Jimmy Goldsmith and Me

19 Oct

The Stock Market Crash of 1987: Twenty-five years on….

There was one man who seemed to see it coming: Sir James Goldsmith, Anglo-French billionaire, global environmentalist, suave corporate financier, elegant bon vivant. Ladies man.

Was he Ian Fleming’s inspiration for James Bond, or for one of his villains?

Perhaps both.

What I know now from the perspective of 25 years in business after having first met Sir James is that I learned a very great amount from the man.

He famously sold most of his stocks just before Black Monday, Oct. 19, 1987, and then he tried to achieve one of the world’s largest leveraged buyouts. It was a privilege to get to know him well. He was one of a kind.

Image

(I am the scribbler hanging on his words on the right of the photo.)

That Syncing Feeling

27 Aug

Has the ‘syncing feeling’ affected you, too?

Below is a link to my WSJ edit pager on an unintended consequence of the smartphone cloud: the new time we need to spend to make sync work as cheaply and efficiently as possible…Especially when traveling overseas. I was struck by this recently — as mobile services become more powerful (which is great!) they are also forcing us to spend more time fiddling and fussing with them to make them as efficient and inexpensive to operate as possible.

Many thanks to Gordon Crovitz, whose column returns to its regularly scheduled spot next week!

Here is the link:

http://on.wsj.com/PlrXLs

Secrecy, Troop Movements and Social Media

13 May

Reading the Pulitzer-winning (1931) memoirs of General John Pershing recently, I am struck by many things, including the horrifying first use of chemical weapons, the unprecedented loss of life (700,000 dead at Verdun alone), and some unexpected ‘walk-on’ cameos including the Zelig-like appearances of a youthful, high-energy captain on the General’s staff named George S. Patton, Jr. (who later would return to his own fight in France).

But perhaps most interesting, given the unbelievable progress in communication technology since Pershing’s time, is the commander’s genuine shock and horror that the arrival and movements of the U.S. Expeditionary Force on European soil was extensively covered in the press of the time. “To my utter surprise” Pershing noted, the arrival of the Doughboys was thoroughly documented including “port of debarkation, the designation of units and the number of men.”

Pershing called on his aides for an immediate and total censorship lockdown, which was mostly successful. “Secrecy gives a commander the possibility of surprising his opponent,” Pershing writes (pg. 89) “The surest road to defeat would be to let the enemy know all about one’s plans and preparations.”

Fast forward to about a year ago, when a blogger in Abottabad, Pakistan started tweeting about the unusual presence of helicopters in the night sky of the city. Those helicopters, of course, were carrying the U.S. Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden. Had the local blogger been a little earlier, or a little more aggressive, he might have alerted the entire Bin Laden compound to the presence of the commandos.

How long will it be before the casual tweet or Facebook post will actually directly lead to a botched rescue mission, assault or other incident? It is hard to imagine anything else.

What’s even harder to imagine is how to put this particular genie of social media back in the bottle. When I was running Yahoo! News, there was light editorial oversight of social comments. But there really is no mechanism that has the footprint or scale to have any sort of pre-publication review. Hard to imagine that even being possible.

Which leads solely to this conclusion: Had social media existed in ‘Black Jack’ Pershing’s time, there’s no question that the arrival of the US forces in France would have been tweeted and blogged. Probably the arrival would have been recorded and streamed on YouTube.

At CES, The Most Important News You Didn’t Hear….

16 Jan

CES 2012

….was the relative competition between China and India for their future piece of the global TMT (Technology, Media, Telecom) landscape.

The verdict: At CES, no question this round goes to China — a virtual shutout of India, which was almost invisible in contrast to the enormous and growing presence of Chinese technology manufacturers, telecom hardware and software providers and infrastructure players in glitzy splendor among the 153,000 attendees of this year’s CES in Las Vegas.

Such Chinese leaders as telecom giant Huawei (with its sub-$100 Android smartphone) had significant floorspace. And this very large presence was more than exceeded if you total the dozens of smaller companies more modestly showing one or another interesting new take on an existing business (e.g. super-powerful, super-inexpensive tablet computers) or on a new business (cleverly designed bluetooth-enabled holders to attach your iPad to the back of the front seat of your car to create a cheap backseat entertainment center).

But the ‘missing force’ at CES was India, whose large and growing technology and telecom industry was more or less AWOL from the show. Not that India’s tech executives were absent: I had several great meetings with leaders from several Indian players in the telecom and IT outsourcing industries.

But given the pace of growth of India’s telecom and technology industries and the increasing global role they are playing, it was intriguing India’s technology leaders were most notable in their absence. I know from the very strong growth app-store marketplace leader Appia is seeing in India through its relationship providing mobile applications for Vodafone India, for instance, that the Indian market is surging.

Yet Indian manufacturers and technology companies seemed almost invisible at this year’s preeminent consumer technology showcase.

Why? There are those who say CES is past its prime, and perhaps that explains the absence of some of these players. But at an event where China played such a visible and growing role, the  contrast with India provides an interesting anecdote.

The only conclusion on the ground was: China is ‘leaning in’ on a global export opportunity, and India — by appearances anyway — seems to lean in the opposite direction.

Joining Appia Inc. as Executive Chairman….

7 Sep

I’m super-excited to be joining the Appia Inc. board as Executive Chairman. In a short time, Appia has become the leading independent global source for mobile app discovery and download (that isn’t owned by Apple or Google or RIM or Nokia).  Jud, Alex and the Appia team are simply killing it in global distribution of the mobile apps that make all our devices more useful.

You may not yet know Appia, which provides white-label app stores to carriers around the globe — but if you have downloaded an app on any of the seven Continents, chances are high you have used Appia to do it….

I am looking forward to helping the Appia team accelerate their already growing momentum, and hopefully helping lead to an outcome as great as a previous company I had the privilege of Exec Chairing —  WHERE – has enjoyed since their acquisition by eBay earlier this year.

I’ll continue my roles on the boards of some other great companies as well. The focus: accelerating profitable growth.

AllThingsD had a nice writeup here

Press Release is here

Eric Schmidt’s Biggest Mistake

1 Jun

It is not often that a public-company CEO lays bare his faults before his peers (and a global livestreaming audience) and candidly answers a question about the worst thing he or she got wrong in the job.

Tonight, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt did just that. And it is worth noting the authenticity with which he recounted his biggest screw up in a decade as Google CEO was fairly stunning for its directness.

And that is a management lesson for us all to consider.

Specifically, Schmidt said Google missed the huge opportunity to create the social platform that Facebook has become, noting that the now-being-solved platform opportunity around our “identity” is one of the defining opportunities in technology.

“The CEO should take responsibility. I screwed up in missing the ‘identity’ opportunity,” he said. “I wrote memos about it four years ago. I wrote memos about it three years ago. But I did nothing.”

There was a brief pause while the audience simply took in the direct point.

And then Kara asked the perfect followup:

“Why?” she asked.

“Because I was busy,” said Schmidt. Which he no doubt was. Not an excuse. Just a statement of fact.

Schmidt said many other interesting things during his remarks, and then a few more when several of us ate dinner together (though it was a short, cold dinner outside once the sun set). Among them: Google is working on the next generation of search which will be about algorithmically winnowing down its results to the best answer to a query, as opposed to its current model of finding the web page that most closely seems to relate to the query. (This is a big change — and a big deal if done right). He also expressed concerns about countries beginning to wall off the internet from the basic standards that makes it work the same way from Lebanon, PA to Lebanon, in the Mideast. And he showed new Google wallet payment technology which is the company’s entry into the new era-defining opportunity of local-social-mobile commerce. The Mashable guys did a fine job summarizing his remarks here.

But the most memorable thing was his no-nonsense answer to the direct question of what he got wrong, which he volunteered with no caveats.

My own view is that this is what we will remember the longest about what he said here tonight. And there is a lesson in management for all of us in that.

#D9 Swag Bag Includes this HP Veer cellphone…

31 May
…Claims to be among the smallest 4G phones, it is hard to see how such applications as WHERE can be integrated on the tiny screen….But if you think the screen is small, you should see the keypad…HP Veer 4G Mobile Phone"
The HP Veer is the sort of phone ‘Zoolander’ would have liked….

@ The Wall Street Journal D9 Conference

31 May

It is a beautiful day in southern California for a technology conference. If the lineup weren’t so good (as it always is) many of the attendees would probably play hookey and enjoy the golden California sunshine. (Apologies to those folks who are reading this where it is raining….)

It is the ninth annual WSJ D conference since Walt and Kara started this global gathering of the digital elite, and my fifteenth since I left daily newspaper journalism at The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones to get involved in this “obscure” (as it was considered then) and “geeky” (again, that was then) thing called….The Internet….

Today, what is now known simply as “Convergence” has brought together the worlds of media, communications and technology in ways that were simply a vision back then.

I have been privileged to operate big jobs at the center of this “Convergence” from several vantage points (“Big Media” (@TimeWarner), “Big Internet” (@Yahoo!), “Big Telecom” (EarthLink), and successful startups in websearch and mobile (Infoseek->Disney and WHERE->EBay).

And it’s funny: when you look forward, big changes really seem evolutionary. It is only when you have the perspective and opportunity to look backwards that you can see how revolutionary the changes really are….

This WSJ D Conference provides plenty of both perspective and opportunity – so I will be pimping for my current startups every way I can! 🙂

And Walt and Kara and their growing team have assembled a great lineup, including Google’s Eric Schmidt, Hewlett-Packard CEO Léo Apotheker, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, DARPA director Regina Dugan, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows division, among others….

I’ll tweet as best I can! Once a reporter, always a reporter….

The Looming Sunni-Shia Battle

25 Apr

It’s an old habit, but I like to visit into far-off places at times of big change. (This was an especially useful talent to have in my days as a foreign correspondent, but also keeps life interesting now).

I just returned from a longish trip to the Mideast including Lebanon and Turkey and this post is mostly about the perspective one gets from such travel. As a telecom and technology executive, I was fascinated to see up-close the powerful role mobile and social technology are playing in the popular uprisings currently shaking so much of the Arab world. And it was so interesting – and invaluable – to meet and speak with to speak with so many people who are using new mobile technology to create a new landscape in the region.

Just over the past week, unrest in Syria left over a hundred people dead and underscored a widening of the popular uprisings that have already occurred this year (in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia and Libya) to Lebanon’s neighbor to the East. There surely is more upheaval to come.

I spent much of the past week in Lebanon, traveling from the southern Shuf Mountains to the northern city of Tripoli. I had a memorable time seeing a beautiful, diverse country that is rebuilding and seems on the move despite all the obstacles stacked against it.

In contrast to the impression one has from afar, Beirut today and its suburbs nowadays are a bustling hive of construction sites, highway projects and a busy international airport. Years of civil war have left deep scars of course, and opened the door for such rivals as Dubai to eclipse Beirut as a regional center. But with such awe-inspiring construction projects as the center-city Solidere redevelopment site – one of the largest engineering projects in the world – it is possible to imagine Beirut once again becoming the ‘Paris of the Mideast.’

Of course, the outward appearance of modernity and economic progress may prove fragile, as it has so many times before by intervention from its neighbors and internal civil strife.

To say it’s a complex neighborhood is a deliberate understatement.

Regardless, one principal impression stays with me after 10 days spent in the region:

The coming fault line of conflict in the Mideast will be within the “neighborhood” of Islamic Arabia itself, and it will NOT principally be a battle of Islam with the rest of the world. The United States and the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa are not at the center of this reformation. Nor is the Palestinian-Israeli issue the key. In fact, this isn’t even principally a battle involving nation-states.

Rather, the confrontation is shaping up as a battle for the soul of Islam – between extremist Shia and Sunni groups.

The Arab uprisings of 2011 in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and now Syria have thus far not illustrated this in the early rounds. But I have a hunch we will see the Sunni-Shia extremist conflict emerging soon as a central narrative in the so-called Arab Uprising of 2011. When? It may be a while, because so many institutions of post-authoritarian regimes need to be rebuilt. But there is very little question it is coming, and in some places possibly soon.

How can this be? Many of the worst repressive regimes kept “bottled up” the worst kinds of the religious conflicts among the two main strains of Islamic faith. Now, as these regimes crumble, the prospects for more openness and democracy increase, but so do the possibly of internal civil war.

The principal Shia action groups on the list are very familiar: Iran, Amal, and of course Hezbollah (which in Lebanon these days seems as much the huge force it is in the mainstream of political life, with visible signs of its power plastered all over, especially in the south, not at all a marginalized splinter group it is sometimes portrayed outside the country). On the Sunni side, the names are less well-known to non-Mideast experts but no less lethal. Perhaps the most terrifyingly brutal are the extremist fighters belonging to the Salafi orthodox Sunni sect, who claimed responsibility for the brutal murder of a pro-Palestinian Italian activist kidnapped and murdered in Gaza while I was traveling here.

In Syria, there is a scenario in which Syrian strongman Bashar Al Assad losing his grip on the country, and setting up a conflict between Sunni majority in the country, and the Shia and Alawite minority who have dominated the political landscape for 40 years. In the region, Christians, Druze and other religious minorities all fear becoming caught in the cross-fire. Such a shift in the balance of power in Syria could put Hezbollah and Iran on the defensive, and then usher in a new period of realignment in the region.

Despite the West’s strong interests and involvement in the region, the heart of the issue is essentially local in nature. It does not revolve around Washington, London, Beijing or other world capitals. Which may be worth remembering as the calls for global action, especially for the U.S., escalate.

My new role at WHERE…

28 Feb

I have been happy to be a board director of WHERE for the past several years. Now I am very excited to be taking on an additional role as Executive Chairman as announced today.

WHERE is the leading location media company and provides a hugely useful mobile service that helps you find and share your favorite places, at home or on the road. My view is such mobile, location-aware services are at the forefront of the next-generation of consumer and business marketing, media, advertising and technology. Innovating a breakneck pace, WHERE sits at the crossroads of the local, social, mobile and technology ecosystem.

WHERE’s latest product release reflects all that. I’ve commented before about the usefulness of features that help you store, manage and share the places you like. With the current release (updated last week for Android and iPhone) WHERE now is starting to recommend local places that you and your friends are likely to find most alluring, based on algorithmic analysis of you and your friends’ preferences. It’s very cool.

And the company is on a tear! In addition to reaching four million mobile customers monthly, WHERE is also the biggest location-aware advertising network — (that hasn’t been snapped up by Apple or Google) — serving more than two billion monthly mobile advertising impressions. Although a private company that doesn’t release its financials, WHERE is both growing revenues fast (in the double-digit millions) and has been profitable for the past six consecutive quarters. That kind of performance reflects the fact the company is a great team, led at its top by a terrific CEO – Walt Doyle.

What does an executive chairman do? I’ll be working on corporate development and strategy with the team, who are doing great things in the relationships with carriers, handset manufacturers and other important partners. Mostly, I will try to be helpful to the WHERE team and its stakeholders, just as WHERE tries to be helpful to its customers. And I’ll continue with my board roles at several other private companies I am equally enthusiastic about.

I am excited to be off on the next phase of the WHERE ride!