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Elon Musk Calms Down, and More From Tesla's Shareholder Meeting
June 6, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

When Elon Musk was a kid, he had so much trouble managing his time, that his younger brother Kimbal would lie to him about the bus schedule. Elon would show up a few minutes after the supposed arrival—and have just enough time to hop aboard. A few decades on, the whole world knows about Elon’s habit of blowing deadlines. And he admits it can be a problem.

“This is something I’m trying to get better at,” he said from the stage of Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum on Tuesday afternoon, at Tesla’s annual shareholders meeting. “I’m trying to recalibrate these estimates.”

A few days after a Twitter rage fest aimed at the media, a month after refusing to answer questions about Tesla’s financial state during an investors’ call, and two months after getting in a public spat with the feds investigating a deadly crash in one of his cars, Musk’s attitude when he appeared before his fellow shareholders was conciliatory. He even seemed emotional at times. “We build our cares with love,” he said, with a slight quaver in his voice. And he noted how brutal the auto industry can be, especially to newcomers. “It’s insanely hard just staying alive.”

For an hour and a half, Musk patiently fielded questions on just about every part of Tesla’s sprawling business. He said the Model 3 production rate will hit the long-promised 5,000 cars a week rate later this month, predicted an enormous increase in battery production, announced upgrades to the Autopilot semi-autonomous system, and even appeased PETA. If you missed the meeting, here are the key takeaways.

Elon Retains the Reins

The official business of the meeting included voting on the reelection of venture capitalist Antonio Gracias, Elon’s bus-catching brother Kimbal, and 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch to Tesla’s board of directors. (Only a third of the nine board members come up for election at a time—it’s like the US Senate that way.) Last month, activist investor the CtW Group urged Tesla shareholders to replace the trio with people who had automotive and manufacturing expertise. Another investor, Jing Zhao, filed a proposal to strip Musk of his position as Tesla’s chairman, which he has held since 2004 (he took the CEO job in 2008). But the shareholders stuck with Musk, reelecting the board members and nixing the leadership change by an overwhelming majority. (Tesla will file the exact vote count with the SEC in the next few days.)

The loss didn’t surprise CtW executive director Dieter Waizenegger, who argues control of Tesla is too concentrated in people tied to Musk. “This opinion is shared by a significant number of shareholders of Tesla,” he says. “We expect the final vote tally to reveal that.” Even if he’s right, Musk remains fully in charge.

More Model 3

Musk’s acknowledgement of his timeline trouble didn’t stop him from announcing that, by the end of the month, Tesla will be building 5,000 Model 3 sedans every week, which should be enough to start turning a profit on the car. The uptick is thanks to Tesla’s rebalancing of the workload between humans and robots in its factory in Fremont, California, where the company is adding a third Model 3 production line. It is also planning to open a factory in China, to go with its plants in Fremont and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, Tesla is gradually expanding options for Model 3 owners, who so far have been limited to the version with an upgraded battery and premium interior, which starts at $ 56,000. By the end of this year, Musk hopes to start production of the version closer to the car’s $ 35,000 base price, with the smaller battery pack. Also coming soon: right hand drive.

New Products

Even as it struggles to build the Model 3, Tesla is planning on three new vehicles: the Semi truck, the revived Roadster, and the still mysterious Model Y. Musk told shareholders he’s hoping to start production of all three in the first half of 2020, though he has yet to specify where he’ll do that, or how. He’ll unveil the Model Y in March (it will be “something super special”), and expects the truck and the sports car to deliver better specs than the already very impressive numbers he announced last fall. Oh, and he’ll never build an electric motorcycle.

Autopilot Advances

Without getting into details, Musk said Tesla is making steady progress to improve its Autopilot feature, and is now working on adding the ability to change lanes and handle highway on- and off-ramps (Musk noted he was testing new software around 1 am this morning). For drivers who aren’t sure they want to spend $ 5,000 on the feature, Tesla will soon start offering free trials. Musk also reaffirmed his distaste for lidar, the laser shooting sensor most autonomous vehicle developers say is key to building a safe, capable robo-car.

SuperChargers

Tesla now runs nearly 10,000 Supercharger stations around the world, the stations where its drivers (and no one else) can plug in and charge a depleted battery to about 80 percent in 30 minutes. And Musk is working to keep improving charge times, saying a three- or four-fold improvement is possible. (That’s only true for relatively new cars, he added, disappointing the 2012 Model S owner who asked him about it.)

Going Vegan

Unlike many automakers, Tesla has been offering leather-free versions of its cars for years, appealing to its vegan and vegetarian fans. But it’s still using some leather in its steering wheels, and a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) rep took the mic to press Musk on it. He explained Tesla can make leather-free steering wheels, but the work has to be done it its design studio, making it something of a pain. But he promised it’ll be easier once the Model Y comes around. Now he’s just gotta hit that 2020 goal.


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Wall Street Breakfast: Eyes On Tesla's Shareholder Meeting
June 5, 2018 6:01 pm|Comments (0)

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Facebook director to start after annual meeting, avoid shareholder vote
May 22, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

BOSTON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc named a new director this month and timed his appointment to avoid a shareholder vote, raising concern among some investors who want to see more accountability from the social media company.

FILE PHOTO: Jan Koum, co-founder and CEO of WhatsApp speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California October 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The decision by Facebook’s board comes as the company is under scrutiny from regulators and shareholders about its internal controls and oversight after it failed to protect the data of some 87 million users that was shared with now-defunct political data firm Cambridge Analytica.

Jeffrey Zients’ appointment does not take effect until “immediately following the conclusion” of the company’s May 31 shareholder meeting, according to a securities filing on May 8, meaning he could be able to serve a year without facing shareholder approval.

“The optics of this are questionable,” said John Wilson, head of governance at Cornerstone Capital Group, whose clients have about 30,000 Facebook shares.

For one thing, Wilson said, some shareholders could be looking for the largest social media network to add a board member with more of a background on privacy issues and will not have the chance to register objections to Zients, president of holding company Cranemere Group.

Zients and Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chairman and chief executive, declined to comment via a Facebook spokeswoman. The spokeswoman, Nora Chan, said the board has authority to appoint directors between annual meetings.

“Since this appointment is effective after this year’s annual meeting, it is not on the ballot this year. It would be on the ballot at future annual meetings,” Chan said via e-mail.

Exactly when Zients should be voted in is something of an academic question since Facebook’s structure gives Zuckerberg a majority of its voting power.

Still Facebook has been at pains to address its issues in order to reassure investors. Its share price fell during the first three months of the year as details of its data-protection problems emerged. The shares have since recovered, but a number of funds that call themselves socially responsible are selling the stock, concerned Facebook has not fully addressed its issues.

Proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services on May 16 recommended investors withhold support from five of eight directors on the company’s ballot including Zuckerberg, and vote in favor of shareholder proposals aimed at improving its response to problems like election interference and harassment.

In recommending that investors withhold support from Zuckerberg, ISS cited the lack of a formal board-nominating committee, a concern it has raised in past years.

ISS Special Counsel Patrick McGurn said the lack of a vote on Zients is “suboptimal.”

“Best governance practice generally dictates that a board should provide shareholders with a timely opportunity, typically at the next scheduled meeting, to elect a director who is appointed by the existing board members to fill a vacancy,” he said.

However, McGurn said the timing may not have been entirely in Facebook’s control, given that departing director Jan Koum did not immediately leave the company’s board at the same time he quit as a company executive.

James McRitchie, a private investor who filed one of two pending shareholder resolutions calling on Facebook to revamp its voting rules, said the lack of a vote on Zients will not look good at a time when the company needs to seem responsive and not be seen as “cutting out shareholders.”

Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Frances Kerry

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Uber CEO and transport boss had second meeting over London license battle
April 20, 2018 6:06 pm|Comments (0)

LONDON (Reuters) – London’s Transport Commissioner Mike Brown met Uber [UBER.UL]boss Dara Khosrowshahi in January, a freedom of information request revealed, as the Silicon Valley app fights to keep its cars on the streets of its most important European market.

FILE PHOTO – Dara Khosrowshahi, Chief Executive Officer of Uber Technologies, attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Picture

Uber is battling a decision by the city’s transport regulator last September to strip it of its license after it was deemed unfit to run a taxi service, a ruling Uber is appealing.

Since then Uber has made a series of changes to its business model, responding to requests from regulators, including the introduction of 24/7 telephone support and the proactive reporting of serious incidents to London’s police.

Khosrowshahi flew to London in October for discussions with Brown after which Uber promised to make things right in the British capital city.

The pair had a second meeting in London in January, according to a response to a freedom of information request from Reuters.

“The Commissioner met with Dara Khosrowshahi on 3 October 2017 and 15 January 2018, both meetings took place in London,” Transport for London (TfL) said.

A TfL spokesman declined to provide an immediate comment on what was discussed at the meeting. Uber declined to comment.

Reuters had asked for a list of every meeting which had taken place between Uber and TfL’s private hire team and/or Brown since Sept. 22 but TfL declined to release such details.

“We are not obliged to supply the remainder of the information requested in relation to meetings as it … relates to information where disclosure would be likely to prejudice the exercise by any public authority of its functions ..,” it said.

A court hearing over Uber’s appeal is due this month before the substance of the appeal is heard in June.

Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison

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Apple shareholders defeat two proposals at annual meeting
February 13, 2018 6:06 pm|Comments (0)

(Reuters) – Apple Inc shareholders at an annual meeting on Tuesday defeated two shareholder proposals: one asking the company to ease its rules for letting shareholders nominate directors to the board and another asking Apple to form a human rights commission.

Reporting by Stephen NellisEditing by Chizu Nomiyama

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Apple shareholders defeat two proposals at annual meeting
February 13, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

(Reuters) – Apple Inc shareholders at an annual meeting on Tuesday defeated two shareholder proposals: one asking the company to ease its rules for letting shareholders nominate directors to the board and another asking Apple to form a human rights commission.

Reporting by Stephen NellisEditing by Chizu Nomiyama

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Microsoft launches meeting app Invite for iPhone, coming soon to Android and Windows Phone
November 6, 2015 8:50 am|Comments (0)

One of the meeting rooms at Communitech, a startup mecca in Waterloo, Ontario. Google also has 200 employees here.

Microsoft today launched a new standalone app for scheduling meetings called Invite. Available only for iPhone users in the U.S. and Canada for now, you can download Invite now directly from Apple’s App Store.

Here is how it works. First you suggest times that work for you, and then invite attendees to vote. You can send invites to anyone with an email address — even if they are outside your organization. The recipients select all the times they can attend from the app itself or from a browser, once votes are in, you pick the time that works best.

microsoft_invite

The best part is that anyone invited can see what options work best for other attendees, and suggest their own times as well. The sender chooses a final date and time whenever they’re ready, hitting Send Calendar Invites to get it on everyone’s calendars.

Here is how Microsoft explains its thinking behind the app:

Invite is designed to overcome the biggest obstacle when scheduling meetings — not being able to see the calendars of attendees outside your organization. As a result, your proposed meeting can be repeatedly declined until you find a time that works.

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Location, location, location — Not using geolocation to reach your mobile customers? Your competitors are. Find out what you’re missing.

Certain events and meetings can be moved if something more important comes up, but only each person knows best where they are flexible. By letting attendees pick times that work for them, even when it means moving one of their own meetings, can stop that meeting from being scheduled on a Friday evening.

Invite is mainly designed for users with Office 365 business and school accounts. That said, the app also works with any email account, including Outlook.com, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail.

The app’s launch and limitations are very similar to Microsoft’s Send, a lightweight email app that debuted in July. Like Send, Invite is starting out as iPhone-only, available only in two countries, and with the promise of “coming soon” to Android and Windows Phone.

Invite is the latest in a long line of apps to emerge from Microsoft Garage, the software giant’s lab for experimental tinkering. At this rate, Microsoft will soon have more experimental apps than “final” apps.

And that’s okay, as long as some of them are eventually released or integrated into existing products.

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