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G100 Network Notebook | July 2018

From Store to Door, With or Without Humans

Remember Amazon’s drone delivery promise? It’s reality in China, where JD.com – the country’s second largest e-commerce outlet, backed by Tencent, Walmart, and Google – has been using drones to deliver goods since 2017. The New Yorker goes on the ground in Zhangwei to explore how drone fulfillment in isolated areas is changing e-commerce:

Analysts predict that China’s online retail market will double in size in the next two years, and that the growth will come disproportionately from third- and fourth-tier cities and from the country’s vast rural hinterland. At a time when the Chinese government has instituted monumental infrastructure programs to develop these regions, companies like JD are providing a market-driven counterpart, which is likely to do for China what the Sears, Roebuck catalogue did for America in the early twentieth century.

In the Age of Amazon, rapid fulfillment is a critical battleground. Kroger, already a leader in customer-centric advanced analytics, announced their plan to compete on fresh food delivery – with driverless cars. Bloomberg describes the pilot, due to start this fall in partnership with autonomous driving startup Nuro:

It will operate kind of like a Lyft or Uber: dispatched to a customer’s address loaded with groceries, with updates on the location of the order provided through a mobile app. Once the delivery arrives, the customer will go outside and unlock the grocery order.

What CEOs Know About Communication

Now five years at the helm of Lockheed Martin, CEO Marillyn Hewson has led the organization on a steady growth trajectory, focusing on innovation and international expansion. Efforts have paid off: the aerospace and defense company has hit over $51 billion in sales and total shareholder returns have nearly tripled during her tenure. In a new interview, Hewson discussed launching the F-35 (the most complex and expensive warplane ever built), dealing with the Trump administration, and how she communicates with 100,000 employees in 52 countries:

I do a quarterly webcast … at the end of every quarter, I report out on the financials, I report out on achievements and I talk about the things that are important. We put in something that we call next-gen LM, but it’s basically a framework for the corporation and for employees to think about the things that are important to us. Starting first and foremost with our core values, do what’s right, respect others, perform with excellence.

Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh – who spoke at the recent G100 Women’s Leadership Acceleration meeting – echoed Hewson’s emphasis on engaging with employees to foster cultural and operational alignment:

When I arrived, I basically went on a listening tour, spending an hour with each of the company’s top 60 executives. I had e-mailed them my questions beforehand: What are three things we should not change? What are three things we absolutely must change? What’s one thing you’re hoping I’ll do? What’s one thing you’re afraid I may do?

Reading Tea Leaves in the Bond Market

Does the narrowing US yield curve portend a possible recession? Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis president Neel Kashkari, a dissenting voice at the central bank who spoke with our members late last year, warns against downplaying this indicator and continuing to raise short-term interest rates:

We do know the bond market is telling us that inflation expectations appear well-anchored, the economy is not showing signs of overheating and rates are already close to neutral. This suggests that there is little reason to raise rates much further, invert the yield curve, put the brakes on the economy and risk that it does, in fact, trigger a recession.

More bullish is Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, who counts former Fed chair Ben Bernanke among his advisors:

Absent a material catastrophe on the trade front, I think we’re looking at very strong growth the next six to nine months. I think we pulled forward through the tax cut, the stimulus that goes with that, some amount of demand, some amount of capex. We’ll see that play out this year. It makes, for example, 2021, late 2020, much murkier.

Competing with the Content King

Netflix is on track to spend up to $12 billion on content this year, releasing 82 feature films (compared to Warner Brothers’ 23) and over 700 new series to 125 million people around the world. On the heels of a booming quarter that welcomed 7.4 million new viewers, The Economist explores how the company is changing the science of subscription. An excerpt:

One far-reaching effect of Netflixonomics is that it has changed the calculus of whether a show or film is worth making. The company has identified some 2,000 “taste clusters” by watching its watchers. Analysis of how well a programme will reach, draw and retain customers in specific clusters lets Netflix calculate what sort of acquisition costs can be justified for it. It can thus target quite precise niches, rather than the broad demographic groups broadcast television depends on.

Will Machine Learning Make Data Scientists Obsolete?

The role that management and analytics expert Tom Davenport once tagged as the “sexist job of the 21st century” may be on the downswing, as machine learning tools evolve to require less data science expertise to train models and translate insights. As one bank manager explained, “citizen data scientists” – business analysts trained on basic data science – are more attractive than data science experts:

We hire a lot of data scientists, but with automated machine learning you don’t really need to know much about technology or math or programming—it gives business analysts superpowers. If I have to choose between people who know data science, and analysts who understand the business problem, the data, and the behavior of customers, I will take the analysts every time.

Open-Plan Office Pain

Do communal workplaces really lead to better collaboration? A new study by two Harvard Business School professors concludes it does not; in fact, people may shrink their networks and collaborate less. Using people analytics badges, they tracked employee behavior in a Fortune 500 company transitioning from individual cubicles to an open office plan. From their findings:

Conversations by email and instant messaging (IM) increased significantly after the office redesign, while productivity declined, and, for most people, face-to-face interaction decreased. Participants in the first study spent 72% less time interacting in person in the open space. Before the renovation, employees had met face to face for nearly 5.8 hours per person over three weeks. In the after picture, the same people held face-to-face conversations for only about 1.7 hours per person.