Wal-Mart’s New Change is Making a Dash for it; Glassdoor’s Latest List Might Just Have You Rethinking Your Workplace; Mega Merger Round Two

 

A dash of this… 

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Big news from Wal-mart today. Huge news, in fact. The retail giant is changing its name… to Walmart. Are you stumped? Okay. Here’s a hint: The company is ditching the dash in its name. Or hyphen. Or line.  Or whatever you want to call that thingy in the middle of its name that’s been there since the retailer was incorporated back in 1969. And not that Wal-mart has anything against dashes, hyphens or lines, mind you. It’s just that Walmart, or Wal-mart, depending on how much you care about the dash, feels that legally changing its name to omit the dash emphasizes the fact that it sells merchandise both online and off. Got it? Neither do I. But I’m guessing Wal-mart must have done some hefty research to arrive at this conclusion. This conclusion being that if you want to give Amazon a run for its money then hyphens be damned. Apparently they don’t exactly scream out e-commerce leader and thus the little unassuming line will be getting the boot come February 1. And if you happened to have grown attached to the name “Wal-mart Stores,” then I have bad news for you. The company will also legally be droppping the word “stores” from its official name. And presumably there is research to support this move as well. Go figure.

How’s that cubicle looking?

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It’s that time of year again where you get to be reminded that you, in fact, do not work for a great company and it’s time to get off your butt and do something about it. Glassdoor did a little research via anonymous employee reviews and came out with a list of the top companies, according to their employees. And wouldn’t you know it – a social media company that goes by the catchy name of Facebook tops the list for the third year in a row. And if you think employees like working there just for all the amazing cafeterias then you’d be partly right. It seems the company’s mission-driven culture and impact on the world really resonates with its employees. Over at Bain & Company it’s all about company culture and competitive compensation packages. Which explains why the consulting firm came in at number two. Other names you know on the list: In-N-Out Burger takes spot number 4. Besides the tasty milkshakes and Double-Double burgers and fries employees enjoy on daily basis, they also get paid vacation time and 401(k) plans, among many many other perks. Google comes in at number 5 and I’m guessing the massages and excellent parental leave plans have something to do with that impressive ranking. Even yoga apparel maker Lululemon lands on the list at the number 6 spot. How zen. A newcomer to the list is St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Given the company’s mission, to help heal sick children, the company culture of literally trying to save as many lives as possible makes this a place where people love to work.  To see if your company made the cut or you just want to do a little research on where you’ll be applying for your next job, check out Glassdoor’s Best Places to work list.

Da-merger…

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Today’s mega healthcare merger is brought to us by UnitedHealth and DaVita, as the battle for healthcare dominance continues to make Wall Street swoon with all the billions involved. Not to be outdone by the $69 billion CVS Health/Aetna deal announced earlier this week, UnitedHealth Group has plans all its own for its nifty not-so-little unit called Optum. Optum is plunking down close to $5 billion in cash for another nifty entity called DaVita Medical Group, which is a subsidiary of the aptly named DaVita Inc.  Now, what’s so special about DaVita Medical Group that’s got UnitedHealth throwing billions at it? The company has hundreds of urgent care centers, surgery centers and medical clinics across the country that, besides providing invaluable services, also, presumably, bring in tons of cash.  Apparently, these mega-mergers are meant to benefit consumers by offering a host of services and benefits at lower costs than what companies can offer on their own. While the verdict’s still out on that bit, plenty of healthcare professionals are also waiting with bated breath to see if and how it will impact them, either positively or not. Until then I would advise you to just stay healthy.

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Alphabet Takes on Some Heavy Lyfting; Crash and Burn: Black Monday Crash-iversary Turns 30; Blue Apron Puts Employees on the Chopping Block

 

Car-ma?

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Uber? What’s Uber? I can tell you what Uber isn’t. It isn’t $1 billion more valuable. But you know who is? Its rival Lyft, which just received a very hefty sum of money from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, following a very recent financing round that brings its total valuation to $11 billion. CapitalG, an Alphabet growth investment fund, will now get a seat on the board and an even cushier relationship with the ride-sharing company.  Incidentally, Alphabet is also connected to Uber. However, that relationship went south when Uber went ahead and started developing autonomous cars that compete directly with Alphabet’s Waymo autonomous-driving technology. Naturally, that didn’t sit well with Alphabet. If you recall, and it’s totes okay if you don’t, Alphabet then sued Uber, alleging the beleaguered ride-sharing company committed trade secret theft. Some analysts believe that this little infusion from Alphabet is the company’s way of hitting back at Uber. Seems legit.  In any case, it appears an IPO may be on the horizon for Lyft and if Alphabet’s throwing money at it, it might turn out to be a stock worth watching.

Unhappy anniversary…

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Today’s date marks an anniversary many would like to forget: The stock market crash of 1987, aka, Black Monday. It was exactly 30 years ago today that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) crashed 508 points to a smidge past 1700. The index tanked by 22% and the shockwaves rippled all over the world. It was an even bigger one day drop than the stock market crash of 1929.  But miraculously, the market recovered. Well, maybe not for everyone.  In any case, this week (of all weeks), that very same index just hit a new record, breaking the 23,000 mark. To put it in perspective, if the DJIA crashed by 22% today, it would need to lose almost 6,000 points – heaven forbid! Poo poo poo.  Some market experts warn that we could experience another disastrous drop. However, following the nightmare of Black Monday, certain safeguards, dubbed “circuit breakers,” were put into place that basically – and very conveniently – shut down the market after major drops. This prevents trading and sell-offs that could cause further damage. And basically, now if the S&P 500 falls either 7%, 13% or 20%, depending on certain factors, market trading is halted automatically. You are now free to breathe a sigh of relief.

Stick a fork in me…

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Nothing spells trouble like having to cut your workforce just four months after going public. Which brings us to Blue Apron, purveyor of fine meal-kits, which just found itself having to do just that. The fact is, there’s a lot of competition sprouting everywhere, from Amazon and its Whole Foods acquisition to Albertsons picking up the company Plated in order to sell their kits at the grocery chain’s 2000+ locations. For Blue Apron, it meant having to slash 6% of its workforce which amounts to about 300 employees. The stock is trading today at around $5.20 a share, down almost 50% from its IPO price back in June.

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.

 

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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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.