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Less than a year into his return as C.E.O., one thing is clear: the company’s fortunes are indelibly tied to those of its controversial co-founder. I'm leaving the company in two weeks,” Dick Costolo said abruptly, his face stricken, his fingers banging the wood-slab table before him. Costolo, the bald and lithe chief executive of Twitter, was sitting in the Waterthrush conference room on the 11th floor of his company’s headquarters, in the old Western Furniture Exchange and Merchandise Mart, in downtown San Francisco.

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Think of Yahoo as a traditional enterprise (with all the assets just mentioned) stuck on top of a small safe deposit box. Inside that box: a huge pile of cash, plus stock certificates of two Asian tech companies. Yahoo owns about 15 percent of Internet giant Alibaba, a stake that would trade on the open market for roughly $29 billion. It also has a 36 percent holding (worth about $9 billion) in Yahoo! Japan, a publicly traded company based in Tokyo that long ago abandoned Yahoo’s search technology for Google’s. If you add up the cash and the stocks, you’ll notice that the value of the contents of the box totals $43 billion.

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The grand opening of Target Canada was set to begin in one month, and Tony Fisher needed to know whether the company was actually ready. In February 2013, about a dozen senior-level employees gathered at the company’s Mississauga, Ont., headquarters to offer updates on the state of their departments. Fisher, Target Canada’s president, was holding these meetings every day as the launch date crept closer. The news was rarely good.

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