Donald Trump’s White House has provided much of the drama in the news lately. But last week, the business world bought us a tour de force of headlines that define the biggest and most powerful forces at work in business today.
The news included: a changing of the guard at an industrial giant trying to transform itself in a digital world; a high-flying tech start-up beleaguered by cultural challenges that epitomize both the sector’s struggles with diversity and leadership in founder-led firms; a massive acquisition by an online retailer of a bricks-and-mortar grocer that could worsen the industry’s tidal wave of job losses, redefine how many Americans buy groceries and further cement the dominant online behemoth’s place at the top.
We are speaking, of course, of the succession at General Electric, where the fading industrial icon’s chief executive, Jeff Immelt, said last week that he would step aside after a 16-year run. His successor, John Flannery, will be tasked with managing a company trying to remake itself for a digital age while reviving interest in GE’s stock as investors have soured on conglomerates.
Then there was the ongoing reality show at Uber, the highflying ride-hailing company trying to remake itself following accusations of a harassing and unprofessional culture and probes into its business practices. It is doing all this amid a serious leadership vacuum in which there are at least six senior executive jobs vacant and no active CEO. Founder Travis Kalanick is taking an unspecified leave of absence without designating a clear interim person in command.
Then on Friday, news of Amazon’s plans to acquire organic grocer Whole Foods sent shock waves through the retail sector, hammering grocery store stocks and raising concerns about further job losses in the sector. The deal has wide-reaching implications not only for grocery shopping and the food industry but the very act of shopping itself: Amazon is not just buying a high-end grocer, but a network of distribution sites and physical stores in wealthy neighborhoods that can capitalize on what some have called a “life bundle,” selling convenience through a subscription for affluent consumers. (Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)
Those three mega stories last week encapsulate some of the biggest changes rocking the business world at a time of great uncertainty and heightened change. The wave of news highlights several parallel forces at play — the struggles of traditional businesses, the leadership challenges at fast-growing tech upstarts, and the retail sector’s era-defining overhaul. The news was seismic and unrelenting. We can only imagine what the week ahead will bring.