shipments for Alibaba. In fact, Alibaba accounted for 75% of ZTO’s business in the first half of the year.  You might be wondering why Chinese companies like to list on stock exchanges in the United States. Well, for one, there are currently about 800 companies lined up in China who have filed applications to list on indexes on the country’s indexes.  It’s a considerably slower process and some feel it’s less reliable. Besides, given the volatility of the Chinese economy, raising money in U.S. dollars as opposed to a weaker Chinese currency only sweetens the pot for plenty of companies.

Mylan CEO Using New Math; End for Land’s End CEO; Mousy Talk on Twitter

Miss-stated…

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Let’s give it up for Mylan CEO Heather Bresch for providing us with some fiscal humor today. In case you missed it, she told Congress last week that poor little Mylan only makes $50 on each EpiPen 2 pack for which it charges $600. But the darndest thing happened. It seems that, for some strange reason, when Mylan calculated its sales and profit figures to present to Congress, the pharmaceutical company applied a statutory U.S. tax rate of 37.5%. Which is so weird because Mylan re-domiciled in the Netherlands in order to pay less taxes. In fact, last year Mylan paid a rate of 7.4%. And that’s even weirder because at that rate, Mylan’s profits come in closer to $160 per pack. The company sells over 4 million packs a year. If that’s not a $240 million arithmetic discrepancy, then I don’t know what is. Several members of Congress had strong opinions on Ms. Bresch’s capacity for honesty and presumably, math.  Representative Buddy Carter (R-GA), who as luck would have it is also a pharmacist in real life, called Mylan’s creative pricing a “shell game.” Shares of Mylan dropped a smudge.  Oh well.

Vattene!

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After less than two years on the job, Lands’ End CEO Federica Marchionni is out effective immediately. The now-ex CEO, who held posts at Dolce and Gabbana and Ferrari, just couldn’t seem to bring a luxurious vibe to a very middle America brand. Go figure. To be fair, the Wisconsin-based company is giving her credit for helping Lands’ End sow the seeds towards becoming a global lifestyle brand.  Which is incredibly heart-warming.  She probably didn’t help her cause when she interviewed Gloria Steinem for the company’s Spring catalog. At first she ticked off the anti-abortionists just for featuring the iconic yet controversial figure. After all, the company does sell a lot of uniforms to Catholic schools.  I’m pretty sure there’s a joke in there, but I’m not inclined to look for it. Then she managed to tick off the pro-choicers when she apologized to the anti-abortion activists for writing about Steinem in the first place. You can’t win, I tell you.  In the end, however, it did all come down to money, and Ms. Marchionni didn’t really make any for the company. Lands’ End sales were down 7% last year while shares were down 33% for the year. To add insult to fiscal injury, shares are down again today 11%, perhaps because the company now finds itself looking for its third CEO in just over two years.

Tweet tweet, squeak squeak…

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Could Twitter be going to the rodents? That might not be such a bad thing if word on the street – Wall Street, that is – is true.  Rumor has it that Disney is making a play for the social media company along with Google and Salesforce. Shares have been going up on the news since Friday and those shares need all the help they can get as Twitter continues its struggle to increase revenue. But the House of Mouse rumblings seem to have the most traction with talk that the company is currently working on a potential bid for Twitter. Interestingly enough, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sits on the Disney board so an acquisition isn’t so far-fetched. And since Disney’s biggest biz, cable television, has been losing ground to online streaming services, Disney Chief Bob Iger has been investing heavily in tech, thereby making a Twitter acquisition a very logical move. Twitter itself is looking to evolve into a bona fide media company, already offering live streaming NFL Thursday Night Football and the Presidential debates that air tonight. That focus will fit in nicely at Disney. Twitter’s hoping an acquisition deal will put the company’s value at a meaty $30 billion.  And who doesn’t like the sound of $30 billion?

Walmart’s Feeling Very Merry; Walmart’s Also Getting Grinchy; Campbell’s: Carrot’s Not Good Food!

Drones, scooters, lip gloss trucks…oh my!

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Those are just some of the goodies that are on Walmart’s top 25 toys for the holiday season. Wait! WWWWhhhhaaat? We didn’t even feast at our Labor Day barbecues yet and already the largest U.S. retailer is already gearing up for Christmas? Well, who can blame Walmart, after all? It has to compete against Toys R Us, Target, but most importantly, Amazon. In all fairness, there are only 114 days left until Christmas.  The toy industry sees 70% of annual sales occurring in the last two months of the year. No reason why that percentage can’t be increased. So it makes sense that Walmart is pulling out all the stops to upset the competition. Starting tomorrow you can even begin putting your holiday shopping on layaway. Just as long as the item(s) are a minimum of $50. Since toys that are inspired by movies outperform other toys by A LOT, Walmart is betting big on Star Wars, Disney and those ever-industrious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Input for the top 25 toys came from kids between the ages of 1.5 years old to twelve years old, whose faves included a Star Wars Electronic R2D2 and a Num Noms Lip Gloss Truck. Personally I could go for both. Six of the top 25 toys will be exclusive to Walmart, with another 400 more exclusives that didn’t break the top 25. Nothing like a little exclusivity to gain that retail edge, right?

In other Walmart news…

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On the heels of expanding its layaway program, the country’s largest private employer will be laying off 7,000 of its employees. Those employees will hail from the ranks of accounting and invoicing. But don’t be so quick to judge. There’ll be plenty of time for that later. By cutting those 7,000 jobs, Walmart can hire more employees to work in its stores in customer-facing positions. Hey, don’t knock it. It’s the one-thing Amazon can’t do as well given its online domination. And no doubt, if those 7,000 employees want customer-facing roles, its likely Walmart will find a place for them. I think. The irony just warms the heart, doesn’t it? This latest initiative began in the summer, when 500 stores eliminated three administrative positions. The test was to determine if the functions of those positions could be redistributed to other employees, with some even being replaced by machines. Unfortunately for those whose jobs were eliminated, the test worked. Walmart made a huge push shifting spending to employees who work in the stores stocking shelves and dealing with customers. Walmart already plunked down $2.7 billion for wage increases to boost the wages of those employees. There must be something to be said for that approach as the retailer reported 79 weeks of rising customer satisfaction, eight straight quarters of increased sales and improved traffic.

That darn carrot!

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The world’s largest soup maker, Campbell’s Soup, reported smaller than expected adjusted profit for its fourth quarter. But the real story is the culprit behind that disappointing profit…carrots. Yes. Carrots. After all, how can you trust a vegetable that looks prettier than it tastes? Four years ago Campbell’s Soup bought Bolthouse Farms for $1.55 billion in order to expand its fresh and organic offerings. But this year a drought in California put quite the damper on the season’s carrot crop that led to lower sales of carrots – because of their higher-than-normal prices – and carrot-based products. Then there was that pesky recall of its protein drinks that also took those earnings on a very unpleasant dive. Campbell’s reported an $81 million net loss. However, that was tied to a $141 million pre-tax impairment charge from writing down the value of Bolthouse Farms. But still. The loss was painful. If that weren’t bad enough, the company also forecast earnings that were not what analysts were hoping to see. Instead of raking an estimated $3.15 for the year, Campbell’s only expects to take in between $3.00 and $3.09. Wall Street is so not into earnings forecast reductions. But Campbell’s still felt confident enough to raise its quarterly dividend from 31.2 cents to 35 cents. So maybe soup is good food after all.

Michael Kors Department Store Diss; Disney Swims to Great 3Q; Ralph Lauren Hits and Misses and Hits

More bag for your buck…

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Michael Kors is biting back at the hand that feeds it: department stores. The accessories company is blaming them for its recent losses, fed up with the constant discounts department stores are putting on Michael Kors merchandise. In case you haven’t noticed there is nary a moment when Michael Kors products are not discounted. I dare you to prove that one wrong. The fact that consumers can use coupons for Michael Kors products? Ugh. Don’t even get them started. In fact, CEO John Idol is putting the kibosh on them and also chucking those friends and family discounts. Michael Kors reported a 7% drop in its first quarter wholesale business and is planning on shipping less merchandise to the stores in an attempt to reclaim some much-needed pricing power. Michael Kors feels that consumers forgot the value of its products. Seems like a prudent move considering that Macy’s, in particular, brings in the largest chunk of wholesale revenue for Michael Kors.  In any case, it’s a strategy that Coach also is beginning to employ, except that Coach also plans to pull out of about 250 stores completely. Earnings came in at $147 million and 88 cents a share on $988 million in revenue. That was a slight change from last year’s $174 million and 87 cents on $986 million. The fact that mall traffic and tourism were down didn’t help matters. Even same stores sales took a 7.4% hit, which was especially brutal since analysts only predicted a 4.2% decline. Still, analysts expected 74 cents on $953 million in revenue, so the earnings weren’t all that bleak in the first place.

It’s Dory’s world after all…

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Disney posted impressive earnings throwing a big shout out to its studio division, who cranked out the incredibly endearing and ridiculously, lucratively marketable “Finding Dory.” Okay, so marine life wasn’t the only reason since “The Jungle Book “and “Captain America: Civil War “also contributed to that success. Just not as much. Not nearly as much. In any case,  Disney particularly relished those 3Q earnings considering that its 2Q earrings missed the mark while this quarter it took in $1.62 per share, beating estimates by one penny. But not everything was coming up roses and clown fish at Disney, all because of ESPN and a future for it that looks more bleak than bright. Taking a beating from “cord-cutting” consumers who are giving the heave-ho to cable subscriptions and bundles, ESPN is, not surprisingly, rapidly losing subscribers. The network signed a $1 billion deal with BAMTech to find a way for ESPN to bring “direct-to-consumer ESPN-branded, multi-sports subscription streaming service.” Two words, ESPN: blue tang.

No medals for you…

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Even Michael Phelps couldn’t help win this one. Of course  I am referring to Ralph Lauren’s recent earnings that had the luxury brand posting a 7% sales loss. Ralph Lauren reported a loss of $22 million with 27 cents per share. That’s a far cry form last year when the company took in a profit of $64 million and 73 cents added per share. Revenue, which came in at $1.55 billion, took a hit, but analysts expected that hit to be closer to $1.77 billion so complaining wasn’t necessary. Shares still went up today so clearly these losses have done little to spook investors. That’s because those losses were expected as part of a strategic comeback plan engineered by Ralph Lauren CEO Stefan Larsson, who took over back in November. His grand plan also includes reducing turnaround times from design to shelves and to focus on Ralph Lauren’s core brands – initiatives that he thinks will generate roughly $180 million to $220 million in annual savings. That and closing about 50 stores should have Ralph Lauren returning to its fiscal glory in no time.

 

Disney’s ESPN Not the Happiest Place on Earth; SEC Looks to Salary-Shame; Netflix and Microsoft Maternity-Leave Shami

Squeak squeak…

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Image courtesy of digitalrt/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The House of Mouse took quite the beating today on Wall Street but no animated rodents are to blame for this one. Instead we look to Disney-owned ESPN whose third quarter performance wasn’t victorious. The cable channel lost plenty of subscribers as consumers look to “cord-shaving” and “cord-cutting” their ever expanding cable bills. The fact is, when cable subscribers look to save money on their monthly expenses, ESPN is usually the first item to be sacrificed as it eats up $6 a month. Just ask the 3.2 million consumers who already dropped ESPN from their channel lineup. Of course, the network still has some 90 million subscribers but it’s not exactly sparking investor confidence because it’s got those investors wondering how ESPN could grow – and make money. At least Disney Chairman Bob Iger has some confidence left for the sports network. Someone should. But it wouldn’t be fair to only blame ESPN for the disappointing earnings. The strong dollar and declines at theme parks also added to the fiscal misery. So you see, it’s not all ESPNs fault. What a relief. Third quarter revenue hit $13.1 billion with $1.45 added per share, much to the disappointment of analysts who expected $13.2 billion. Disney hasn’t had an earnings miss in two years. You know what didn’t disappoint at Disney? “Age of Ultron” and “Cinderella.” That’s what. Together with sales of licensed products, those areas saw double digit percentage increases.

And you get to fly on the company jet?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s not everyday the SEC and drama can be found in the same sentence. But now that day has come all because of a new SEC ruling that is stirring quite a bit of trouble. Under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, public companies now have to issue a “pay ratio disclosure” detailing the compensation of its CEO and the median compensation of the its average employee. Pay gap, anyone? With a 3-2 vote for the ruling, Republicans are against it saying that it will only serve to “name and shame” CEO’s and companies and has no use or relevance to investors. Democrats feel quite the opposite feeling it’ll help investors determine and vote on pay packages for CEO’s. Of course the groups out there that protest income inequality love the new ruling because it’ll highlight and bring all the right attention to their cause. Between 1978 and 2014, the average CEO pay went up almost 1000%. That, my cyber-friends, is what you call a surge. Problem is, according to the Economic Policy Institute, pay for average employees classified as “non-supervisory” only went up by less than 11%. Talk about discrepancies. Commissioner Daniel Gallagher, who voted against the ruling, argued it will wastefully cost approximately $1.3 billion just to implement the compliance and said, “To steal a line from (Supreme Court) Justice (Antonin) Scalia, this is pure applesauce.” How poetic.

Bundle of joy…

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Netflix and Microsoft are trying to one-up each other only this time it has very little to do with tech and sales and more to do with babies. Microsoft just announced its updated maternity/paternity policy which now gives parents 20 weeks of full paid leave plus two weeks before a due date for short-term disability. But it’s not as generous as Netflix’s latest policy, dubbed “unlimited” which gives parents a whole year to be with their newest arrivals, allowing them to come and go and go and…well you get it, right? Netflix brass feel that it’s more important to “focus on what people get done, not on how many days worked.” These generous parental leave policies aren’t exactly trendsetting in Silicon Valley. Only for the rest of the country where the United States ranks dead last among 38 countries in government supported parental leave. But Netflix goes one further with its “unlimited vacation” policy too. “Netflix leaders set good examples by taking big vacations and coming back inspired to find big ideas.”  Great. Sign me up.