Ex-Apple Engineer Chris Lattner Leaves Tesla After 5 Months (Jun 20, 2017)
Apple Poaches Two Sony TV Execs to Lead Video Programming (Jun 16, 2017)
Apple has hired two executives who previously helped make Breaking Bad and The Crown on behalf of AMC and Netflix respectively as its new heads of video programming globally. Those two pieces of content are powerful examples of the role of original content in boosting video brands – Breaking Bad was a major plank of AMC’s push over recent years to turn itself into more than just a catalog player, and while The Crown isn’t Netflix’s most popular bit of original content, it’s very good and a sign of the kind of big-budget stuff it’s going to be making more of going forward. As such, these are fascinating hires, given that for now at least Apple is on the opposite of that process – commissioning rather than producing original video content. These hires could be a sign that change is coming, given that these two new execs have experience producing and not just commissioning video, but that’s a somewhat unusual model for original content compared with other major players like Netflix, which have still tended to farm out original content rather than lead production internally. It’s possible that they will merely become equivalents of Ted Sarandos at Netflix, using their expertise to commission and oversee outside projects, but they seem somewhat odd hires in that context. All of this, meanwhile, seems much less plausible in a continued narrow focus on video content in Apple Music, and much more as part of a broader push into video ahead of a subscription video service. Two other things worth noting: Apple put out a press release on the hires, something it does very rarely indeed, suggesting it wants to make a fuss out of this. Secondly, these two will report directly to Eddy Cue, which will set up an interesting dynamic with Jimmy Iovine, who has seemed to loom large over all of Apple’s content efforts, but especially in video, and who I’ve speculated before is a bit of a loose cannon in this area. I’m hoping these two coming on board provides some more clarity in who owns original video content at Apple.
Tidal Loses Third CEO in Less Than Three Years (May 26, 2017)
It might seem odd at first glance that I’m covering an auto industry leadership change, but it’s news that’s very much in keeping with the “Tech Disrupts Transportation” narrative here on the site, and the nature of both the troubles that prompted the move and the move itself are reflective of that trend too. Mark Fields, who has been CEO for the last three years, is being replaced by Jim Hackett, who has been running Ford Smart Mobility. Although this New York Times piece and others this morning are focusing on the fact that FSM and therefore Hackett has owned Ford’s autonomous driving initiatives, that’s only part of its remit, and that’s worth noting. It also owns in-car connectivity, mobility itself (which is the industry term for ride sharing and other new ownership and other business models for cars), and data and analytics, among other things. In other words, with the exception of electrification, it has owned essentially all of what’s next in the automotive industry. That Fields would have put all that in a separate division is perhaps the biggest sign that he underestimated how central these changes would be to the future of the company, and it also makes sense to put the guy who’s been running all that in charge of the company at this point. Hackett will need to bring these initiatives to the forefront of what Ford does, along with electrification, where it’s moved more slowly than other car companies, if he’s to help turn Ford around. But he’s taking over at a really tough time in both the company’s history and the US automotive industry.
The judge in the Uber-Waymo case has told Uber in no uncertain terms that it has to do all it can to get its employee, Anthony Levandowski, to comply with the court’s orders in terms of handing over documents and disclosing other information relevant to the case. As such, given his continued unwillingness to cooperate, Uber has officially threatened to fire him – something it certainly doesn’t want to do – and his lawyers are now fighting back. Levandowski has throughout this process invoked his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination, but that in turn has made it harder for Uber to defend itself, because much of the most relevant information has been held back by Levandowski. At this point, it feels like both Uber and Levandowski are coming off badly around this whole situation, given that it seems very clear that Uber was working with Levandowski before he left Waymo, and Levandowski clearly feels he has something to hide. I very much doubt Levandowski will actually be fired, but it’s remarkable that he continues to resist these clear orders from the judge even as his job is at stake. Meanwhile, both parties – Levandowski and his employer – seem remarkably willing to throw each other under the bus, which says something both about the stakes here and the prevailing culture at the company.
Anthony Levandowski, who has until now led Uber’s self-driving group, has been removed from his role during the lawsuit between the company and Waymo over the alleged stealing of LIDAR technology by Levandowski. He’s staying at Uber, and will continue in various other responsibilities there, but will no longer be involved in the area of technology which is at the heart of the case, which means that group will have a new lead from among the group of employees Uber poached from Carnegie Mellon some years ago. That’s interesting, because there’s been some conflict between Levandowski’s group and the CM group at Uber in the past. This week, Levandowski also failed in his bid to use the 5th amendment to protect himself and Uber during the lawsuit, which should make the case both more interesting and potentially more damaging for him. Uber has tried to distance itself from the issues at the core of the lawsuit, suggesting that the alleged actions would have been taken Levandowski operating as an individual employee rather than on behalf of the company, but that argument is getting harder to make. Removing Levandowski at least limits the perception that he’s still using what he learned at Waymo to help Uber with its own LIDAR technology, something Uber has denied all along. The lawsuit, meanwhile, is getting increasingly nasty, with Uber targeting senior Waymo executives for depositions apparently on the basis of mere spite, because they have nothing to do with the details of the litigation.
via Business Insider
Uber Exec in Charge of Pittsburgh Self-Driving Test Quits (Apr 18, 2017)
Uber comms head Rachel Whetstone is departing – Recode (Apr 11, 2017)
Yet another executive departure from Uber, this time its head of PR. It’s impossible not to see this in the context of Uber’s overall recent troubles, but Whetstone has been there for a number of years now, and interestingly is handing over to another woman. I say interestingly because her successor will have to deal with the reaction to the internal investigation at Uber over sexual harassment, which I can’t imagine will be fun, especially if the investigation concludes that it’s a bad place for women to work. On the other hand, having a woman leading the charge on getting that PR message out could also be seen cynically as a clever strategic move.
Veteran Apple Designer Leaving — The Information (Apr 3, 2017)
Christopher Stringer was that rare thing at Apple: someone working in design not named Jony Ive that people had actually heard of and seen speak on Apple’s behalf, mostly because he was a witness in the long-running Samsung-Apple court case. But he was also a veteran at Apple, there for 21 years, and part of the small Industrial Design team which has been a cohesive unit for a long time. Twenty-one years is a long time to be with any company, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary I’m inclined to ascribe this to someone who’s spent half his career in one place wanting a change of scenery. But of course he’s one of a number of senior Apple people who have left recently, and so it’s easy for a narrative to form here. So far, I’m unconvinced that the recent departures represent anything more than normal turnover among very talented teams in a fairly flat organizational structure, but it’s worth continuing to watch this trend for signs that there’s something more going on.
via The Information
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey is leaving Facebook – Recode (Mar 30, 2017)
This isn’t a huge surprise – Luckey has been very quiet at Facebook over the past year or so, and especially since he was in the news a while back for allegedly funding and/or creating some political material during last year’s presidential election. It’s also important to note that he hasn’t had a clear managerial role at Facebook/Oculus since he arrived there, with others taking on the day to day responsibility for moving the product forward. So in some ways his departure is probably a good thing for Facebook, which has seemed reticent to associate itself directly with him in recent months.
A.I. Expert at Baidu, Andrew Ng, Resigns From Chinese Search Giant – The New York Times (Mar 22, 2017)
This story is notable for two reasons. Firstly, Baidu especially and Chinese companies in general are often overlooked completely in discussions of who’s making big investments in AI and machine learning, and yet Baidu has made massive investments in this area, and recently hired former Microsoft exec Qi Lu to be its COO and to oversee its AI efforts. Secondly, despite Qi Lu’s recent arrival, the trend of former Silicon Valley execs joining big Chinese tech companies still has fewer long-term success stories than short-term fizzles, as this article points out. Both Hugo Barra and Andrew Ng’s move to Chinese companies were seen as highly symbolic, and as such it’s inevitable that their departures should be too. The big Chinese companies are doing good work, and in some cases pioneering new product and service categories, across a number of different areas, but attracting and keeping high-profile talent from the US (even those with ties to Greater China – Ng was born in the UK to parents from Hong Kong) remains tough.
via New York Times
Uber president Jeff Jones is quitting, citing differences over ‘beliefs and approach to leadership’ – Recode (Mar 20, 2017)
This is the first high-profile departure from Uber’s executive ranks which is being explicitly described as a response to the toxic culture at the company – Amit Singhal was forced out, while Ed Baker’s reasons for leaving were at least somewhat opaque. But Jeff Jones is, at least by his telling, leaving precisely because of the toxic culture and an unwillingness to stay at a company where he clearly doesn’t feel comfortable. Travis Kalanick’s explanation – which I think can probably be dismissed as face-saving – is that Jones decided to leave after Kalanick announced that he was hiring a COO. The fact that Recode had sources saying Jones’ reason for leaving was cultural even before Jones himself spoke out certainly reinforces that fact. Kalanick’s response just reinforces the sense that he hasn’t changed at all, and that if Uber’s culture is going to change meaningfully, that COO had better be a very strong individual, able to stand up to Kalanick and force real changes.
Given the brevity of Moore’s tenure at Loon, it looks like things didn’t turn out so well, which is a bit surprising given he was thought to be the kind of business brain who would align well with Alphabet’s new, more focused strategy. It’s also a bit surprising because Loon had recently announced that it was making progress in streamlining its technology and therefore getting closer to the point where it might make money. In the end, Moore seems to be either another executive who didn’t jive with the way Alphabet is being run now, or perhaps merely had conflicts with other managers around him.