Travis Kalanick’s Not-So-Fond Farewell; It’s Bottoms Up for George Clooney; Glassdoor Drops Another List and You Better Hope Your Boss is on it

Goodbye and farewell…

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Looks like Travis Kalanick’s “leave of absence” is now a permanent one as he finally took the hint from investors and officially resigned as Uber’s CEO. But not before the aforementioned investors placed a lot of pressure on the embattled CEO to step down. And who can blame the investors. Scandal after ugly scandal emerged from the $68 billion, privately held company and it seemed as if Kalanick wasn’t up to snuff when it came to dealing with them.  In an email to employees, Kalanick talked about his love for Uber and decided to step down “so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight.” How very gallant of him. While Kalanick still remains on the board of Uber, the business is now being run by fourteen people who once upon a time reported to him. Talk about irony.

Aye tequila!

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Some guys have all the luck and George Clooney is one of them. If you think he’s just an actor with a pretty face then you are so very wrong. Turns out the Hollywood hunk also has his own tequila brand –  along with two other partners – called Casamigos, which was just bought for $1 billion by liquor company giant Diageo. The name Diageo might not ring a bell for you, but the name Smirnoff should, and that is just one of the many notable brands that belongs to the Diageo family. Curious who George’s other partners are? Mr. Cindy Crawford, aka Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman. Annoyingly enough, Clooney and Gerber were just trying to come up with their very own “house” tequila for the properties they own in Cabo San Lucas.  But a very lucrative opportunity knocked that had them expanding the brand beyond Cabo, and just last year 120,000 cases of the stuff was shipped out. This year the company expects that number to climb to 170,000. And with a price tag between $45 to $55 a bottle, Clooney and company get to live large without having to rely on other their other talents, including acting and such. As for Diageo, you can bet that this acquisition had less to do with Clooney’s movie star charm and more to do with the fact that tequila volume in the U.S. more than doubled from 2002 to 2015.

There’s a list for that too…

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Glassdoor has regaled us with yet another list. This time it’s to let us know who the top CEO’s in the world are, according to employees And you can bet Travis Kalanick did not make the cut. The Clorox Company’s Benno Dorer takes the top spot. What? Were you expecting a tech CEO? Well too bad because Dorer earned a 99% approval rating from his employees.  Another name from the list you might recognize is Elon Musk who takes the eighth spot. Interestingly enough, his 98% employee approval rating came not from Tesla, but his other company, SpaceX. Wonder what that’s about. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg makes it onto the list at number ten, also with a 98% approval rating. But sadly that’s a sharp drop from his number four spot in 2016. Google’s Sundar Pichai grabs the 17th spot while LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner comes in at number 35. The biggest bummer on the list just might be Apple’s Tim Cook. Last year he held the number eight spot, but this year he drops to spot number 53. In all fairness, however, he still scored a 93% approval rating.

 

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Alphabet Soup: Google Parent Hits a Milestone; Premium Quality: Tesla Could Get Even Pricier; SEC Gets SCOTUS-Smacked

Whoa…

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Google’s parent company, Alphabet, broke the $1000 per share ceiling and yes, that is a vey impressive feat. Even for Google. What’s more impressive, is that this milestone happened on the very same day that shares of Apple, the world’s most expensive company, was downgraded. Not that Google would be experiencing any schadenfreude, or anything of the sort. In any case, Alphabet can pat itself on the back for becoming the third S&P 500 company to break the $1000 barrier, following in the illustrious footsteps of Amazon – who achieved that milestone just last week – and Priceline. Yes, Priceline. Remember them? To be fair, Google had, once upon a time, hit $1,200 a share but then the stock split. And then it became Alphabet, and the rest is S&P history.  Of course Berkshire Hathaway also trades above $1000. Way above $1000. In fact, if you’re inclined to spending $250,156.00, you could pick up a single solitary share of Warren Buffett’s company. But then again, what’re you gonna do with just one share?

Cry me a river…

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A new Tesla was sounding really good, at least up until the weekend when Automotive News reported that AAA is gearing up to raise its insurance rates on the super-shmancy electric automobiles. But that’s just AAA insurance. The verdict is still out on whether other insurers will follow suit. It’s all because of some very unflattering data detailing Tesla’s higher-than-usual and more expensive claims for both the Models S and Model X. In fact, those pricey claims could mean a 30% premium increase on Teslas, which makes you wonder if the fuel savings is even worth it. Tesla seems to be offended by the new data, calling it “severely flawed” and “not reflective of reality.” Apparently, the data had the audacity to compare a Tesla to a Volvo station wagon. I mean, c’mon? A Volvo station wagon? Not that I have anything against Volvo station wagons. Some of my best friends drive Volvos. And station wagons. It’s just that a station wagon is the last thing on my mind when fantasizing about being behind the wheel of a Tesla. Just saying.  In all fairness, however, Tesla boasts some of the most advanced safety features in their automobiles. Yet, none of that seems to help given the car’s expensive collision costs. In fact, claims for the Model S are 46% higher than other cars, and its losses come in at 315% higher. Yikes. Station wagons aside, those are some very un-sleek numbers. Ironically, Tesla’s medical payment claim frequency is below average while its personal injury protection losses are very low. So take that, Volvo!

Can’t touch this!

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Score one for Wall Street because it looks like the SEC won’t get to grab all those ill-gotten gains like it used to. At least according to the U.S. Supreme Court, which just ruled – in a 9-0 decision –  that the SEC’s use of “disgorgement” now has to face the wrong end of a five year statute-of-limitations. Disgorgment is the act of repaying money that was attained illegally, typically by people and firms in the financial industry.  For this latest Wall Street victory, the securities sector can thank Charles Kokesh, a New Mexico-based investment adviser. It all started back in 2009 when the SEC sued Kokesh for misappropriating funds from his investors. He may not be a saint, but he was ordered to pay $2.4 million in penalties plus another $35 million – which was for disgorgement purposes. The problem, Kokesh and his lawyers argued, was that much of that $35 million disgorgment figure had happened outside a five year statute of limitations. Instead of $35 million, the disgorgment should have been closer to $5 million, which is quite a substantial difference. As for the SEC, this new ruling is going to prove to be a real downer for the agency seeing as how it has since collected $3 billion for disgorgment claims.  Oh well. Maybe it’ll discover a new way around that minor, yet pesky obstacle.

 

Lyft and Waymo = Carpool; Bud Spending $2 billion to Up Its Game; AIG Bets Big on Latest CEO

Self-less…

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In case you were having trouble envisioning a world with driverless cars, you might want to check out Alphabet Inc.’s company Waymo. Waymo, a self-driving car company,  has just teamed up with Lyft, and that should be enough to make Uber more than a little nervous. You might be wondering why a company owned by Google even needs a much smaller company like Lyft for a partnership. But believe it or not, there’s a little quid pro quo going on because since Lyft has the dubious distinction of being the second largest ride service company, it will allow Waymo’s technology to reach even more people than without it. Isn’t that just beautiful? Uber, on the other hand, is looking to develop driverless technology on its own. If you recall, Waymo sued Uber back in February, alleging that Uber stole Waymo’s self-driving technology to build its own fleet.  But with the way things are going for Uber lately, it might be more prudent for the embattled ride-sharing company to focus on its current crop of legal and publicity challenges instead of driverless cars. For the time being anyway.  By the way, Lyft’s deal with Waymo is not exclusive. Which is super important considering that GM is a big Lyft investor and already has its own partnership in place to develop self-driving cars. It’s like legit double-dipping and everybody wins. In fact, come 2018, Lyft and GM will be set to deploy and test thousands of self-driving cars. Yikes!

Competitive beer…

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It might be hard to believe but the King of Beers is not looked upon as the royalty it once was. And so, its parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev NV is plunking down $2 billion to try and fix that issue. The plan is to make a substantial, lucrative foray into new categories, while at the same time boosting its flagship brands which have been staring down the wrong end of increased competition.  The money will be spent over the next four years, using approximately $500 million per year. In case you were thinking that $2 billion seems like an awfully bloated  – no pun intended – number to spend on improving a beer brand, consider that beer is a more than $107 billion industry and no self-respecting beer company wants to lose ground in a market like that.  And make no mistake, beer has been losing ground lately with not as much of it being consumed like in years past. Hard to believe. I know, but various types of other alcoholic beverages have been flooding the market in recent years and consumers are digging them. Which leaves companies like Anheuser-Busch scrambling to reclaim its foamy territory.

No pressure or anything…

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Maybe the seventh time’s a charm for AIG, which just announced it’s coughing up $12 million – and then some – to pay its newest CEO, Brain Duperreault. By “then some” I refer to an additional 1.5 million stock options and a $16 million pay package all based on the hope that Duperreault will finally be the one to turn AIG around. Did you catch that? He’s getting all that and he hasn’t sat at his new desk yet. The last CEO, Peter Hancock, left in March because he wasn’t feeling the love, or rather investor support, including from the one and only Carl Icahn. But Brian Deperreault just might have what AIG’s been looking for all these years, well at least since 2005. He’s no stranger to AIG, having worked there as a deputy way back when. He’s coming over from Hamilton Insurance, and before that he was at Marsh & McClennan Cos. earning solid reputations at both firms. As for his first order of business: achieve stability in a company that has seen too many high-level departures, four straight quarters of losses and high claims costs. Good luck with that one, Mr. Duperreault. You’re gonna need it.

Show Me the Money! Forbes Unveils Its Annual List of People With Money to Show; UK Shows Google What Happens When You Don’t Shut Down Haters; Twitter Did Something Impressive. Just Not With Its Earnings

Rich-y rich…

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It’s that time of year again. The one where Forbes reminds us just how much money we don’t have relative to the richest people in the world. And here goes. There are 13% more billionaires this year than last year and their combined net worth totals almost $7.7 trillion. Yes. Trillion.  The number one spot goes to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates who’s net with totals $86 billion. When Gates is not busy fixing the world and explaining to the President why his budget ideas are bad ideas, he runs the world’s largest charitable organization. Naturally, the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, comes in a close second with a net worth of $75.6 billion, while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos makes his debut into the top three with a net worth of $72.8 billion. And even though we only finally see a woman on this list at the number 14 spot, there’s still some uplifting news. For instance, the number of women who ma∂e it onto the list has increased 170% since 2009. Also, there’s a record 56 women on the list who are self-made billionaires. If you’re curious to see who did and didn’t make the list, click here to find out. And spoiler alert: Perhaps President Donald Trump really ought to consult Bill Gates on any and all future budget concerns for the country, considering he lost a billion in the last year and ranks #544.

Dis-content…

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Just when you thought Google could do no wrong, the search engine giant finds itself in the midst of some major policy revamping after a bunch of big-name advertisers pulled their marketing  – and whole lot of money – because it was showing up on /sexist/hate-filled/offensive/anti-semitic/terrorist-promoting content. The trouble started when major brands, including the BBC and department store chain Marks & Spencer, noticed their ads being being placed alongside content promoting violent extremist groups. Last I heard, department stores were no great fans of terrorism. Now, part of the policy revamp includes broadening Google and YouTube’s definitions of hate speech, which is always a good thing since hate manages to always rear its ugly face no matter how subtly its presented. Also, content won’t be able discrimnate against groups based on their identity, socieo-economic class and country of origin. Such measures ought to make it a tad bit more difficult for the haters to get their odious messages out. In addition to some added controls and a few default settings, Google should end up creating a kinder, gentler platform. Hopefully…

Speaking of which…

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Even though Twitter doesn’t exactly have the fiscal luxury to delete accounts, to its credit, the social media company did just that and put the kibosh on close to 380,000 of them because of their links to terrorism. So lousy earnings aside I say “Kudos” to Twitter.  Those accounts were just the ones it took down between July and December of 2016.  Since August of 2015, over 635,000 accounts have been removed for the same reason. The information was disclosed in its latest transparency report and these actions are part of an effort to weed out extremist groups and other assorted haters. Interestingly enough, almost 75% of the accounts that were removed from Twitter were discovered by technology created just for this purpose for Twitter, while 2% of those accounts came down after governments made requests for the company to get rid of them.

 

Bill Gates Is So Not Into President’s Budget Blueprint; Does Uber Have Some High-Level Job Openings?

Just letting you know…

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Chances are if Bill Gates is not into your budget blueprint, then maybe it’s worth it to make a few (hundred-billion dollar) changes to it.  Which explains one of the reasons why the world’s richest man is in DC today, to have a little chat with the President of the United States.  Bill Gates, who knows a thing or two, isn’t taking too kindly to President Trump’s budget blueprint, particularly the part about cutting foreign aid. Gates is of the very informed and highly researched opinion, that providing foreign aid not only assists the world’s poorest individuals, but it also helps Americans. A lot. Gates said as much in a recent TIME op-ed piece, explaining how foreign aid actually decreases global conflicts, strife and get this…political instability. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’ll leave you to make it. Feel free to leave it in the comments. In any case, Mr. Gates went on to say, “These projects [foreign aid] keep Americans safe. And by promoting health, security and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.” I think the philanthropist billionaire/Microsoft co-founder just might be onto something, no?

Outta here…

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As if a lawsuit from Google and claims of sexual harassment couldn’t make things any worse for Uber, things are about to get even more awkward – if that’s possible – with two very high-level execs saying buh-bye to the ride-hailing app. First we have President Jeff Jones, who is leaving after less than a year on the job. It seems that a few weeks ago, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced he was seeking new leadership, along with plans to install a new COO. Rumor has it that that bit might have had something to do with Jones untimely departure. In the meantime, Jones explained, in his own special spin that “…the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business.” You just know there’s an ugly, yet presumably very juicy story behind that articulate statement. But I guess we’ll just have o wait for the book to come out. Naturally, Uber officially thanked Jones and wished “him all the best” no doubt with the utmost sincerity. The other Uber exit is brought to us by Brian McClendon, who is set to ditch his post of Vice President of Maps and Business Platforms. Mr. McClendon announced plans to return to his native Kansas to pursue a career in politics. He’s apparently very disenchanted with the state of Kansas’ fiscal crisis and presumably the rest of the political climate. At least that’s the story he’s sticking to.

Buy buy baby…

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Well, at least somebody has finally stepped up who has a bit of faith in Snap Inc. Enter James Cakmak, a Wall Street analyst with the firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt, who gave the app its very first – and only –  “buy” rating, slapping it with a $25 price target. And fyi, Snap identifies itself as a camera company. Got it? Having the dubious distinction of being crowned as the biggest tech IPO in two years, Snap managed to raise a whopping $3.4 billion its first day out. It went up almost 60% on its first day but since then came barreling back down over 25%. Its shares have been losing steam over concerns that the company has a ridiculously high valuation, yet grim prospects for profits. Cakmak graciously said that he’s giving Snap the benefit of the doubt because, even though he himself is unsure if Snap will be able to crank out an actual profit, he likes the way the company stacks up against its competitors. Awww.

 

CEO Leaving Ralph Lauren Over “Difference of Opinion”; Apple Gets De-Throned; “Fake News” Scandal Leaves Facebook Unscathed

Ride the pony…

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Shares of Ralph Lauren fell today, over 11% at one point, all because CEO Stefan Larsson announced he is stepping down after a little over a year on the job. It seems Larsson and the big kahuna himself, Ralph Lauren, just didn’t see eye to eye on how the company should evolve to attract more shoppers, and younger ones, to boot. Which roughly translates to: the two guys just didn’t get along.  Larsson, who used to be the global president of Old Navy,  will step down in three months while the company searches for a new CEO. In the meantime, Ralph Lauren will stay put, in his role as Executive Chairman and Chief Creative Officer while Chief Financial Officer Jane Nielsen will serve as interim CEO. The other thing staying put is a plan – that was already in the works – to enhance the Ralph Lauren brand.  Shares of Ralph Lauren had fallen 22% in the last twelve months and it has had to close several stores and eliminate several jobs. But apparently, and ironically, it’s all part of its growth plan. The news came down during the company’s quarterly report call, where the lifestyle brand reported earnings of $1.86 per share, with revenue down 12% to $1.71 billion. At least that last bit was forecasted. And it was welcome news since analysts expected the company to only pull down $1.64 per share. As for Larsson, he’ll be walking away with a nifty $10 million in severance, not to mention health benefits, for the next two years.

Taking a bite out of the apple…

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Move over Apple. There’s a new sheriff in town. Well, maybe “sheriff” isn’t quite the right word. But the tech giant has been dethroned, this year anyway, as the world’s most valuable brand, and now ranks as the second most valuable brand. Which is ironic, since yesterday it released its earnings report and brutally beat expectations adding  $3.36 per share on a record setting $78.4 billion in revenue. Analysts predicted earnings of $3.22 per share on $77.3 billon in revenues. But I digress. The company to earn the dubious distinction of being the world’s most valuable company for 2016, as determined by Brand Finance, is none other than Google. No great shock here. Brand Finance takes it upon itself to conduct this yearly study, identifying and ranking the 500 most valuable brands in the world. Google, by the way used to sit in the top spot. But it’s been years. Like five of them, to be precise, since it sat atop this illustrious throne. Apple’s brand value tanked 27% from last year’s $146 billion to this year’s $107 billion. As for Google, its brand is currently valued at $109.5 billion. Part of the problem, for Apple anyway, is that the Apple watch failed to become as fabulous as Apple thought it should be.  Then there’s the fact that the tech giant seems to have no new products on the horizon – that we know of – while battling all the  smart-phone competition. According to Brand Finance, “Apple has failed to maintain its technological advantage and has repeatedly disillusioned its advocates with tweaks when material changes were expected…” That’s gotta hurt. And in case you were wondering, because I know you were, Amazon ranks third with a brand value of $106.4 billion, AT&T comes in fourth at $82 billion, while Microsoft rounds out the fifth spot with a brand value of $76.3 billion. And no, I didn’t forget Walmart or Facebook. They rank eighth and ninth respectively.

That’s just beautiful…

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Speaking of Facebook, the social media giant just released its latest quarterly earnings and well, it would be really swell if all companies could have earnings as good as that. And with over one billion users, it’s no wonder the company posted better than expected earnings, to the tune of $2.57 billon with revenues of $8.8 billion and $1.24 added per share. Estimates had Facebook pulling down $1.11 per share and $8.5 billion in revenues while last year at this time Facebook raked in $5.84 billion. If you do the math, that’s a 51% increase over last year. In fact, this quarter marked Facebook’s sixth straight quarter in which it beat forecasts in both profit and revenue. A lot of that success can be attributed to Facebook’s mobile and live video. Its ever lucrative ad revenues also don’t seem to ever disappoint. Facebook is now planning on a hiring spree, especially because it’s looking to create even more community and groups. Its monthly active users are up 17% to 1.86 billion and mobile users were up 21% from last year to 1.74 billion. As for Facebook being enmeshed in the “fake news” controversy, well as you can see, the scandal failed to make a dent at the company. Well, fiscally anyway.

 

GM Invests in US. Trump Takes All the Credit (Again); Tiffany & Co. Credits Trump for Quarterly Loss; No Trump-ing Mattel with New CEO

Pressure cooker…

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GM just announced that it is throwing a whopping $7 billion into several of its U.S. plants in order to bring back thousands of jobs, in addition to the 56,000 hourly workers it already employs here. Naturally, Trump is taking credit for these actions and it’s kind of weird that he would since GM said these plans were already in place for months. Who you choose to believe doesn’t matter because Trump already tweeted about it:”With all of the jobs I am bringing back into the U.S. (even before taking office), with all of the new auto plants coming back…I believe the people are seeing ‘big stuff.'” Nothing says POTUS quite like the term, “big stuff.” But just so you know, GM didn’t exactly deny that Trump didn’t have something to do with its newly announced plans either. Although, General Motors did mention something to the effect of “this was good timing.” Feel free to read into that however you want since it’s no secret that Trump was gunning for GM over its manufacturing of the Chevy Cruze south of the border, and then bringing it back into the country tax-free. Incidentally, GM CEO Mary Barra is part of a panel of CEOs who are advising Trump on economic policy. Also incidentally, Mary Barra is expected to attend the President-elect’s inauguration.

Good fences?

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Guess who else is not happy with Trump? Okay, I guess that list is kind of long so I’ll just tell you: Tiffany & Co. The jeweler, which happens to own a flagship store that is adjoined to Trump Tower, reported a 14% drop in sales at that very store on Fifth Avenue. To be fair, the iconic jeweler was expecting a drop thanks to Trump. Only this one was worse than expected, citing “post-election disruptions.” Roughly translated, that means that in addition to the many many anti-Trump protesters, potential shoppers also had to contend with heightened security, courtesy of the secret service and NYPD, not to mention journalists and hoards of tourists eager to see if they could catch a glimpse of the President-elect. So just how bad were Tiffany & Co.’s sales? Well, in the US, those numbers only came in at $483 million, with comparable store sales down 4%.  And the luxury retailer isn’t very hopeful about those numbers going up in 2017.  But because Trump isn’t everywhere, global sales of Tiffany & Co. came in at $966 million, which was just a tad bit higher than last year at this time.

Don’t toy with her…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Barbie is getting a new boss as Mattel gears up for its second CEO since 2015. Enter Margaret “Margo” Georgiadis, whose last gig, for the past six years, was over at Google. She was President of Google Americas and oversaw commercial operations and ad sales for the U.S., Canada and Latin America. So, it’s safe to say she’s (over?) qualified for the job. She is among just 27 top ranking female executives at Fortune 500 companies. Georgiadis, who also worked at Groupon and Discover Financial Services, begins her role at Mattel on February 8, where she will also sit on the board of the company. She’ll be tasked with coming up with new, and hopefully ingenious ways to boost sales in a climate that has kids hypnotized by mobile devices. Unfortunately, these nefarious electronic gadgets have been putting a dent into the sales of not only Mattel, but Hasbro and Lego as well. However,  given that Georgiadis has a reputation for successfully building brands, boosting sales of Fisher-Price, Hot Wheels and the American Girl line should be easy as pie. Well, hopefully.