Category Archives: Cloud Computing

How to Make Sure Your Boss Thinks You're Essential to The Team

Make yourself indispensable to your clients and employers. You’ve heard it before. But we live in a fast paced, global economy. And it’s  easier and faster than ever to replace a talented individual. This means it’s harder than ever before to become indispensable. There’s an easier way that doesn’t involve being a super talented genius.

You don’t need to be indispensable to be indispensable. You need merely to hold the only set of keys to essential elements of ongoing business.

The Problem With The Indispensable Argument

Even if you are indispensable, do your clients really believe that?

Companies large and small fire people all the time without knowing how critical they were to the business. People are irrational. And if so motivated, they’ll fire you even at considerable harm to their business. It’s not enough to be indispensable, you need to back it up with strong, material leverage.

What is material leverage?

In business terms, material leverage in business terms is an assisted advantage that exists outside of yourself but is perceived by others. The principle is simple. You legitimately own or control the linchpin of an ongoing transaction, or business and use it to influence terms of an engagement.

Examples include effective control over partnerships, pipelines, websites, apps, platforms, or databases. Or perhaps you have contacts that are essential to the other party’s operations.

Strong vs. Weak vs. No Leverage

The key to understanding the power of leverage usually rests on the amount of time, energy and attention required to replace whatever linchpin you own or control. The more time required, the more powerful the leverage.

No or Weak Leverage

If the resource that you own or control can be easily replaced in a day, you effectively have no leverage. If there is a whole marketplace full of easy alternatives, or the perception of one, you have no effective leverage or at best weak leverage.

Perception is more powerful than the reality. If the other party doesn’t perceive or understand the leverage, they won’t respond to your influence over it.

Strong Leverage

A good measure of strong leverage is if its value is worth more than your annual salary or fee. If your leverage is perceived to be worth 5x your fee, then they will likely bend your way. Not doing so would risk costing them considerably more. That’s strong leverage.

When & How to Use it

Basically if someone isn’t paying their tab, trying to cut you out, or you feel you’re about to be fired, strong material leverage can come into play.

Step 1. You have to decide what your goal is.

Are you trying to use your influence to keep a good deal going and growing, or is it time for you to cut ties? Decide now.

Step 2. Let them hear the branch creak.

Use your leverage as influence to resolve issues and negotiate, not to bully anyone. Do this by letting those involved hear the branch creak. This means to hint just enough of your potentially hazardous move to cause them to rethink their course of action.

If your goal is to keep things going, then you need to think of the use of strong leverage as more of a dance. It’s not a battle, it’s about keeping the appropriate amount of tension and pressure to move with your partner.

If the goal is to keep profitable engagements going as long as possible, don’t wield your leverage like a sword in battle. You may feel superior to the other party in the moment but you’ll lose the value of ongoing transactions with those involved in the process.

This is a more subtle art. The other party needs to hear the branch creak and contemplate their own peril. You need merely hint at your leverage and let them worry about perilous outcomes.

Remember, leverage only works if they and you both stay in the tree.

Step 3. Make the corrective action clearly known.

If you’re too aggressive, the other party may see no path forward and impulsively jump out of the tree on their own. They need to hear both the branch creak and know the corrective solution to make it stop.

Cutting Ties

If you decide to cut ties, the first move is usually not to pull the rug out from anyone. A longer exit, is often more profitable. Leverage allows you to negotiate the terms of an exit. You may have the other party simply pay you to keep your resources in play. This is more amenable as it buys everyone time to decide what to do next.

No one likes being under someone else’s thumb. But leverage buys you a seat at the table and an engaged audience, ensuring you can be heard out. Tread softly and carry a big stick.

Tech firms tell patent court to ignore Allergan deal with tribe

(Reuters) – Over 30 technology companies including Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), Inc (AMZN.O) and Facebook Inc. (FB.O) on Friday urged a U.S. patent court to disregard drugmaker Allergan Plc’s (AGN.N) contention that its transfer of some of its patents to a Native American tribe shields them from the court’s review.

The Allergan logo is seen in this photo illustration in Singapore November 23, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas White

Two trade groups comprised of tech industry leaders argued in a joint brief submitted to the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board that the board has the right to review the validity of patents covering the dry eye medicine Restasis that Allergan transferred to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in a deal announced in September.

“This panel’s statutory authority to review whether the Restasis patents were properly granted as a matter of federal law does not and should not depend on the identity of the patents’ owner,” said the trade group.

Allergan is arguing the tribe’s sovereign status means the patent review board, an administrative court, has no jurisdiction over the transferred patents. The tribe agreed to exclusively license the Restasis patents back to Allergan in exchange for ongoing payments.

Many technology companies have praised the patent court, saying it is a low-cost and efficient way to cancel dubious patents used to bring abusive lawsuits. They fear that, if upheld, Allergan’s strategy could be widely adopted and used against them.

The case before the patent board stems from a challenge to the Restasis patents brought by generic drug companies led by Mylan NV (MYL.O). Generic makers had been blocked from selling their own versions of the blockbuster medicine until the patents expired in 2024.

But a federal judge in Texas already invalidated the Restasis patents in a separate proceeding, rendering Allergan’s tribal deal effectively meaningless. The company had said it did not object to federal court review of its patents but felt the administrative process was unfair.

Despite that ruling, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board is hearing arguments on whether it must accept Allergan’s tribal immunity argument.

A group of prominent law professors, including Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School and Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California at Berkeley, submitted a brief on Friday siding with the tribe and Allergan.

“Far from being a scheme to shield patents from review, the agreement from the Tribe’s perspective is part of its economic development plan,” the academics said. “The Allergan-Mohawk contract reflects exactly the sort of economic entrepreneurship that Congress has been urging upon tribes.”

Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Anthony Lin and Andrew Hay

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Need a Gift for a Leader? These Four Are Sure to Impress

Each holiday season there are dozens of articles written about the gifts leaders should give their employees, and for good reason. Leaders should always think about meaningful, creative ways to recognize the accomplishments of their team members. But what if you want to give a gift to a leader in your company or a high-achiever in your family?

CEOs, executives, and leaders at any level can be difficult to shop for. Their focus on guiding others can sometimes make it difficult to discern their personal wishes. If you want to show gratitude for a leader you respect and admire, choose a gift that’s useful, thought provoking, and representative of the hard work that person does every day. Here are a few simple gifts that can make a big impression.

1) Donations

Sometimes the leader you’re shopping for isn’t keen on accumulating more stuff. Whether they have the resources to buy all they want or just have a minimalist mindset, a donation made in their name to a cause they support could delight them more than any physical gift. It’s a simple gesture that shows support for the causes that the leaders in your life care about.

2) Books

I may be biased because I work in publishing, but I believe that books are one of the most powerful gifts you can give. Leaders are lifelong learners, and the majority of them will be excited to explore new ideas. As you plan your gift, don’t limit yourself to prescriptive, industry-specific titles. Engaging nonfiction on overcoming worldwide challenges, compelling biographies, and even beautifully designed classic novels are all thoughtful choices that can stimulate the active mind of a leader.

3) Journals

While they might seem dull at first glance, journals are elegant blank canvases to jot down ideas, keep track of to-do lists, or think through complicated situations in writing. Journals strike a balance between creativity and function. Unless your leader prefers to keep track of everything digitally, a journal won’t collect dust on a shelf of gifts the person doesn’t use. For an added touch, you can find websites that will add the person’s initials or your company logo to the cover.

4) Personal Thank-you Letters

This last item should accompany one of the suggestions above, but I include it to emphasize the power of a personal message. Leaders thrive on authentic connections, and there are few better ways to express gratitude and encouragement than through a handwritten note. Try to include specific achievements that person has accomplished in the past year or the qualities they possess that you admire. They may or may not keep the letter itself, but the recognition will stick with them for a long time.

When you’re at a loss to find a gift for someone who you consider a leader, it can be tempting to default to gift cards or other impersonal items. If you strive to give gifts that enrich the work leaders do every day, your gratitude and thoughtfulness will encourage them to continue the great work they do in the coming year.

Infiniti's 2019 QX50 Is the First Car With a Variable Compression Engine

The coolest thing about Infiniti’s newly redesigned QX50 crossover has nothing to do with its looks, its technological goodies, or even its ability to (kinda) drive itself. No, the best thing about this vehicle is sitting under the hood, and it’s got an important message for the drivers of Earth: Reports of the internal combustion engine’s demise might be a tad premature.

That’s because this compact five-seater features the world’s first variable compression engine. We’ve known about this clever system for a few years, but now it’s finally entering the market.

The trick lies in the engine’s ability to change the compression ration, which determines how tightly the pistons squeeze the air and fuel before the spark plug ignites the mixture (that’s the combustion bit). It does that by changing the angle of a center link, which rotates around the crank shaft and separates upper and lower piston links, and thus the distance the piston travels up the cylinder.

If you didn’t catch that, all you need to know is that Nissan, Infiniti’s parent company, has developed an engine that can optimize its behavior for whatever you want in the moment: performance or fuel economy.


The somewhat Rube Golbergian contraption smacks of added complexity, but the company’s engineers have been working on the VC-Turbo, as the call it, for 20 years, and swear it will stand up to hundreds of thousands of miles of use. The automaker plans to eventually distribute the engine to other models across its Nissan and Infiniti lineups. As that happens, it could stave off the advent of electric propulsion, or at least ease the transition.

The QX50 has some other goodies worth mentioning. It’s the first Infiniti to offer Nissan’s ProPilot semi-autonomous system (which was already available on the Leaf and Rogue). Like Tesla’s Autopilot, ProPilot can control braking, acceleration, and steering, tracking road markings to keep in its lane and radar to monitor its proximity to other vehicles.

Like most of these systems, it really only works on the highway, and still requires hands-on participation from the driver (otherwise it beeps aggressively), but it has an easy to understand user interface, a bonus in the too often murky world of semi-autonomy. It also capitalizes on Infiniti’s steer-by-wire technology to generate more precise control of the vehicle’s reactions to obstacles and other vehicles.

If you’re eager to take home the new engine—then let it drive you around—you’ve got until late 2018 to save up $35,000.

Engineering Exploits

Qualcomm files new patent infringement complaints against Apple

(Reuters) – Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O) said on Thursday it filed three new patent infringement complaints against Apple Inc (AAPL.O), saying there were 16 more of its patents that Apple was using in its iPhones.

A sign on the Qualcomm campus is seen, as chip maker Broadcom Ltd announced an unsolicited bid to buy peer Qualcomm Inc for $103 billion, in San Diego, California, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The new complaints represent the latest development in a long-standing dispute and follows Apple’s countersuit on Wednesday against Qualcomm, which alleged that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile phone chips infringed on Apple patents.

Apple declined to comment on the new cases, referring to its earlier claims in its Wednesday filing that the company has developed its own technology and patents to power its iPhones.

Qualcomm in July accused Apple of infringing several patents related to helping mobile phones get better battery life.

That case accompanied a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission seeking to ban the import of Apple iPhones that use competing Intel Corp (INTC.O) chips because of the alleged patent violations.

A woman looks at the screen of her mobile phone in front of an Apple logo outside its store in Shanghai, China July 30, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

The three cases filed Thursday were all filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego. One of the cases is a companion civil lawsuit to a new complaint also filed Thursday with the ITC that seeks the same remedy of banning iPhones with Intel chips. The other two cases are civil patent infringement lawsuits.

The dispute between Apple and Qualcomm over patents is part of a wide-ranging legal war between the two companies.

In January, Apple sued Qualcomm for nearly $1 billion in patent royalty rebates that Qualcomm allegedly withheld from Apple.

In a related suit, Qualcomm sued the contract manufacturers that make Apple’s phones, but Apple joined in to defend them.

Qualcomm in November sued Apple over an alleged breach of a software agreement between the two companies. Apple emailed Qualcomm to request “highly confidential” information about how its chips work on an unidentified wireless carrier’s network, Qualcomm alleged, but Apple had copied an Intel engineer in the email for information.

Separately, Qualcomm is facing a lawsuit from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over many of the same pricing practices Apple names in its complaints.

Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar and Chris Reese

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

A Federal Judge Scolds Uber in Court Amid Its Legal Battle Against Alphabet’s Waymo

A U.S. judge on Tuesday said Uber Technologies had withheld evidence from him and granted a request from Alphabet‘s Waymo self-driving car unit to delay a trade secrets trial that had been scheduled to begin next week.

It would be a “huge injustice” to force Waymo to go to trial now given new evidence that recently surfaced in the case, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said at a hearing in San Francisco federal court.

The trial had been scheduled to begin on Dec. 4. Waymo said it learned of the new evidence last week after the U.S. Department of Justice shared it with Alsup.

The two companies are battling to dominate the fast-growing field of self-driving cars.

An Uber representative on Tuesday referred to an earlier company statement, which said Uber “has been waiting for its day in court for quite some time now” and was keen to have a jury hear the merits of the case.

In a series of orders last week, Alsup disclosed that a former Uber security analyst’s lawyer sent a letter to an Uber in-house lawyer more than six months ago. Waymo then accused Uber of concealing the letter, saying it contained important facts about the case, according to a court filing on Monday.

Alsup ordered the former Uber security analyst, Richard Jacobs, to appear in court.

At the hearing on Tuesday, Jacobs testified that his letter contained allegations that Uber’s markets analytics group “exists expressly for the purpose for acquiring trade secrets, code base and competitive intelligence.”

Jacobs said he learned of this activity through discussions at Uber with his manager and other colleagues.

The court hearing was still ongoing on Tuesday.

Waymo sued Uber in February, claiming that former Waymo executive Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential files before leaving to set up a self-driving truck company, called Otto, which Uber acquired soon after.

Uber denied using any of Waymo’s trade secrets. Levandowski has declined to answer questions about the allegations, citing constitutional protections against self-incrimination.

Here’s What WeWork Gets Out of Acquiring Real-Life Social Network Meetup

WeWork is acquiring Meetup in a move that will bring the shared workspace company together with another startup that aims to connect people with common interests in real life.

The two New York-based companies announced the news on Tuesday following an earlier report from The New York Times that said a deal was imminent. WeWork did not disclose how much it is paying to acquire Meetup, which was founded in 2002 and currently has 35 million members who use the service to find other people with similar hobbies and interests—from nature lovers to people looking to form a book club—so they can set up group meetings offline.

In a blog post announcing the deal, WeWork CEO and co-founder Adam Neumann pointed to the two companies’ similar goal of “bringing people together.” WeWork lets small businesses, including startups, rent office space and related services in shared workspaces in 17 countries around the world. “WeWork and Meetup have the opportunity to use technology to create new and innovative ways of bringing people together in person and foster greater community,” Neumann wrote on Tuesday.

“WeWork has space for community, and Meetup needs space for community. Voila!” Meetup said in its own statement.

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WeWork, which is valued at nearly $20 billion following a $4.4 billion investment from Japan’s Softbank Group earlier this year, has been expanding rapidly of late, growing its network to include more than 10 million square feet of office space in 170 locations in 58 cities. WeWork has added shared housing in some of those locations, while the company also recently partnered with Airbnb to offer office amenities to business travelers and bought the Lord & Taylor building in New York City to be its new global headquarters.

By acquiring Meetup, WeWork gets an avenue to reach Meetup’s millions of members (including 300,000 group organizers) while potentially taking advantage of WeWork’s existing real estate to offer those members places to meet after work hours. (The two companies have actually worked together in the past, with WeWork’s Neumann adding that more than 100,000 people have attended a Meetup event in a WeWork space this year alone.) Neumann also indicated that Meetup, which is facing increasing competition from social networking giant Facebook, will continue to operate as a standalone company, with CEO and co-founder Scott Heiferman continuing to lead Meetup.

AT&T: Here Comes The Judge! (But What's An Investor To Do?)

Here Comes The Judge

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, the same federal judge who previously oversaw and signed off on the Comcast (CMCSA)/NBCUniversal deal, has been assigned to the U.S. Justice Department’s (DoJ) lawsuit to block the AT&T (T)/Time Warner (TWX) merger.

As most readers are undoubtedly already aware, the DoJ filed suit, claiming that the proposed merger in its current structure would result in less choice and higher bills for consumers and, in the words of Makan Delrahim, newly appointed head of the DoJ’s antitrust division, limit the development of “new, emerging innovative options that consumers are beginning to enjoy.”

Deja Vu All Over again

If these concerns sound like deja vu all over again, it’s because they are the same ones used by opponents of the Comcast/NBCUniversal deal when it was reviewed by Judge Leon back in 2011. As a condition of the DoJ’s approval at the time, had Comcast already agreed to a host of conditions and rules that it would abide by to ensure that the merger did not stifle competition in the media industry, but it was not requested by the DoJ to structurally change the makeup of the combined entity.

When presented with the solution agreed to between the DoJ and Comcast/NBCUniversal, Judge Leon, being no proponent of government oversight, expressed his doubts that the agreed upon conditions would be subject to any effective oversight or enforcement and that online video content distributors such as Netflix (NFLX) could be placed at a disadvantage with no effective remedy when he wrote:

“The government’s ability to ‘enforce’ the final judgment, and, frankly, this court’s ability to oversee it, are, to say the least, limited.”

As a result, he imposed a few of his own conditions, primary among them that the merged entity report to the DoJ any arbitration claims brought against it with regard to content disputes. Skeptical as Judge Leon was, however, he was not about to overturn decades of anti-trust precedent regarding vertically integrated mergers, and he ultimately approved the deal.

Comcast/NBCUniversal Merger Hasn’t Hindered Competition

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, the judge’s 2011 concern for the wellbeing of Netflix seems quaint to say the least. In fact, the success of Netflix and other online video entities that have proliferated and thrived in the six years since the judge approved the Comcast/NBCUniversal deal is likely to be Exhibit A and proof positive that the nearly identically proposed vertical merger of AT&T/Time Warner won’t hamper competition nor limit consumer choice. No doubt an argument could be made that AT&T and Time Warner need to combine forces in order to remain competitive themselves or continue to lose market share to OTT services and content.

AT&T’s Words May Come Back To Haunt It

For his part, Delrahim, who has pushed for a structural solution by insisting AT&T divest itself of its DirecTV holdings, or spin off Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting division, which includes TNT, Turner Sports, and CNN, is likely to use the merging party’s own words against it. For example, as AT&T and TWX management justified the merger to shareholders, the combined entity was characterized as providing a competitive advantage in the overall media space, resulting in more profit for investors. An excerpt from the DoJ’s filing gives us a hint at its strategy, when on the very first page it cites:

“As AT&T has expressly recognized however, distributors that control popular programming have the incentive and ability to use (and indeed have used whenever and wherever they can) that control as a weapon to hinder competition.”

Plenty Of Drama And Anyone’s Guess On An Outcome

Adding to the drama, especially in light of President Trump’s claim while he was still a candidate that he was not in favor of the merger when it was first announced, and his very public and ongoing feud with CNN over what he deems as “fake news”, is Makan Delrahim – himself a recent Trump appointee – insisting that CNN be carved out of any merger before he would bless it.

No doubt with valid arguments from both sides of the coin and plenty of drama to speculate on, M&A experts and armchair attorneys alike will have more than enough material to discuss the merits of the case and the likelihood of the merger being ultimately approved or not. That question, however, is really moot for our purposes. The real question investors should be asking is not necessarily “How will the court decide”? Rather given that the situation has come down to a binary outcome, the question should be “How will the stock react if/when the merger is approved/not approved and what, if anything, should I be doing about it from an investor standpoint?”

What’s An Investor To Do?

Regardless of the legal precedent, various merits of either position in the case, or jurist disposition, what does this all mean from an investor perspective? How is the stock likely to react when a ruling is eventually made one way versus another? What should current shareholders do, if anything, to hedge their positions against further downside? As shares are trading just off lows for the year, and likewise trading at close to a low on an earnings multiple basis, is this an opportunity to establish a position ahead of a potential upturn or a value trap?


T data by YCharts


T PE Ratio (TTM) data by YCharts

If the court ultimately rules against the approval for the merger, it certainly would be a setback for AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson’s strategy of building an integrated network of broadband, content, and distribution. But it would not mean that strategy cannot still be achieved.

Certainly with regard to its sheer size and collection of content, adding Time Warner with a single stroke of the pen is preferable to adding the various pieces on a more ad-hoc basis over time. To be sure, without the content ownership Time Warner brings to the table, AT&T would have less leverage over content costs and distribution rights than it otherwise would have, but regardless, with or without Time Warner, AT&T would still need to acquire additional content rights from third parties. Therefore, its business plan would not be ultimately defeated if the deal doesn’t happen, and the long-term strategy would remain intact with or without the deal.

In the near term, as I had pointed out in a previous article, the actual financial impact of a broken deal would be relatively minor to the company the size of AT&T, as it would be required to pay a $500 million breakup fee. In addition, debt issued to fund the cash part of the deal would be redeemed at 101% of the principal amount plus accrued but unpaid interest – approximately an additional $300 million. As a result of the redemption of the bonds, the balance sheet would immediately be delevered, taking pressure off the company’s credit rating status, which would benefit bondholders, and income focused shareholder could breathe a sigh of relief as speculation over the continuation of the dividend would subside.

In other words, without Time Warner, life goes on for AT&T. While the stock may take an additional hit if this time Judge Leon rules against a vertical merger, such a reaction would likely be short-lived and provide value hunters with an even more attractive entry point.

I think the more uncertain and perhaps more interesting scenario would be if the deal is ultimately approved. Especially if, as often happens in Judge Leon’s courtroom, the case drags on longer than anticipated.

Currently, and as long as the legal review drags on, AT&T’s cash flows will be pressured as it is saddled with servicing the $30 billion of incremental debt of the aforementioned bonds – without the benefit of additional cash flows from Time Warner.

And if/when the deal is finally approved, management has a lot of wood to chop, and quickly, in order to implement synergies and start to reduce and sustain leverage back towards the 2.5x or lower level as it has expressly indicated would be its focus. To do so, my guess is that management’s strategy would be to incrementally raise the price of its broadband access. However, any conditions that Judge Leon may impose, as he did with the Comcast/NBCUniversal case, on the combined entity’s ability to raise prices anywhere along the value chain may throw a wrench into those works.

Therefore, if the merger is ultimately approved and successfully completed, cash flow needs to improve and/or leverage needs to be reduced below 3x EBITDA on a sustained basis, or the company could be further downgraded. If there is one thing management is committed to more than sustaining and growing the dividend, it’s maintaining its investment grade credit status. A downgrade to non-investment grade is NOT an option.

Investors hate uncertainty, and the AT&T/Time Warner merger is definitely in an uncertain territory at this juncture. Long term, an approval and successful integration of the merger is the best scenario for shareholders and bondholders alike. If the deal gets rejected by the courts, expect shares to take a quick dip and be prepared to buy on the news before cooler heads realize that it’s just back to business as usual for AT&T. If the deal is approved, expect the stock to continue to be under pressure as management has a lot of work to do to prove the merger is a profitable one.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.