Google Announces Plans To Open Artificial Intelligence Lab in China

A photo of Google's Beijing office.

Google’s Beijing office.
Photo credit: testing / Shutterstock

Google’s business has been largely absent from China since 2010, when the company pulled many of its core businesses out. Now, though, Google is returning to China with the announcement of a new Chinese center devoted to artificial intelligence. This is a small gesture but a strong symbolic move that represents the tech giant returning to the most populous nation on earth.

Google largely pulled out of China seven years ago, citing government controls and surveillance initiatives that ran counter to its guiding philosophy of a free and open internet. Since then, however, China has made a resurgence as one of the world’s leading tech powers. This is why, as The New York Times reported, Google is putting a team of experts in Beijing for further research and development of AI. The office will be led by Fei-Fei Li, who’s currently in charge of the AI lab at Stanford. She will join Jia Li, the head of AI research and development for Google Cloud.

“We have 600-plus employees in China, and we had a similar number in 2010,” Google spokesman Taj Meadows told the Times. “Roughly half of them are engineers working on global products. Work on A.I. will be in a similar vein.”

Google is not the only tech company to capitalize on the progress China has made in recent years. Microsoft and IBM are also hard at work on hiring Chinese staff members. This movement coincides with efforts from the Chinese government to upgrade the country’s tech infrastructure and move away from foreign-made hardware and software.

The relationship between Google and China continues to evolve. In 2010, the company said that it could no longer tolerate China’s stance on censorship, as well as the government’s alleged hacking of some human rights activists’ Gmail accounts. Google never left China entirely, though, and it now looks poised to rebuild its presence among the world’s largest population of internet users.

Advertisements

Investors Still Confident In Uber Despite Its Problems

A photo of someone using the Uber app.

Photo credit: Mr.Whiskey / Shutterstock

It’s no big news that Uber has had a rough 2017. From harassment scandals to activist investors to regulatory troubles, the ridesharing company has had a lot of challenges in the past year. But despite all of that, investors remain confident that the $70 billion company is poised for growth.

“We’ve seen it over years and years, and I think [former CEO Travis Kalanick] has learned some very challenging lessons,” said William Ford of General Atlantic, one of the firms that has invested in Uber. “But the good news is he is learning. I think he’s taken good counsel from his board and some of his investors, and he’s got our confidence.”

But the company’s challenges aren’t over yet. The transport regulator in London recently refused Uber’s license renewal bid, a decision the company says it plans to appeal.

Regulatory agency Transport for London cited Uber’s approach to reporting serious criminal offenses and failing to do background checks on drivers as reasons why the company’s license renewal bid was rejected.

The GMB, Britain’s general trade union, and the London Taxi Drivers’ Association may participate in the case, too, if Westminster Magistrates’ Court Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot agrees to allow it.

A hearing on the case is scheduled for April of 2018, but that may be pushed back due to scheduling issues. Meanwhile, Uber’s 40,000 London drivers will be able to continue taking passengers until the appeals process is exhausted—a process that could take years.

In an attempt to get its licensing back on track, new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi apologized to Londoners and met with Transport for London Commissioner Mike Brown for talks.

On December 10, an Uber spokesman said, “We continue having constructive discussions with Transport for London in order to resolve this. As our new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has said, we are determined to make things right.”

Regardless of the troubles in London and the issues simmering in the company itself, investors are still feeling that the company has something to offer.

In addition to General Atlantic, Uber has attracted investments from the likes of Goldman Sachs, Dragoneer Investments, Chinese ridesharing service Didi Chuxing, and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Why? Because the company’s troubles will pass, and they’re banking on the fact that Uber remains a worthy investment.

Many investors believe that after the drama and shakeups of 2017, the company is poised for growth. It’s certainly been growing this year, with Q2 results showing revenue of $1.75 billion, as compared to Q2 2016, when the company’s revenue was a mere $800 million. Not only that, but global trips are up 150 percent from Q2 2016.

Uber has also received sign-off from the SEC to change the description of its business model to one in which the company is merely an “agent” and its customers are the drivers, not the passengers. This would mean Uber could report financial results without disclosing how much drivers are being paid, thus allowing it to report only the net transaction revenue that goes to Uber, leaving out the driver’s compensation. This change hints that an IPO may not be far off.

With numbers like that and the strong potential for an IPO in the near future, it’s no surprise that investors remain confident in the ridesharing company.

Disney, Fox Are in Talks to Complete Major Merger in Entertainment Industry

The logo for Walt Disney Pictures.

Image: Dean Bertoncelj / Shutterstock

Two of the biggest names in the entertainment industry are preparing to team up. According to the Financial Times, executives at Disney and 21st Century Fox have revived talks regarding a major merger in which Disney would purchase around $50 billion worth of Fox’s international and entertainment-related assets. This would include the company’s 39 percent stake in the pan-European broadcaster Sky.

The negotiations have been largely focused on Fox’s movie studio, its cable channels such as FX, and its international business holdings, including both Sky and Star of India. Analysis from MoffettNathanson has indicated that the total value of the assets sold would make up a significant percentage of the company’s $60 billion total value.

“Disney would gain more scale in TV and film production [and] cable networks, as well as adding its own distribution angle while accelerating its [direct to consumer video] strategy,” the MoffettNathanson analysts wrote in a research note.

For Fox, this potential blockbuster move comes at a tricky inflection point in the company’s history. Fox is separately working to complete a takeover of Sky rather than to merely own 39 percent of the company, but those efforts have run into regulatory trouble. Meanwhile, Fox may still be considering offers from other buyers, as cable TV giant Comcast has also expressed interest in controlling Fox’s entertainment assets.

If completed, this deal would have a major impact on the long-term direction of Disney’s business model. Today’s consumers are increasingly looking to consume TV programming in an “on-demand” fashion, and Disney has been looking for a way to compete with bigwigs like Netflix and Amazon in that realm. Disney is working to develop two new streaming services: one aimed at sports fans and another with more family-oriented programming. Acquiring Fox’s programming would give them a lot more content to beef up those new offerings.

ESPN is Laying Off Another 150 Employees

 

ESPN's logo.

ESPN has long been an industry leader in cable TV sports programming, but it’s fallen on tough times lately. The network announced Wednesday that it was laying off 150 people, marking the second major series of cuts it’s had to make this calendar year.

“Today we are informing approximately 150 people at ESPN that their jobs are being eliminated,” said ESPN President John Skipper. “The majority of the jobs eliminated are in studio production, digital content, and technology, and they generally reflect decisions to do less in certain instances and redirect resources.”

This round of job cutbacks comes shortly after the network’s April announcement that it was laying off 150 people. That move included ousting a number of prominent on-air personalities, including former pro football players Trent Dilfer and Danny Kanell. This round of layoffs is directed more toward behind-the-scenes employees at ESPN. The company also let about 300 employees go back in October 2015.

These layoffs come amid a series of major business challenges for ESPN. First and foremost, the network has had to deal with declining revenue from subscribers as the number of people paying monthly fees for cable TV packages continues to decrease. This trend has led to tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

While job losses have been ongoing for over two years now, ESPN continues to look for ways to keep the ship afloat. For instance, the network is planning to open a new studio in New York in 2018, where it will host both a morning show and an afternoon opinion show as a way of bringing in new streams of revenue. Additionally, the network is looking to capitalize on the popularity of social media with a new Snapchat version of “SportsCenter.” This will offer sports fans a way to watch game highlights on their smartphones without having to watch traditional cable TV.

TripAdvisor’s Stocks Drop After Bungling Sexual Assault Charges

TripAdvisor's logo.

TripAdvisor, a website for both travel booking and discussion, came under fire this week for deleting and ignoring several reports of rape and assault.

Back in 2010, Kristie Love took a trip to Mexico, where she stayed at the Iberostar Paraiso Maya. She returned to the hotel after a night out to find that her electronic key card had been deactivated. When she asked a uniformed guard for help, he assaulted her. Hotel staff refused to call the police.

Love wrote on the TravelAdvisor message boards several times over the next seven years describing her experiences and asking that action be taken against the perpetrator—or at least that potential travelers be warned.

All of her posts were deleted.

Subsequently, two other women reported being assaulted at the same location.

After a well-publicized investigative report from USA Today, TripAdvisor addressed the issue in a recent press release. According to the release, TripAdvisor previously had a policy of removing language from its forums that wasn’t “family-friendly.” Love’s posts, for example, were removed because they contained the word “rape.” Now, however, TripAdvisor welcomes first-hand accounts of negative experiences such as robbery, theft, and assault in order to warn other travelers. Love’s posts have been republished.

Additionally, TripAdvisor has started a new campaign to mark travel locations like hotels and restaurants with warning symbols if any safety issues have been reported. Mexico’s Iberostar Paraiso Maya, Iberostar Paraiso Lindo, and Grand Velas Maya have all been flagged. According to TripAdvisor company spokesman Brian Hoyt, the warnings are meant to alert visitors that they should do more research before booking a stay at any of these places. The flags will remain active for at least three months, after which an internal committee will decide whether or not to remove them.

After the press release, TripAdvisor said it had issued an apology to Love. TripAdvisor Chief Executive Steve Kaufer also said on his LinkedIn that an apology had been made.

However, Love reacted with disdain: “WHAT APOLOGY?” she wrote on Kaufer’s LinkedIn page. “I’ve yet to hear a word from TripAdvisor, and certainly not an apology!”

The apology was reportedly made shortly after.

Meanwhile shares of TripAdvisor stock have dropped 20% to five-year lows. The company has lost $1 billion in market value since this issue came to light.

The Carlyle Group Announces Major Shift in Leadership

The Carlyle Group's logo.

Last week, asset management company The Carlyle Group appointed Glenn Youngkin and Kewsong Lee its new co-chief executive officers. From an outsider’s perspective, the leadership change may not seem all that significant. But for those in the finance industry, it marks a huge milestone.

In private equity, transference of power is rare. Rival buyout firm KKR recently underwent a similar shift in leadership in which Scott Nuttall and Joseph Bae were appointed co-presidents and co-chief operating officers. Their new positions will prepare them to take over from co-founders George Roberts and Henry Kravis when the 73-year-olds decide to step down from their roles as co-chairmen and co-chief executives.

And while 73 is well past the typical retirement age, these types of extended power reigns are all too prominent in private equity. Fellow competitor The Blackstone Group has yet to formally announce its next successor, even though its CEO Stephen Schwarzman is 70.

The same pattern can be seen with Apollo Global Management. CEO Leon Black, 66, has not yet named his successor. In this case, however, it’s not necessarily a pressing matter, since his co-founding partners, Joshua Harris and Marc Rowan, are 52 and 55, respectively.

The finance industry’s reluctance to hand over the reigns is precisely what makes The Carlyle Group’s appointment of Glenn Youngkin and Kewsong Lee as co-chief executive officers so significant. As Reuters put it, it’s the “biggest shakeup since [The Carlyle Group] was founded by David Rubenstein, William Conway, and Daniel D‘Aniello 30 years ago.”

But as far as Rubenstein, Conway, and D‘Aniello are concerned, they’re confident they’ve placed the future of their company into the right hands.

In a statement, the Carlyle founders concluded, “These promotions ensure continuity in our leadership and maintain the investment processes that have driven our success for 30 years.”

Own a Business? Keep Politics Out of It

A businessman opens his shirt to reveal an American flag underneath.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Regardless of whether you voted for Hillary, Trump, or a third-party candidate, this key piece of advice remains the same: keep politics out of business. 

While it can be tempting to jump on the political bandwagon, doing so comes at the risk of losing your customers (and ultimately your business). The NFL learned this lesson the hard way.

It all started in 2016, when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to protest against racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem. Inspired by Kaepernick, other players decided to do the same. But not everyone viewed it as a peaceful form of protest. Some Americans found kneeling during the national anthem to be disrespectful to the men and women who died defending this country.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it was decidedly a bad call to allow employees of the NFL to insert their personal political agenda into a classic American sport. Why? Because those who disagreed with the act became so enraged that they launched their own form of protest.

Using the hashtag #BurnTheNFL, disgruntled fans started a social media campaign in which they ignited all their NFL merchandise in a sea of flames. Even more impactful, they vowed to stop purchasing game tickets and to stop watching the sport all together.

See the trickle down effect?

The better solution would have been for Kaepernick to protest on his own time and his own dime. What he does outside of work is his business, but so long as he is on the clock, he has an obligation to respect his customers’ opinions. And that’s how it ought to be for all employees and business owners.

As I stated earlier, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Conservative—this is nonpartisan post in which I advise everyone to keep politics out of business.

Trump and the Stock Market: Correlation Does Not Equal Causation

The front page cover for The Economist magazine. The cover features a photo of Trump with the word, "Trumponomics" written across his face.

Photo credit: dennizn / Shutterstock

Ever since Trump took office, the stock market has hit some record highs. Most recently, the Dow reached over 23,000 for the first time in history.

President Trump, of course, credits himself for this trend. In a series of tweets published on Oct. 11, the president wrote:

“Stock market has increased by 5.2 trillion dollars since the election on November 8th, a 25% increase. Lowest unemployment in 6 years and if Congress gives us the massive tax cuts (and reform) I am asking for, those numbers will grow by leaps and bounds.”

But while it’s tempting to attribute the recent economic growth to the newly elected president, experts say that just isn’t accurate.

Kevin Caron, a portfolio manager and market strategist who helped oversee $180 billion dollars at Stifel Nicolaus, attributes the growth to earnings rather than politics.

“The new records have everything to do with earnings,” Caron explained. “It’s obvious that the stock market follows earnings, but the market narrative always wants to find something more interest. But the reality is very simple: The market has gone higher because earnings have improved.”

Maris Ogg, president of Tower Bridge Advisors, agrees.

“So far, earnings have beat expectations,” said Ogg. “I think that the most important thing economically that has happened this year is the clear, sustainable recovery occurring in Europe. We’re getting confirmation of that with almost every economic release.”

Other business moguls have different theories. Walter Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management, believes the recent growth has more to do with the time of year.

“The seasonal factor is playing a big role,” Hellwig told Business Insider. “We’re out of the ‘sell in May and go away’ time frame. Between now and the end of the year, I think people are going to keep buying, with good earnings still coming in.”

And then there’s Bill Schultz, chief investment officer at McQueen, Ball, & Associates. Schultz gave several reasons for the rise of the Dow, none of which have to do with Trump.

“The underlying economy has performed better than a lot of people expected,” Schultz expounded in an interview with Business Insider. “You’re starting to see a lot of capital expenditures take place through corporations. You’ve got better confidence coming from individuals. There’s not as much concern about the Fed aggressively raising rates. And the economies around the world have performed better.”

In summation, Trump’s involvement with the rise of the stock market is likely more coincidental than anything. However, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever stop taking credit for it.

Upscale Fashion Company Coach Changes its Name to Tapestry

A photo of the Coach logo plastered on the outside of a building.

Photo credit: NYgraphic / Shutterstock

Coach stock prices took a dip on Wednesday after the company announced that it is changing its name to Tapestry. The news caused uproar among brand loyalists.

“When I think of Tapestry the first thing that comes to mind is my college dorm room, where I hung tapestries,” said Ariana Moshref, a 23-year-old San Franciscan.

Kathleen O’Leary, a 35-year-old residing in New York, echoed Moshref’s distaste.

“I feel so strongly against this—who can I call about it?” O’Leary told CNBC.

But the public outrage quelled when fans learned that the new name was strictly for the corporate parent company, not for the Coach brand itself. The new name is meant to encompass the two other fashion brands that the company owns: Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman.

“In Tapestry, we found a name that speaks to creativity, craftsmanship, authenticity and inclusivity on a shared platform and values,” said CEO Victor Luis. “As such, we believe that Tapestry can grow with our portfolio and with our current brands as they extend into new categories and markets.”

Other companies have undergone similar name changes in the past. Google, for example, renamed itself Alphabet in 2015.

As The Wall Street Journal points out, CEO Victor Luis was mimicking the likes of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE and Kering SA, which owns Gucci, Balenciaga, and other high-end European fashion brands. The corporate name change is meant to reflect the umbrella of ownership. The company is also changing its symbol on the New York Stock Exchange from “COH” to TPR.”

CEO Victor Luis said that his one reservation with the name change is that people will associate it with being old-fashioned. He also acknowledged its musical connotation.

“For anyone who is aware of the album, Carole King does come up,” Luis stated. “But we discovered most millennials had not heard of it.”

The name change will officially go into effect at the end of this month.

Star-Studded Group to Be Inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame

Snowsport goggles laid on top of an American flag.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame has announced its 2017 inductees, which include some of the biggest names in the sports. Both important financial supporters like Thom Weisel and well-known athletes like Eddie Ferguson will be added in honor of their accomplishments.

Eddie “Airborne” Ferguson is known as a freestyle icon who helped develop the hotdog freestyle skiing movement in the 70s. His camps taught over 4,000 students how to ski. His personal records are equally as impressive: he won the World Freestyle Championship in 1973, was a commentator for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and became the youngest PSIA instruction at age 14.

Herman Gollner was a coach, competitor, and inventor best known for performing the first double backward somersault in 1965 as well as the first triple forward somersault in 1967. In 1968 he performed the “Moebius Flip” by doing a full somersault with a full twist on skis. He also invented a screw-in hinge alpine pole that helped reduce delays in slalom races all over the world.

Marty Hall drove the movement to bring US cross-country skiing into the international eye. In 1970 he became the first US women’s national coach to support a team in an FIS competition outside of the US. He also coached Bill Koch, America’s first—and only—cross-country skier to win an Olympic gold medal in 1976.

Michael and Steven Marolt earned their fame as what Outside Magazine called “two of the most accomplished ski mountaineers alive.” The twin brothers are known for having scaled and skied some of the most impressive descents—without oxygen, porters, or altitude drugs. They have been on 13 expeditions to the Himalayas alone and were the first Americans to ski from an 8,000-meter peak in Tibet.

Steve McKinney was a big name in the speed skiing world of the 70s and 80s. In addition to setting the world record in speed—117.7 MPH in 1974—he also broke that record in 1987, skiing over 130 MPH. He helped design the Trout Head Helmet and other aerodynamic equipment for the sport.

Shaun Palmer is known as one of the forefathers of extreme sport and competed in professional snowboarding for almost 20 years. He earned six X-Games gold medals, a gold medal at the 2002 Gravity Games, and a position on the 2010 Vancouver Olympic snowboard cross team. The 2001 ESPY Awards named him the Action Sports Athlete of the Year.

Thom Weisel is a longtime supporter of the US Ski Team. He was chairman of the Ski Team’s Foundation from 1983-84 and helped raise millions of dollars as well as bringing in organizational support. He was involved with the USSA for 35 years, providing leadership and financial prowess that earned him the USSA’s highest honor, the Julius Blegen Award.

The inductees will be officially honored in April 2018 at the Village at Squaw Valley during the Snowsport History Celebration, which brings in hundreds of skiing enthusiasts.

The US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum is the only national hall of fame dedicated to American skiing and snowboarding. Located in Ishpeming, Michigan, the museum provides visitors with extensive exhibits on the history of snowsport going back as far as its Nordic origins. Part of its 15,000 square feet of exhibits includes the Roland Palmedo Ski Library, which houses a collection of over 1,300 books, magazines, videos, and films on the sports of skiing and snowboarding.

%d bloggers like this: