WWN#23 – Wanted: New Uber CEO as Travis Kalanick Resigns

What’s Been Happening?

In February, a 3000 word blog post was written by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler which detailed Uber’s toxic company culture. It’s a story of a company that was portrayed as a global start up success in public but revealed as an organisation in complete, unrelenting chaos by the author. She alleged that there was constant harassment and discrimination and when she raised the issue with management, they were dismissed.

Around the same time, a video emerged of Mr Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver about lowering prices for its black car service. He later issued a profound apology in which he stated that he must “fundamentally change as a leader and grow up”. It was a bit too late though, as the damage was done.

In the wake of controversies, a number of senior Uber staff resigned in March, including Uber President Jeff Jones, SVP of engineering Amit Singhal and Uber VP product and growth Ed Baker.

Earlier this month, Mr Kalanick said that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence. One of the reasons cited was the loss of his mother in a recent boating accident. Another reason could have been to facilitate the transition of responsibilities from Kalanick to other members of senior management, in line with recommendations issued by US Attorney General Eric Holder in his report to Uber to overcome its ethics and leadership troubles.

What Now?

A shareholder revolt led by five of Uber’s most prominent investors has resulted in Kalanick agreeing to resign. In a letter titled, “Moving Uber Forward” the investors wrote to the CEO that he must immediately leave and the company needed a change in leadership. In addition, improved oversight was requested by filling two of the three empty board seats with independent directors and that a new CEO and experienced CFO be found immediately. Although Travis has resigned, he will remain on Uber’s board of directors and still hold a significant stake in the company.

What’s Next?

As the search for a new CEO commences so does speculation. One rumour is that US Ex-President Barack Obama may become the new CEO and may be just what Uber needs to stop the company from completely falling apart. There has already been speculation that Obama wanted to enter the tech industry and a connection between Obama and Uber is David Plouffe who was the campaign manager for his 2008 presidential campaign. Later on, he became a policy advisor for Uber.

Sheryl Sandberg is another name that is on the candidate list for CEO of Uber. Sandberg has extensive experience in the tech industry, having served nine years as COO at Facebook. Uber directors, including Arianna Huffington, are increasingly convinced that a woman at the helm would be well suited to fix Uber’s mess. However, sources close to Sandberg say that she’s not interested and will be staying with Facebook.

The search for the CEO and the CFO is more complicated than it would seem, as finding the right individual with experience leading a disruptive business model like Uber’s is far and few between. Once the leadership team has been restructured, Uber may have a chance of being in the spotlight again for all the right reasons instead.


WWN21# – The Qatar Crisis: Trump Talks & Saudi Arabia Listens


What’s Been Happening?

A few weeks ago, President Trump made his first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia where he delivered an address to at least dozens of Arab and Muslim-majority countries at the Arab Islamic American Summit.

His speech focused on the long-standing fight against extremists as he urged Middle East nations to do more. “Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this Earth.”

Later on though, his speech turned to harsh criticism of Iran as a government that speaks openly of mass murder, with vows to destroy Israel, America and other nations in the room. The anti-Iran language is likely to resonate well with Saudi Arabia being a largely Sunni Muslim population as opposed to Iran who is the region’s Shia Muslim power.


What Now? Operation Isolate Qatar Commences

Trump’s speech seems to have successfully galvanized some Arab nations into action as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen simultaneously severed diplomatic ties with Qatar for supporting terrorism.

Some action points:

  • Saudi Arabia has closed its land border with Qatar through which the tiny nation imports most of its food.
  • All countries have ordered their citizens to leave Qatar and for Qataris abroad to return to their country within 14 days.
  • Diplomatic staff from the Arab nations will be withdrawn from Qatar and Qatar’s diplomats will be ejected.

All nations plan to cut air and sea traffic with some regional airlines having already announced that they would suspend services (e.g. Etihad, Emirates, Air Arabia, Bahrain’s Gulf Air).

Trump congratulated Saudi Arabia and himself, taking some credit for the action by tweeting on Twitter: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off… they said they would take a hard line on funding extremism and all reference was pointing to Qatar”.

All of this however, is actually a big problem for the United States who happens to maintain its biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East,at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base in its fight against ISIS. It needs everyone getting along for its operations to continue smoothly. U.S Intelligence Officials have said that they believe the diplomatic crisis could instead be the result of a Russian hack involving the planting of a fake news story with Qatar’s State News Agency. The false news item reportedly carried false remarks from Qatar’s ruler that were friendly to Iran and Israel.

What’s Next?

Trump’s twitter messages is likely to worsen the dispute between Qatar and the other countries. In fact, it only adds further to his own credibility crisis as the messages seem to directly contradict his previous praise of Qatar during the summit as a strategic partner in the war on terrorism.

Meanwhile, the Saudis will certainly be hoping that Qatar acquiesces to its demands including: curb its State news agency Al-Jazeera, agree to Saudi positions on various conflicts in Eygpt, Israel-Palestine, Libya and Syria, and most importantly, take a harder stance towards Iran. The last one would be the most difficult to achieve as Qatar and Iran share the world’s largest independent gas field beneath the waters of the Persian Gulf and have played at being friendly neighbours with each other in the past.

In the case of Qatar, they are more than likely hoping for some help from the international community in defusing the dispute and restore diplomatic ties with everyone. It seems that much of it may be up to Trump – whether he will walk the talk or simply talk the talk.


WWN #19 – Undeterred by French Open Snub, Maria Sharapova Continues Her Comeback

What’s Been Happening?

On the 26th of January 2016, Maria Sharapova had a drug test at the 2016 Australian Open which came back with positive results. As a result, she was initially banned for 2 years by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) which was later reduced to 15 months.

She returned this year in April to the WTA tour and was given wild cards to compete in the Women’s Stuttgart Open, Madrid Open and Italian Open. She has successfully used those wildcard entries to get her world ranking up to a level where she can automatically enter anywhere again.

What Now?

Unfortunately, she was refused a wild card into the French Open on Thursday last week. Two hours later on the same day, a left thigh injury forced her to retire early out of the Italian Open.

The French Tennis Federation president Giudicelli announced the decision was made by him as it is his “duty to protect the high standards of the tournament, the high standards of the game”. He further said that “there can be a wild card for return from injuries, (but) there cannot be a wild card from doping”.

Sharapova reacted positively to the news, despite not being given the wild card –

What’s Next?

Wimbledon is coming up in late June and the tennis star has already made it clear that she will not be requesting for a wild card into the main draw. Some say that is because she has no chance of getting one. In any case, she is currently ranked World No.171 with 310 ranking points. Any player ranked up to 110 automatically go into the main Wimbledon draw whereas the next 88 win a place in qualifying.

Sharapova has reacted positively despite Despite not being given a French Open wildcard

Key Considerations for Sharapova:

  • How quickly she can recover from her thigh injury as she has a bit over a month before Wimbledon qualifying starts on June 26.
  • Unlikely but possible withdrawal from her next tournament which is immediately before Wimbledon: the Aegon Classic in Birmingham, England. The tournament starts on the 17th of June and it recently awarded her a wild card entry as well.

WWN #17 – Telstra: Big win in Mobile after a Big Loss

What’s Been Happening?

In the 2nd half of 2016, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) asked for feedback on a discussion paper about declaring mobile services, which would force Telstra to let competitors’ customers onto its network in regional areas. The purpose behind the discussion paper was to determine if increased competition between telecommunication companies (telcos) could deliver better coverage to people across the country.

There were approximately 120 submissions made in response and most supported the status quo out of fear that Telstra’s coverage would shrink if it could not operate an exclusive network.

Telstra and Optus were opposed to the changes as both have been investing heavily in mobile infrastructure and argued that it was fundamentally at odds with the principle of “infrastructure competition”. On the other hand, Vodafone submitted hundreds of pages in favour of the declaration as it sought to bring an end to Telstra’s market dominance.

What Now?

The ACCC has released a draft decision today proposing that it will not declare a wholesale domestic mobile roaming service. In other words, it will not force Telstra and Optus to give other telcos access to use their infrastructure and roam on their network.

It has found that mobile roaming would not necessarily reduce Telstra’s retail mobile prices for users in regional, rural and remote areas and “could well result in overall higher prices if other service providers raise their retail prices to reflect the cost of roaming access prices, for example”. – Media Release by ACCC.

Telstra welcomed the draft decision with CEO Andrew Penn saying that it was the correct decision for the people of Australia as it would continue to encourage telecommunications investments and competition. Once the decision is confirmed, he said that the 4G coverage will be expanded to reach 99% of the population by later this year.

Vodafone issued a strongly worded statement to voice their disagreement with the decision, where “too many Australians will continue to be held hostage to Telstra” and was disappointed that a “scare campaign with no facts or substance has succeeded”.

The news has sent Telstra shares soaring by 4-5% to around $4.42 which was a much needed boost to its share price after falling by more than 7.5% in mid-April following its rival TPG’s announcement that it plans to build its own mobile network after having paid $AUD 1.26 billion for mobile spectrum.

Telstra Share Price 5th May.png

Credits: Yahoo Finance Charts, Telstra’s Share Price between April 12 and May 5 2017


What’s Next?

The ACCC has invited submissions on the draft decision until 2 June 2017 after which it is expected to hand down its final decision.



WWN 16# – Pentagon: We’re Investigating Flynn Too


Michael Flynn – Credits

What’s been happening?

In February, President Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned amid allegations that he misled the White House and possibly FBI investigations about conversations that he had with the Russian ambassador in December last year. He had failed to disclose talks about US sanctions on Moscow before Trump took office. At the time, Trump said that Flynn’s actions weren’t wrong and that the leaks are the “real” problem. All of this has to do with the ongoing investigation of Russian meddling in the US elections as well as possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

In March, the same Flynn offered to testify before congressional committees but wanted protection against “unfair prosecution”. The statement has led to many guessing that it’s implied that he has done something wrong and his lawyer has evaluated the situation that there will be potentially big problems that may arise later on. Others are saying that this is a high-profile case and it is only natural that he is asking for immunity in what is likely to be a “witch-hunt”.

What Now?

The Pentagon office is now launching their own investigation into Mr Flynn as to whether he broke the law by taking payments from foreign governments after retiring from the military in 2014. One instance is when he received $US45, 000 to appear with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2015 at a gala dinner.

A Defence Intelligence Agency letter was released to the public on Thursday which explicitly states that Flynn “cannot accept fees and gifts from foreign governments unless congressional consent is first obtained”. Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz said that “there was no information or data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law”. The revelations place Flynn in hot water as he is already struggling to defend himself from previous allegations.

What’s Next?

It remains to be seen whether this latest issue will become a criminal prosecution for Flynn due to his perceived violations of law and non-disclosure.  Information is still being gathered from various government agencies such as the Department of Defence before a proper case can be formulated against Flynn. A request for more information lodged by the House Oversight Committee  to the White House has been declined which has led to accusations that the White House is “covering up” for Michael Flynn.

In other news, no one has yet taken up his offer to testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution. All I can say is good luck Flynn, you’ll be needing it.


WWN #12 – A win for Australia: China does a Backflip on E-Commerce Laws

What’s been happening?

The exponential increase in China’s cross-border e-commerce over the last few years led to Chinese authorities announcing new rules in April last year as they sought to improve regulation of the industry. There were two rules that raised alarm bells amongst Australian companies due to their potentially adverse effect on local brands that were favoured by Chinese consumers.

Rule #1 – E-Commerce Tax Circular

  • This rule significantly changed preferential tax policies that had been applied to cross-border e-commerce transactions. Under the new rules, overseas goods purchased by Chinese consumers are now subject to import duties and value added tax (VAT) which is expected to drive up prices. An import purchase limit of 2,000 RMB per transaction along with an annual tax-free limit of 20,000 RMB per individual was also introduced, which is likely to restrict consumer spending.

Rule #2 – The Positive List

  • A ‘positive’ list was released which included a total of 1142 commodity categories. The list covers food and beverages, clothing, footwear and other items that are commonly purchased by Chinese consumers on e-commerce platforms. If the commodity is not on the list, it will not be allowed to be imported into China. Some Australian milk and healthcare products were not allowed on this list.
April 12 2016 - New Ecommerce Laws for China.png

Credits: Yahoo Finance Charts (comparing BAL, A2M and BKL)

Following the announcement, the stock prices of  big Australian companies such as Bellamy’s, A2 Milk and Blackmores went into free-fall (Note: April 10th-12th).

What Now?

In a surprising turn of events this week, China decided to indefinitely delay the tough e-commerce laws. In a statement which effectively removes labelling and registration requirements, China’s Ministry of Commerce said that “low-value products imported for personal use through e-commerce would be considered as a separate category.” -Sydney Morning Herald

The backflip came ahead of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arriving in Australia for negotiations on free trade agreements and eliminating non-tariff barriers between the two countries. Chief executives of A2 Milk and Blackmores both welcomed the updated regulations and saw it as an indication of China strengthening its commitment to promote the cross-border e-commerce channel.

Upon the news, previously affected companies recorded healthy gains with Blackmore shares rising by 13.3%, Bellamy’s up by 14.66% and A2 Milk was up 4.88% (Note: March 20th-21st).

Post-Announcement Reaction for China E-Commerce Laws.png

Credits: Yahoo Finance Charts (post-announcement reaction for BAL, A2m and BKL)

What’s Next?

Despite the increasingly protectionist economic stance taken by countries such as America and Britain, China and Australia appear intent on fighting for free trade which is viewed as mutually beneficial for both countries. It remains to be seen whether the new agreements which are expected to be signed during the Chinese Premier’s visit to Australia will actually reflect this.

Whilst the reversal of the e-commerce laws is definitely good news for most Australian companies, it could perhaps be only a temporary reprieve until the next time the Chinese government decides to change its mind. As Blackmores’ CEO Christine Holgate remarks wryly, “certainty is a fluid concept in China”.


WWN #11 – Blocked again?! Trump’s Travel Ban Version 2.0

What’s been happening?

Earlier this year, Trump signed an executive order which temporarily banned nearly all travellers coming from seven Muslim-majority countries (see WWN #6 – Trump’s Travel Ban & Appeal). It wasn’t received well to say the least, creating chaos at airports and confusion for everyone. After several attorney-generals took the matter to the courts and won, the ban was put on hold.

As a consequence, Trump seems to have decided to write a new ban, one that he has said himself to be a “watered-down version of the order that was blocked by another judge and should never have been blocked to start with”.  The second executive order excludes Iraq and narrows the countries down to six – Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. It also explicitly exempts people with valid visas and green cards while making it clear that US agencies will review case-by-case exceptions. These changes appear to be an attempt to

What Now? 

The order was supposed to take effect on 16th of March but in the hours before it could happen, judges in two federal courts (Maryland and Hawaii) have issued temporary restraining orders (TRO) that have blocked Trump’s second travel ban nationwide on the basis that his order is “likely” to violate the constitution. The federal judge in Hawaii said that the order was clearly “issued with a purpose to disfavour a particular religion”. In his ruling, he notes statements in January made by Trump’s adviser Rudolph Gulliani who quoted Trump as having said “Muslim ban” and “Show me the right way to do it legally”. As the rulings are only temporary, further hearing must take place to determine whether they should be extended as the “merits” of the case have not been fully argued.

In an evening rally in Nashville, Tennessee, a visibly irate Trump branded the rulings as an “unprecedented judicial overreach”. His administration contends that the president should retain the power to suspend immigration when he deems it to be in the national interest of the country.

What’s Next? A Legal Battle Ahead

In Trump’s words, he will “take the case as far as it goes”. It’s therefore likely that the revised order will be taken to the courts again, with the Hawaii decision expected to go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This would be the same court that upheld the ruling made by a Seattle court to stay the original travel ban. Other states such as California, New York and Washington state are also looking to take legal action against the revised ban.

Trump also suggested that he may reinstate the first executive order that was blocked but the possibility of this occurring seems quite low as such a move is expected to lead to public backlash against the Trump administration which was apparent during the very short time that the first travel ban was in effect.