In the wake of the many allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, allegations of sexual harassment by Amazon Studios boss Roy Price have resurfaced, and have led to his suspension by the company. As with the Weinstein allegations, it appears those against Price have circulated for some time but never been talked about publicly much, though The Information did have a story a little while ago about the specific accusation that’s been reported again this week. Price has already been somewhat embattled recently as Jeff Bezos has begun overruling some of his decisions as head of Amazon’s original content efforts, so it’s possible that he will be forced out over these allegations whether or not others emerge as a way to clean the slate and complete the shift towards the new programming strategy. Needless to say, as with Weinstein, if the allegations are proven to have merit, Price ought to go for those reasons alone.
Update: BuzzFeed has a copy of the internal memo sent to Amazon staff about the suspension and related issues. Something I should have mentioned earlier but neglected to: Amazon was made aware of the allegations some time ago and instigated an independent investigation, which ended without any apparent action against Roy Price. That he’s been suspended now appears to be entirely the result of the public attention this is now receiving rather than any new information that’s come to light. That feels like hypocrisy, a sense exacerbated by the references to Amazon’s policy on abuse in the internal memo.
Samsung today announced its preliminary results for Q3, but also announced that its CEO, Oh-Hyun Kwon, will step down in March 2018. The preliminary results are very much in keeping with results for the last several quarters, with record revenues and profits for any quarter, likely again driven by very strong memory sales and higher memory prices, though the smartphone business also likely did well again. Samsung’s management structure is a little different from most western tech companies: it technically has three CEOs, who each run a big chunk of the business, with Kwon overseeing the Device Solutions segment while also being chairman of the board of directors and therefore the closest thing to an overall CEO the company has. That Device Solutions business, interestingly, is the home of memory and other component products at Samsung, which have been the source of its great financial strength, so Kwon’s resignation certainly isn’t a response to poor performance. Rather, it seems likely to be a response to the broader scandals that have engulfed the Samsung group of companies, including Jae-Yong Lee, grandson of the company’s founder, who is currently in jail (and was also technically a vice chairman at Samsung Electronics). His resignation later certainly makes it sound like he is resigning as a matter of honor and to allow the company to move on under fresh leadership, rather than an indication that he’s tainted at all by association with the scandals.
Apple has announced that its long-standing general counsel, Bruce Sewell, is retiring and will be replaced in the role by Katherine Adams, who joins Apple from a similar role at Honeywell. Normally, the departure of the general counsel at a tech firm wouldn’t be something I’d cover, but this is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, Sewell enjoyed a rather higher profile than most general counsels do over the last couple of years because he was a key figure in Apple’s fight with the FBI, among other things, and of course Apple’s lawsuits against Samsung and more recently Qualcomm have also been fairly high profile. Few corporate lawyers get to implement company strategy quite as directly as Sewell did during his time at Apple, especially with regard to privacy. Adams will obviously take over the Qualcomm case and others Sewell was overseeing along with carrying the mantle of protecting privacy in the context of law enforcement. Secondly, the fact that a woman is replacing a man on Apple’s board means that it now has two out of eleven members who are women. As I noted a month ago, the next tier down of eight executives is evenly split, but until now Angela Ahrendts has been the lone woman on the board. It’s good to see that start to change, and I wonder whether other executives who move on from those senior ranks in the coming years will likewise be replaced by women.
The Uber board met yesterday and approved proposed changes to the company’s governance, which limit Travis Kalanick’s power, commit the company to an IPO by 2019, open the door to an investment by SoftBank, and resolve some simmering issues among the board members. That’s a great step forward, and was followed by a somewhat bizarre statement from Kalanick welcoming the changes, which was rather odd given that his two appointments to the board late last week were widely seen as a petulant response to the proposed changes. Still, the changes should allow Uber to move forward on a more solid footing, with Benchmark apparently backing down from its lawsuit, Kalanick apparently on board, and therefore much of the recent drama starting to cool off. It would be great if the board could now focus on implementing all the other changes recommended in the Holder report and get on with transforming the company into one with a healthy culture.
The latest round of controversy at Uber erupted Friday night as Travis Kalanick unexpectedly appointed two new members to the Uber board as part of an earlier agreement, albeit without the knowledge or approval of either the existing board members or new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. This is best seen as further evidence, if it were needed, that Kalanick’s main objectives continue to be serving his own self-interest rather than Uber’s best interests, and that if he’s using these appointments to bolster his power on the board, the rest of the board should resist that effort. The Recode piece I’m linking to below has a great overview of what all this means at this point and how it might play out, and importantly says that the board members don’t object to those nominated as much as the process. The context is that the board has been working on governance changes that would formally limit both Kalanick’s voting power and his ability to come back in a management role, changes he naturally opposes. At this point, I can’t imagine Kalanick actually thinks he’s doing what’s best for Uber, and in the meantime he continues to do the company substantial damage and distract it from the real changes which need to be made, including governance changes recommended in the Holder report. It’s ever clearer that Kalanick hasn’t changed and and indeed hasn’t taken any of what’s happened over the last ten months or so to heart.
Even though the shareholder lawsuit over plans to create a new class of shares at Facebook has been settled, some of the materials in the suit have just been unsealed and revealed some interesting tidbits. Business Insider has latched onto this particular one, which is that Mark Zuckerberg wanted to have Facebook employees work on projects for his Chan Zuckerberg Initiative foundation, but got pushback from other board members, notably Marc Andreessen. On the one hand, this feels like just the kind of thing some people worried about when Zuckerberg created the foundation while still running Facebook, risking a blurring of lines between the two. It feels clearly inappropriate for him to try to swing corporate resources behind his personal projects and it’s good that he was shot down. But I’m also minded of the many things that Google invested in during its pre-Alphabet days which were effectively personal passion projects for the two founders. Some of those things had at least tenuous connections to Google’s core business, but others felt much more disconnected, and yet the fact that there was no real shareholder oversight with most of them meant that they happened anyway (and the founders could at least argue they were potentially commercial projects, even if some of them were years from generating revenue). The fact that Zuckerberg created a separate foundation to pursue his projects makes the separation that should exist much clearer and thereby highlights these potential conflicts of interest much more clearly.
via Business Insider
Mark Zuckerberg has dropped plans to have Facebook create a new share class designed to allow him to retain voting control of the company even as he sells many of his shares to fund his philanthropic effort. The move had angered shareholders, who filed suit to prevent the change, and Zuckerberg appears to have caved rather than have to go to court to defend his actions (and potentially the broader issue of the special class of shares he already holds). His argument is that Facebook is doing so well that he can retain control while selling enough shares to fund his philanthropic efforts. The case would have been really awkward for Zuckerberg at a time when he’s been making significant changes and concessions to try to improve public perceptions of Facebook and him personally, so this was probably a smart move, and one which won’t have too many negative consequences for him (and none for Facebook as a company).
Microsoft Promotes Xbox Head to Senior Leadership Team (Sep 19, 2017)
Satya Nadella has appointed Phil Spencer, who runs the Xbox team at Microsoft, to the company’s Senior Leadership Team, which now comprises 16 individuals. I just spent some time breaking down that SLT and there are 10 individuals in functional roles, from the CEO to the CMO and heads of HR, Legal, Finance, etc.; plus six individuals who run product or customer segment organizations, now including Spencer. Looked at that way, Spencer has been an odd omission from this team, given that gaming has generated 9-12% of Microsoft’s revenue annually for the past ten years, certainly up there with other groups like Windows and Devices (15% this past year), and LinkedIn (3%). But the Xbox has always been a bit of an oddity at Microsoft, a company which has always been much more geared towards business than consumer markets – indeed, Spencer is the first explicitly consumer-focused executive on the current SLT. More broadly, gaming is one of the bigger individual chunks of revenue, and as Mary Jo Foley points out in the piece linked below, even beyond Xbox hardware gaming is an increasingly important part of Microsoft’s strategy to monetize its consumer efforts, many of which today are free to the user. Arguably the next logical person to add to the SLT would be whoever is running Bing today, since advertising contributed 8% of Microsoft’s revenues last year and it’s another important chunk of its consumer business, albeit with a much lower executive profile (despite spending some time searching, I can’t actually figure out who that is, which tells you something).
Twitter Hires Sriram Krishnan as Senior Director of Product (Sep 19, 2017)
Sriram Krishnan, who has served as an ad exec at Facebook and Snapchat, is to join twitter as Senior Director Product in October. Product roles at Twitter have been notoriously hard to fill (and keep filled) with many executives filing in and out of those jobs, but Twitter has had a little more stability there lately and has more of a structure around the organization at this point too. Krishnan won’t run product overall but will be a couple of tiers down in the organization, working under Kevin Coleman, who in turns reports to Ed Ho, who reports to Jack Dorsey. He seems to be widely admired in the industry, and his hiring is being seen as something of a coup for Twitter and a sign that it’s still able to attract top talent despite its growth struggles. It certainly needs help on the product side, and hopefully Krishnan will bring a new perspective and a greater willingness to take bold steps instead of merely tinkering around the edges as Twitter has done for the past several years.
Update: also in Twitter executive news today, it’s hired former Google CFO Patrick Pichette as a board member, and he’ll start in December. As with a number of past Twitter board hires, he’s basically never tweeted, something Twitter seems to be OK with (and I’d argue that’s OK in a role like this, that is likely more about financial oversight than product insight).
This is a minor thing, but nevertheless an important one in several ways. Apple has updated the executive bios on its website to reflect a few changes, notably the change in responsibility for Siri from Eddy Cue (generally responsible for online services) to Craig Federighi (responsible for software), and Eddy Cue’s ownership of Apple’s original video content push. That’s notable for two reasons: one is that Eddy Cue has lost other areas of responsibility recently, notably the App Store to Phil Schiller, and Siri is an area where Apple can ill afford to be seen to be falling behind the competition. Taking it away from Cue is likely a sign that Apple wants to see the same rapid improvements there as it did in the App Store when Schiller took over, but also a recognition that the content push is going to take more of Cue’s attention going forward.
Also worth noting: though there’s still only one woman among Apple’s top-tier leadership of SVPs and CXOs as shown on its executive leadership page, the next tier of VPs is now half women, with three of the four women of color. Diversity in the top ranks at Apple has been poor and slow to change, in part because the senior leadership team has been so stable for so long, but it’s clear that Tim Cook is using the more frequent changes happening at the next tier down to increase diversity there.
via Mac Rumors
Former GE CEO Jeff Immelt is Front-Runner for Uber CEO Job (Aug 21, 2017)
Another week, another story about erstwhile Uber CEO refusing to go gently into that good night. The Information is reporting that Travis Kalanick has been quietly building up a bloc of shareholders who will back him in a potential fight over the course of several years, while also sounding out employees recently on whether they would support him in that eventuality. Though the details here are new, the broad thrust is similar to the reporting last week that Kalanick was hoping to be able to get back into an operational role at Uber sooner rather than later, something many in leadership at Uber don’t want, and also a situation that’s likely to put off potential new CEOs, which is presumably part of Kalanick’s motivation here. That he still doesn’t see how central his behavior has been to Uber’s struggles, and how badly it needs to operate for at least some time without him, is the biggest possible sign that Kalanick hasn’t actually changed and isn’t actually sorry for any of what he’s done, which is in turn the best possible signal that he shouldn’t come back. But it seems he has enough supporters left at Uber that he’s convinced himself it’s worth trying anyway. Update: later in the day, an internal email from Uber co-founder and board member Garrett Camp was leaked, in which he said Kalanick would not be returning as CEO, apparently attempting to defuse some of this speculation and even the push to get him back.
via The Information