TIME Executives

Watch: Proof Bill And Melinda Gates Are Ice Cold Under Pressure

 

Red nose day—a U.K. campaign launched this year in the U.S. by NBC to “[raise] money for children and young people living in poverty by simply having fun and making people laugh,” culminated Thursday night in a three-hour television special that featured celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Will Ferrell.

But it wasn’t just walkers of red carpets that got in on the action. Microsoft co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates and his wife Melinda also filmed a video pitch in support of red nose day and it’s poverty-fighting mission, though things didn’t quite goes as they planned.

TIME Turnarounds

How Sony Got Up and Out of Its Death Bed

President and CEO of Sony Corporation Hirai speaks at a Sony news conference during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
Steve Marcus—Reuters President and CEO of Sony Corporation Kazuo Hirai speaks at a Sony news conference during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Jan. 5, 2015.

For the first time in a decade, the electronics company has a shot

In the annals of consumer electronics companies that have slipped from great heights, none has taken a bigger fall far from its glory days than Sony. But after years of struggling to right itself, the company is finally making real progress on a turnaround.

Just as Apple helped revive itself in the early 2000s with the iPod, Sony built much of its success on the idea of helping people carry music around in their pocket–first with the transistor radio in the 50s and 60s and later with the Walkman portable cassette player. Those products, coupled with smart engineering, made the Sony brand synonymous with peerless quality.

In the early 2000s, Sony began to lose its competitive edge. Rivals like Samsung had emerged to undercut its higher-priced TVs and stereos. Sony couldn’t get a foothold in new markets like mp3 players. Its earlier expansion into new areas like insurance and its overspending on film and music studios left it with a structure that was at once bloated and siloed.

Sony named Howard Stringer as CEO in 2005 to turn things around. Stringer cut a charismatic figure, but couldn’t speak Japanese and, as a lifelong media executive, lacked an engineering background. Stringer tried to conjure a convergence of electronics and media properties that never quite gelled. (Stringer is on the board of Time Inc.) Meanwhile, further setbacks struck: the global recession in 2009, the Fukushima earthquake in 2011 and a stronger yen that hurt Japanese exports.

MORE: How Apple Just Save Best Buy

Sony has posted net losses for six of the past seven years. As a result, the price of its ADRs traded on the NYSE fell from $55 in early 2008 to below $10 in late 2012. (An ADR is a stock that trades in the U.S. but represents a specific number of shares in a foreign corporation.) Its credit ratings eventually fell to near junk levels. But then things began to look up: After bottoming out below $10 in 2012, its ADRs have risen back near $33 this month, a rally of 238% in the last two and a half years.

The change came after Sony replaced Stringer with Kazuo Hirai in early 2012. Hirai was a Sony veteran known for wringing profits from troubled businesses like the PlayStation gaming division. And like Stringer, Hirai didn’t fit the mold of the Japanese salaryman. Hirai grew up in Japan and North America, giving him a fluency in English and also a gift for being plainspoken, like when he told the Wall Street Journal on taking the job, “It’s one issue after another. I feel like, “Holy shit, now what?”

Hirai began an ambitious restructuring of Sony over the three years that followed. He quickly announced a “One Sony” structure that built on Stringer’s convergence with an emphasis on communication and joint decisions among siloed divisions. He focused the electronics business on mobile, gaming and imaging products. Over time, he cut thousands of jobs, sold off the Vaio PC unit, separated the ailing TV business into its own company and overhauled the smartphone lineup.

All of this added to financial losses with restructuring charges and made for a tumultuous 2014. But the low point came last November, with the infamous hack that left sensitive documents from Sony Pictures Entertainment in public view. But it was just around this time when some analysts began voicing their conviction in a Sony turnaround. The turnaround painstakingly plotted by Stringer and Hirai was finally bearing fruit.

That became more evident when Sony reported its most recent earnings. There were encouraging signs in the past year’s finances, like revenue rising 6% and the TV business posting its first profit in 11 years. But the better news was in the cautious forecast for the coming year.

MORE: These Are the Fastest Growing Cities in America

The bulk of the restructuring was behind Sony, CFO Kenichiro Yoshida said, and while revenue may decline 4% this fiscal year, operating profit would rise fourfold to $2.6 billion, its highest profit since 2008. Hirai had earlier projected net income to rise above $4 billion by 2018, which would be its biggest profit since 1998, before the great fall began.

There’s still some restructuring to do. The revenue decrease this year will come largely from Sony’s move away from mid-range mobile phones to focus on the high end of the market. While camera sales continue to decline, Sony is seeing strong growth in imaging sensors used in smartphones. Overall, Sony will be a smaller company in terms of revenue but with bigger sales and slow, steady move from aging markets into growing ones.

A turnaround needs more than cost cutting and restructuring. Sony has a long road ahead to go from playing catch-up in technology markets to playing a leading role in new ones. That step requires a lot more work, but Sony’s return to profitability makes a major turnaround as feasible as it’s been in more than a decade.

TIME Executives

Here’s What’s on Bill Gates’ Summer Reading List

Bill Gates
John Keatley/Redux—John Keatley/Redux Founder and Chairman of Microsoft Bill Gates holding a copy of Business Adventures by John Brooks.

The world's richest man just assigned the world some summer homework

The richest man in the world still makes time to squeeze in a good book now and then.

Bill Gates—he of the $79 billion net worth, per Forbes—released his annual summer reading list on Tuesday. In between running one of the world’s largest charities and serving as technological advisor to the company he co-founded, Microsoft [fortune-stock symbol=”MSFT”], Gates has made a habit in recent years of letting the world know what he’s reading.

Gates unveiled his new 7-book summer reading list in a post titled “Beach Reading (and more)” on his personal blog, Gates Notes. Included in this year’s list is The Magic of Reality, by Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. There’s also On Immunity, by Eula Biss, which fits in well with one of the goals of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by tackling the issue of childhood vaccinations.

The billionaire techie also noted that he’s trying to lighten the mood a little bit this year. “This year I tried to pick a few more things that are on the lighter side. Each of these books made me think or laugh or, in some cases, do both,” Gates wrote in the blog post.

In that vein, Gates includes a book adapted from Allie Brosh’s popular comic blog, Hyperbole and a Half, which Gates calls “funny and smart as hell.” Another item with a more graphic option is Randall Munroe’s XKCD, which draws from Munroe’s webcomic of the same name, which features a lot of mathematical and scientific humor. “It’s that kind of humor, which not everybody loves, but I do,” Gates writes.

The rest of the books Gates recommends reading this summer are: What If?, also by Munroe; How to Lie With Statistics, by Darrell Huff; and, Should We Eat Meat?, by Vaclav Smil.

TIME food industry

Big Changes Are Coming to Chobani Greek Yogurt

Billionaire And Chobani Inc. Chief Executive Officer Hamdi Ulukaya Interview
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Hamdi Ulukaya, a billionaire and founder, president and chief executive officer of Chobani Inc., speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K. on Wednesday, July 17, 2013. Chobani, the best-selling yogurt brand in the U.S., has given Ulukaya a net worth of $1.1 billion. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

How your favorite yogurt may change

Yogurt mogul Hamdi Ulukaya is looking for a different sort culture.

The founder of Chobani Inc., the company that helped spark the greek yogurt trend, is anticipated to step down from his role as CEO this year, the Wall Street Journal reports, though the Turkish entrepreneur will remain as chairman.

The impending succession is the result of a deal the dairy maker struck with the private equity firm TPG in April of last year. In exchange for a $750 million injection, Chobani, then in debt and struggling to scale and meet quality control, agreed to begin the process of selecting and appointing a new chief executive within a year. The deal also gave TPG the rights to buy a stake worth as much as nearly a third of the company as well as two seats on its board.

“The deal occurred because Chobani had grown beyond his ability to run it, Mr. Ulukaya said,” writes Annie Gasparro in the Journal. In the past, Ulukaya had voiced his disdain for buttoned-up professionalism, preferring a “seat-of-the-pants style,” as Gasparro calls it. “We didn’t have any corporate executive types,” he said in previous interviews. “I didn’t want to hear all that marketing, supply chain, logistics stuff—most of it is BS.”

But that is just what the company is now looking for. Industry observers expect Kevin Burns, a TPG executive who became Chobani’s interim president and chief operating officer in the fall, to succeed Ulukaya at the New Berlin, New York-based company.

TIME Executives

Why It Matters Who Steve Jobs Really Was

Apple Unveils iPad 2
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Apple CEO Steve Jobs speaks during an Apple Special event to unveil the new iPad 2 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 2, 2011 in San Francisco.

Dueling biographies fight over the story of Steve

In 2011 Walter Isaacson published a biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Isaacson’s biography was fully authorized by its subject: Jobs handpicked Isaacson, who had written biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Entitled simply Steve Jobs, the book was well-reviewed and sold some 3 million copies.

But now its account is being challenged by another book, this one called Becoming Steve Jobs, by Brent Schlender, a veteran technology journalist who was friendly with Jobs, and Rick Tetzeli, executive editor at Fast Company. Some of Jobs’ former colleagues and friends have taken sides, speaking out against the old book and praising the new one. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO and Jobs’s successor, has said that Isaacson’s book depicts Jobs as “a greedy, selfish egomaniac.” Jony Ive, Apple’s design chief, has weighed in against it, and Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of software and Internet services, tweeted about the new book: “Well done and first to get it right.”

But who did get it right? And why do people care so much anyway?

(This article comes with a bouquet of disclosures, starting with the fact that Isaacson is a current contributor and former editor of TIME magazine and as such my former boss. I’m quoted in his biography—I interviewed Jobs half a dozen times in the mid-2000s, though he and I weren’t friendly. Schlender spent more than 20 years writing for Fortune, which is owned by TIME’s parent company, Time Inc., and Tetzeli was an editor both at Fortune and at Entertainment Weekly, also a Time Inc. magazine.)

Schlender and Tetzeli have given their book the subtitle “The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader,” and its emphasis is on the transformation that Jobs underwent between 1985, when he was ousted from Apple, and 1997, when he returned to it. “The most basic question about Steve’s career is this,” they write. “How could the man who had been such an inconsistent, inconsiderate, rash, and wrongheaded businessman … become the venerated CEO who revived Apple and created a whole new set of culture-defining products?” It’s an excellent question.

Becoming Steve Jobs is, like most books about Jobs, tough on his early years. He could be a callous person (he initially denied being the father of his first child) and a terrible manager (the original Macintosh, while magnificent in its conception, was only barely viable as a product). On this score Schlender and Tetzeli are clear and even-handed. It’s easy to forget that Jobs originally wanted Pixar, the animation firm he took over from George Lucas in 1986, to focus on selling its graphics technology rather than making movies, and if the geniuses there hadn’t been more independent he might have run it into the ground.

Schlender and Tetzeli argue that it was this middle period that made Jobs. The failure of his first post-Apple company, NeXT, chastened him; his work with Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter taught him patience and management skills; and his marriage to Laurene Powell Jobs deepened him emotionally. In those wilderness years he learned discipline and (some) humility and how to iterate and improve a project gradually. Thus reforged, he returned to Apple and led it back from near bankruptcy to become the most valuable company in the world.

Schlender and Tetzeli strenuously insist that they’re upending the “common myths” about Jobs. But they’re not specific about who exactly believes these myths, and in fact it’s a bit of a straw man: there’s not much in Becoming Steve Jobs that Isaacson or anybody else would disagree with. What’s missing is more problematic: as it goes on, Becoming Steve Jobs gradually abandons its critical distance and becomes a paean to the greatness of Jobs and Apple. Jobs was “someone who preferred creating machines that delighted real people,” and his reborn Apple was “a company that could once again make insanely great computing machines for you and me.” It reprints the famous “Think Different” spiel in full. It compares Jobs’ career arc, without irony, to that of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. It unspools sentences like: “Steve [we’re on a first-name basis with him] also understood that the personal satisfaction of accomplishing something insanely great was the best motivation of all for a group as talented as his.”

Read More: Apple’s Watch Will Make People and Computers More Intimate

It’s easy to see why Apple executives have endorsed Becoming Steve Jobs, but it has imperfections that would have irked Jobs himself. The writing is slack—it’s larded with clichés (“he wanted to play their game, but by his own rules”) and marred by small infelicities (it confuses jibe and gibe, twice). It lacks detail: for example, it covers Jobs’ courtship of and marriage to Laurene in two dry pages (“Their relationship burned intensely from the beginning, as you might expect from the pairing of two such strong-willed individuals”). By contrast, a Fortune interview Schlender did with Jobs and Bill Gates in 1991 gets 13 pages. Whatever its faults, Isaacson’s book at least dug up the telling details: in his account of the marriage we learn that Jobs was still agonizing over an ex-girlfriend; that he had a hilariously abortive bachelor party; that he threw out the calligrapher who was hired to do the wedding invitations (“I can’t look at her stuff. It’s shit”); and that the vegan wedding cake was borderline inedible.

Jobs was famously unintrospective, but Schlender and Tetzeli seem almost as incurious about his inner life as he supposedly was. Jobs’ birth parents were 23 when they conceived him, then they gave him up for adoption; when he was 23 Jobs abandoned his own first child. It takes a determinedly uninterested biographer not to connect those dots, or at least explain why they shouldn’t be connected. We hear a lot about what Jobs did, and some about how he did it, but very little about why.

Jobs was a man of towering contradictions: he identified deeply with the counterculture but spent his life in corporate boardrooms amassing billions; he made beautiful products that ostensibly enabled individual creativity but in their architecture expressed a deep-seated need for central control. Maybe making educated guesses about a major figure’s private life is unseemly, or quixotic, but that’s the game a biographer is in. Ultimately there’s no point in comparing Steve Jobs and Becoming Steve Jobs, because the latter book isn’t really a biography at all, much less a definitive one.

A more interesting question might be, why has the story of Steve Jobs become so important to us? And why is it such contested territory? He’s also the subject of a scathing new documentary by Alex Gibney and an upcoming biopic written by Aaron Sorkin. Was Jobs, to use Schlender and Tetzeli’s terminology, an asshole, or a genius, or some mysterious fusion of the two? It’s as if Jobs’ life has become a kind of totem, a symbolic story through which we’re trying to understand and work through our own ambivalence about the technology he and his colleagues made, which has so thoroughly invaded and transformed our lives in the past 20 years, for good and/or ill. Apple’s products are so glossy and beautiful and impenetrable that it’s difficult to do anything but admire them. But about Jobs, at least, we can think ­different.

Read next: Becoming Steve Jobs Shares Jobs’ Human Side

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TIME Apple

This Is How Terrifying It Was to Pitch Steve Jobs a New Idea

Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivering a keynote address to the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on June 6, 2011.
Paul Sakuma—AP Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivering a keynote address to the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on June 6, 2011.

“Are you smart? Are you going to waste my time?”

“The first time we met he walked into the room, looked around, realized that I was new, walked up to me and asked (all in one breath), “Are you smart? Do you know what you are talking about? Are you going to waste my time?”

So begins Brett Bilbrey’s 715-word response to the question “What was it like to deliver a presentation to Steve Jobs?” on the crowd-sourced Q&A site Quora.

It’s a response that has drawn some attention—315,000 views, 4,800 upvotes—since it was posted last month because Bilbrey was not just any third-party developer pitching a new app. He was a prolific Apple inventor and a key team manager whose name appears on more than 50 patents and whose engineers developed, among other products, Apple TV and the Mac Mini. From 2008 until his retirement in February he headed the company’s top-secret Technology Advancement Group charged with developing forward-looking technology for products of which he cannot speak.

But he can talk about what it was like to deal with a notoriously difficult boss.

Steve was wicked smart,” he writes. “I was always amazed at how sharp he was and how quickly he could focus on what was important. I don’t know ANYONE that even comes close to how good he was at being able to do that.”

“Don’t just read the story,” says The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple. “Read the comments too.”

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple AAPL coverage at fortune.com/ped or subscribe via his RSS feed.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Executives

Starbucks CEO: Giuliani’s Obama Remarks ‘Vicious’

Howard Schultz
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz participates in a forum in Washington on Nov. 10, 2014.

The outspoken chief executive responded forcefully to the former New York mayor's comments

Though he recently told TIME he has no personal political ambitions, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz hasn’t stopped stepping into the political fray.

On Friday, Schultz issued a statement lambasting former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for Giuliani’s recent declaration that President Obama doesn’t love America. The comments were “vicious” and “profoundly offensive,” Schultz said.

Politico reported that on Wednesday, Giuliani was speaking at a private dinner for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker when he said: “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

Schultz issued the following statement: “As an American, I find Rudy Giuliani’s vicious comments about President Obama ‘not loving America’ to be profoundly offensive to both the President and the Office.”

A Starbucks spokesperson on Friday morning said: “We are not providing any additional commentary around it.”

Schultz doesn’t hesitate to weigh in on political issues. In December, he raised some eyebrows when he addressed the shootings of black suspects by police offers. During an Open Forum at the Starbucks Support center in Seattle, he encouraged employees to talk about their own experiences with racism He released a video of that event, and, in a letter sent exclusively to TIME, he expressed his dismay over the situation. “I’m deeply saddened by what I have seen, and all too aware of the ripple effect,” he wrote.

Schultz has often decried the political gridlock in Washington. He has also addressed the federal minimum wage, now at $7.25 an hour. On that issue, he tends to be circumspect. Starbucks pays more than the minimum wage and offers healthy benefits packages. Schultz supports raising the federal minimum, but he has said that raising it by too much—say, to $15 an hour, as some activists have demanded—would put a crimp on businesses, and lead to lower benefits and layoffs.

 

TIME Executives

Dear Tech Executives: Nobody Cares if You’re ‘Thrilled’

Inside Google Inc.'s New Toronto Offices
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Patrick Pichette, chief financial officer of Google.

Executives have gotten too comfortable offering less than a no-comment—a comment of negative value—by telling us what they're feeling

The quarterly call that executives hold to discuss earnings is, short of face-to-face meetings, the best chance for investors to get a sense of a company’s financial health. Over and over again, the analysts on these calls focus their questions on pressing for metrics or hard numbers to gauge that health.

It’s one thing for executives to be bashful about sharing too much data that could help their competitors. It’s another for them to try and replace cold hard numbers with a completely useless commodity: a confessional on how a CEO or CFO is feeling in the moment.

Yet this is an unwelcome trend in tech earnings, where over and over tech leaders who are smart enough to know better keep repeating how thrilled they are, how excited, how they couldn’t be happier about all the boring little incremental developments that apparently please them to no end. It’s unwelcome because these calls aren’t support groups. Investors tune in to decide whether they should buy, sell or hold a company’s stock.

Take Google. On a recent earnings call, Citigroup analyst Mark May asked a reasonable question about Compute Engine, Google’s cloud services platform. “What sort of impact is that having on revenue or expenses and capex for the business?” “We’re really thrilled by the momentum,” Google CFO Patrick Pichette replied.

A no comment would have sufficed here. But Pichette offered less than a no-comment, a comment of negative value, a subjective emotion as answer to a mathematical question. It’s like ordering food at a restaurant and being served a picture of someone who just had a yummy meal. It neither nourishes nor satisfies.

And yet Pichette and Chief Business Officer Omid Kordestani went on to mention how thrilled they were about this or that (we’re thrilled to be a platform!) six more times during the call. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a thrill as “an intense emotion or excitement” that causes “a subtle nervous tremor.” The word comes from the English “thirl,” meaning to pierce something with a sharp instrument–to bore it, which is what Pichette and Kordestani were doing to their audience.

Nor were they the only corporate thrillseekers. “Overall, I’m thrilled with the progress we made across all of our initiatives,” Groupon CEO Eric Lefkofsky said on Thursday. But at least Groupon’s stock rose 25% on the evidence of that progress. So even if Lefkofsky wasn’t exactly atremble with joy over the company’s progress, the surge in value Friday of his Groupon shares surely enlivened his mood.

Not so for Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook’s shares fell 10% on warnings of slower growth and heavier spending. The normally low-key Zuckerberg had no thrills to report but he does get excited pretty easily–nine times in last week’s earnings call. Most people in the Bay Area get excited when the Giants win the World Series, but for Zuckerberg it’s a new ad platform, deep linking or “partnering with credit card companies.”

This is fine, in a nerdy way. But the point is, on Wall Street nobody cares about excitement levels, even with an influential executive like Zuckerberg. The numbers Facebook delivered meant everything in the selloff. The emotional state over at Hacker Way meant nothing. So why do executives even bother?

Sometimes the hyperbole defies common sense, as when Greg Blatt, chairman of IAC’s Match Group, which owns OKCupid and Tinder, explained that Tinder isn’t being monetized right now but that he “couldn’t be happier.” But wouldn’t surging revenue and profits from the popular Tinder app make him happier? Because it would probably make investors in IAC feel better.

Perhaps the king of earnings hyperbole is Apple’s Tim Cook. Which seems strange because Cook gives off this constant Zen vibe. “It’s just absolutely stunning,” Cook said about Mac sales to a group of investors who were completely not stunned. Later, Cook added, “I could not be more excited about the road ahead in fiscal 2015.”

At one point in last week’s call, Cook said he “couldn’t be happier” about Apple’s ability to supply its new iPhone lines. Then, only a few seconds later, he said he “couldn’t be happier with the way demand looks.” Which is either a direct contradiction or a crazy business koan that, once cracked, will yield immediate enlightenment.

The effect of such relentless hyperbole is that, when companies do have good news to be excited about, investors just dismiss it as more hollow rhetoric. Instead, it’s the immediate, often knee-jerk reaction to the stock price that sets the consensus on how well or poorly a company is performing financially. The thicker the happy feelings are layered on, the more they are distrusted as more corporate spin.

Of course, such grandiose language is also to be found outside of the tech industry. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on Friday said he was “beyond thrilled” to be announcing—not blowout profits or guidance surpassing Wall Street’s hopes—but a new roastery Starbucks is opening in December.

Maybe Schultz is on to something. Taking his words “beyond thrilled” at face value could be good advice for overexcited executives in general: Hurry up and get past your declarations thrills/excitements/pleasures. Because the rest of the market is already well beyond caring about them.

And while you’re at it, more numbers would be helpful.

TIME Executives

Rupert Murdoch Is getting Hammered for This Tweet

Business Leaders Gather For B20 Summit In Sydney
Pool—Getty Images Rupert Murdoch, Executive Chairman News Corporation looks on during a panel discussion at the B20 meeting of company CEO's on July 17, 2014 in Sydney, Australia.

Media mogul says Google is worse than the NSA when it comes to privacy

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Tom Huddleston, Jr.

Twitter users have spent the past day or so letting Rupert Murdoch know that a billionaire media mogul who has been forced to shutter a newspaper over a phone-hacking scandal might not be an appropriate moral authority when it comes to privacy issues.

Murdoch’s Twitter feed is often full of one-off pieces of commentary on people and events in the news, but the CEO of News Corp and 21st Century Fox lighted upon a fairly touchy subject on Sunday when he fired off the following tweet:

Twitter users quickly took to the social media platform to accuse Murdoch of hypocrisy in criticizing another company’s policies regarding privacy after his former newspaper, the News of the World, endured a phone-hacking scandal that landed more than one editor in prison over the past decade. Several of the replies to Murdoch’s tweet yesterday included some variation on the words “irony” and “hypocrite,” along with references to the News of the World scandal.

Several other users replied by pointing out the trouble with Murdoch’s comparison of the NSA and Google, namely that Google has publicly admitted that it scans users emails to be used in targeted ads, while the NSA has denied charges of domestic spying. Not every Internet user may be thrilled with Google’s practices, but they are still able to choose whether or not to use the company’s products.

TIME Executives

The World’s Most Powerful Men Love This One, Strange Thing

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein Addresses The Investment Company Institute Meeting
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Not exactly what you’d expect

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Anne VanderMey

According to Google auto-fill, one of the most searched terms relating to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is, “What watch does Lloyd Blankfein wear?”

We have the answer: It’s a Swatch, a simple plastic timepiece that retails in the ballpark of $100. In fact, the executive has several of them—including a black one for formal events.

If you work on Wall Street, you’ve probably seen the look before: good suit, unremarkable shoes, digital watch. Witness Steve Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone. Schwarzman not only owns multiple Swatches, he wears them in funky colors and designs. One particularly bright-colored edition bears the landmarks of his vacation home in St. Tropez.

Public-facing figures like Schwarzman and Blankfein may be expected to dress without excessive bling. And yet, as Google attests, it’s curious to see a plastic bangle on some of American business’s most powerful men. The list of power players who sport Swatches goes on: Tony Blair has one, as does French president Francois Hollande. U.K. hedge fund trader Chris Hohn has had a black one for years. AllianceBernstein CEO Peter Kraus is a fan of the brand. Even the boss of luxury watch maker Patek Phillipe reportedly wears one while skiing.

In a statement to Fortune, Switzerland’s Swatch Group didn’t have much to say about why politicians and executives might want to wear the budget accessory. The company’s Swiss roots and artistic designs may play a role, a spokeswoman said. When the Swatch was introduced as an alternative to Asian mass production in the 1980s, it was credited with helping to save the Swiss watchmaking industry. Ultimately, though, the watch brand’s patronage among the high and mighty is a bit of a mystery. “We assume that politicians have their reasons for wearing our watches,” the spokeswoman wrote, “but we don’t know what those reasons are.”

For the rest of the story, please visit Fortune.com.

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