The surprising daily routine of a $36 billion tech company CEO

Despite JEDI loss, AWS retains dominant market position – TechCrunch

The surprising daily routine of a $36 billion tech company CEO

AWS took a hard blow last year when it lost the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract to rival Microsoft. Yet even without that mega deal for building out the nation’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, the company remains fully in control of the cloud infrastructure market — and it intends to fight that decision.

In fact, AWS still owns almost twice as much cloud infrastructure market share as Microsoft, its closest rival. While the two will battle over the next decade for big contracts JEDI, for now, AWS doesn’t have much to worry about.

There was a lot more to AWS’s year than simply losing JEDI. Per usual, the news came out with a flurry of announcements and enhancements to its vast product set. Among the more interesting moves was a shift to the edge, the fact the company is getting more serious about the chip business and a big dose of machine learning product announcements.

The fact is that AWS has such market momentum now, it’s a legitimate question to ask if anyone, even Microsoft, can catch up. The market is continuing to expand though, and the next battle is for that remaining market share.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy spent more time than in the past trashing Microsoft at 2019’s re:Invent customer conference in December, imploring customers to move to the cloud faster and showing that his company is preparing for a battle with its rivals in the years ahead.

AWS remains in firm control of the cloud infrastructure market

Numbers, please

AWS closed 2019 on a $36 billion run rate, growing from $7.43 billion in in its first report in January to $9 billion in earnings for its most recent earnings report in October. Believe it or not, according to CNBC, that number failed to meet analysts expectations of $9.1 billion, but still accounted for 13% of Amazon’s revenue in the quarter.

Regardless, AWS is a juggernaut, which is fairly amazing when you consider that it started as a side project for Amazon .com in 2006. In fact, if AWS were a stand-alone company, it would be a substantial business.

While growth slowed a bit last year, that’s inevitable when you get as large as AWS, says John Dinsdale, VP, chief analyst and general manager at Synergy Research, a firm that follows all aspects of the cloud market.

“This is just math and the law of large numbers. On average over the last four quarters, it has incremented its revenues by well over $500 million per quarter. So it has grown its quarterly revenues by well over $2 billion in a twelve-month period,” he said.

Dinsdale added, “To put that into context, this growth in quarterly revenue is bigger than Google’s total revenues in cloud infrastructure services. In a very large market that is growing at over 35% per year, AWS market share is holding steady.”

Dinsdale says the cloud infrastructure market didn’t quite break $100 billion last year, but even without full Q4 results, his firm’s models project a total of around $95 billion, up 37% over 2018. AWS has more than a third of that. Microsoft is way back at around 17% with Google in third with around 8 or 9%.

While this is from Q1, it illustrates the relative positions of companies in the cloud market. Chart: Synergy Research

JEDI disappointment

It would be hard to do any year-end review of AWS without discussing JEDI. From the moment the Department of Defense announced its decade-long, $10 billion cloud RFP, it has been one big controversy after another.


The surprising daily routine of a $36 billion tech company CEO

The surprising daily routine of a $36 billion tech company CEO

Good leadership doesn’t come in a one-size-fit-all shape. To be the leader of a company chosen by Forbes as one of America’s most innovative companies, you can be sure, takes a special kind of person.

Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, a $36 billion finance and business software company behind products TurboTax and QuickBooks, is such a person. The demands on the time of someone Smith is full of pressure.

Is there a trick, a secret, or a genie in a box that can prevent you from succumbing to the pressure?

There is, and Smith shared his recently: Smith runs a tight daily schedule and apportions his time every day.

First, what is his attitude towards time?

Smith said the following:

“The three resources we have in our jobs are dollars, people, and time.  You can always ask for more money and volunteers, but you can never get any more time.

“So be really thoughtful about where is the highest impact place for you to spend your time. Treasure that. Be really clear about where you’re going to spend your time.”

And this he does to almost impossible perfection.

Take a look.

He rises at 5:30 a.m. every morning of the week and exercises for one hour, while watching CNBC.

And you think: I could never do that. I hate getting up early and I hate exercising even more. Well, surprise, surprise, Smith doesn’t exactly love rising early or exercising either.

He told Business Insider that he does it because it makes him feel healthy and, wait for it, he s to have something to tick off on his to-do list by the time he gets to the office, which is around 7.30 a.m.

By then he has had a protein drink and caught up on The Wall Street Journal.

At the office things get interesting.

Smith organizes his office day around a “100-point plan”. He divides his time into 40%, 30%, 20%, and 10% slots:

  • 40% on product reviews
  • 30% on “meeting with large groups of employees to try to grow and develop and hear what’s on their minds.”
  • 20% on the boards of other companies, including SurveyMonkey and Nordstrom.
  • 10% on watching TED Talks and reading books

What stands out?

Smith is a corporate leader with his finger on the pulse of his company, keeping tabs on company products and the people responsible for developing the products. He leads with his ear close to the ground.

But not so close that he misses the other creatures in the wood or any changes in the weather conditions. He spends a full 40% of his day (including 10% in the morning before work) on staying abreast of what’s going on in the wider world around Intuit.

And the best?

The CEO heads home to a very ordinary evening with his family: dinner, TV and early to bed.

[To set your own routines and goals in life, check out Hack Spirit’s eBook on How to be Your Own Life Coach: 10 Essential Steps to Creating a Life You Love. This eBook provides a structured, easy-to-follow framework to help you improve your life and achieve your goals. Check it out here]

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You know the saying, “don’t judge a book by the cover”, but when it comes to sizing people up, first impressions can be hard to overcome.

For people with strong personality types, those who have been branded “alphas”, it can be difficult for people to get close to them. Not because they are hard to get close to, but because of the way they come off when you first meet them.

Trust me, I believe that I’m an alpha personality and I know exactly how tough it can be.

We’re often thought to be overbearing and aggressive, but really, alpha personalities have a lot more going on beneath the surface than many people realize.

What’s more, many alphas don’t realize their personalities are actually making others feel uncomfortable or intimidated.

I believe there are 6 signs that make an alpha personality intimidate others. Keep in mind that this is just my opinion from my experience. You may know of different signs or may have had different experiences.

1) You Always Say What’s on Your Mind

While people say they want to hear the truth, it can be hard to hear when someone is actually giving it to you. In my experience, alphas are known for their “straight to the point” personality, and sometimes their bark is worse than their bite.

2) You Are Wise Beyond Your Years

While alpha personality types are often very outgoing and extroverted, they also do a great deal of introspective reflecting and know themselves well.

I believe that this can make others uncomfortable when they realize you know your stuff, and can figure things out faster, better, and in a more efficient way than other personality types.

3) You See Solutions Where Others See Only Problems

While everyone else is running around chickens with their heads cut off worrying about the world’s end, you are over there getting things done.

In my experience, alpha personalities can see a problem from a 30,000 foot level and know the path to success within minutes.

[If you’re looking to learn about eastern philosophy and how it can improve your life, check out my best-selling eBook: The No-Nonsense Guide to Using Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy for a Better Life]

4) Your Tolerance for Ignorance is Non-existent

Because you say what you think and mean what you say, you expect people to do the same. This means that people who are ignorant don’t stand a chance with you. Even if they are being ignorant without purpose.

You’ll call them on their crap and expect them to change their ways if they want to enjoy the pleasure of your company.

5) You Love New Things

I believe that alpha personality types have a strong desire to try new things. Their confidence enables them to try and fail repeatedly without being knocked down. This is why they love first dates.

This also means that they are more ly to be single, adventure alone, travel the world by themselves, and enjoy taking risks. This can be a lot for people to process and can result in people keeping their distance from alphas.

6) You Cut to the Chase

In my experience, strong personalities exert a lot of energy on moving their lives forward, which means that they don’t have time for small talk. They know what is important to them and they don’t waste time doing things that aren’t on that list. So if you find yourself face to face with an alpha personality, don’t take offense to their standoffish ways. That’s just who they are.

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Page 3

As humans continue to evolve and adapt to the world around us, we can expect to see some changes in the evolutionary design of the human body.

We’ve already started to see some of these changes happening with human body parts: some people don’t get wisdom teeth, and we know the appendix isn’t worth its weight.

Here are 15 parts of the human body that will disappear in the future because we don’t need them anymore.

1) Body Hair

Did you know that eye brows help keep sweat from our eyes? And male facial hair can play a part in attracting the opposite sex? But besides that, the rest of the hair on the body could be deemed practically useless. Over time, you’ll see people with less and less of it.

2) Paranasal Sinuses

This one is a mystery. Other than causing us grief during allergy season, these sinus don’t do much except make the head lighter.

Some people don’t have extrinsic ear muscles, but those who do can move their ear independently of their head. It’s useless unless you are hunting and need to hear what’s around you.

4) Wisdom Teeth

These big teeth were used to crush food for digestion, but these days, we’ve got forks and knives for that. Most people don’t ever get their wisdom teeth, are born without them or they never erupt.

5) Neck Rib

Some people have an extra rib, or two, at the top of their rib cage that has been hanging around since early times. It appears in less than 1% of the population on earth these days. Soon, it will be gone altogether.

6) Palmaris Muscle

If you had to rock climb or hang for long periods of time, you needed this muscle, but these days people don’t hang around on cliffs they used to.

7) Male Nipples

Because every human starts out as neither male nor female, nipples appear in both sexes, but male nipples are totally useless.

8) Arrector Pili Muscles

These muscles cause “goose pimples” and are thought to have connections to “puffing up” to get ready for a fight.

9) Appendix

No one really knows the story behind the appendix but there is no shortage of theories. In the future, this nomad organ will be gone from our vocabulary and our bodies.

10) Thirteenth Rib

Some people have an additional set of ribs below the rib cage, about 8% of the population does actually. It’s part of the primate series of ribs, but some people still exhibit this body part.

11) Toes

People are moving toward a more centered style of walking, making it less important to have toes. Our center of gravity is based from the middle of our bodies and research is showing that toes might not be necessary to help us walk or run in the future.

12) Coccyx

Also known as the tailbone, this part of the body is all that remains of a time when humans had extra parts that are also gone.

13) Third Eyelid

Many mammals have a third eyelid that helps to keep the eye clean; humans have a smaller version in the corner of their eyes, but it is possible that it can disappear in the future because it is no longer needed.

14) Darwin’s Point

A small flap of skin at the top of the ear can still be seen in some people. This is thought to help with sound, but not everyone has it, and it’s ly to continue to disappear as generations are born.

15) Subclavius Muscle

This muscle is useful when you walk on all four limbs. Since we don’t do that, we don’t really need this muscle. Some people have one on either side, and some have none.

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Tesla shares soar after crushing third-quarter earnings

The surprising daily routine of a $36 billion tech company CEO

  • Tesla reported third-quarter revenue of $6.3 billion and earnings per share, adjusted, of $1.86 on Wednesday.
  • Shares spiked more than 20% after Tesla posted the surprise profit and said it was ahead of schedule with a new factory in Shanghai.

Tesla delivered a strong third-quarter earnings report after the bell on Wednesday, posting a surprise profit and telling shareholders it is ahead of schedule with a new factory in Shanghai. Shares spiked more than 20% after hours, putting them at their highest price since February.

Here's what the results were versus analysts' expectations:

  • Adjusted earnings per share of $1.86 vs. expected losses of 42 cents per share
  • Revenue of $6.3 billion, vs. expected $6.33 billion, according to Refinitiv consensus estimates

The electric car maker gave investors plenty to look forward to next year. It released a glossy 28-page investor update filled with photos from its new factory in Shanghai where Tesla said it's already begun trial production runs.

The company also said it was ahead of schedule on its long-awaited Model Y crossover, which it now expects to launch by next summer. At the same time, Tesla says it is planning to make a limited run of its Tesla Semi truck next year, and hopes to soon announce the location of its European Gigafactory, where it aims to begin making electric vehicles in 2021.

A photograph of the new Tesla paint shop in the Shanghai Gigafactory provided by the company in its Q3 2019 earnings release.


In its Q3 2019 Update, Tesla said:

“Gigafactory Shanghai was built in 10 months and is ready for production, while it was ~65% less expensive (capex per unit of capacity) to build than our Model 3 production system in the US.”

A photo of general assembly in Tesla's new Shanghai Gigafactory, provided by the company with its Q3 2019 earnings release.


Last quarter, Tesla shares dropped after the company reported losses of $1.12 per share and $6.35 billion in revenue. At this time last year, Tesla reported a “historic” third quarter with revenue of $6.82 billion and earnings per share of $2.90.

In Q3, Tesla released over-the-air software updates, including a controversial Smart Summon feature, that lets some Tesla drivers use an app to remotely call and control their cars. The cars can, in some situations, come pick them up from a short distance away, navigating a parking lot without any driver behind the wheel to do so.

Margins will be in sharp focus on today's earnings call, in part, because Tesla launched new Autopilot software upgrades which enabled the company to recognize deferred revenues. The company has been selling more, lower-priced Model 3 vehicles in 2019, and fewer of its higher-priced Model S and Model X's.

The company said in its Q3 2019 report: “Despite reductions in the average selling price (ASP) of Model 3 as global mix stabilizes, our gross margins have strengthened.”

Specifically, automotive gross margins for Tesla rose to 22.8% in the third quarter, up from Q2 auto gross margins of 18.9%, but still less than the 25.

8% automotive gross margins Tesla reported during the third quarter last year.

Tesla said that margins were improved in part through “Smart Summon-related deferred revenue recognition, FX and other non-recurring items.” It did not specify what the non-recurring items were.

Tesla CFO Zach Kirkhorn said on an earnings call on Wednesday afternoon that the company recognized $30 million in revenue related to the Smart Summon update.

Today's third-quarter earnings report is the first for Tesla since the departure of co-founder and former CTO JB Straubel, and since the company completed the acquisition of two companies: A computer vision startup called DeepScale, and a battery manufacturing firm called Hibar Systems.

Follow @CNBCtech on for the latest tech industry news.

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A Day in the Life of a Hospital CEO – An Interview with Dr. David Pate

The surprising daily routine of a $36 billion tech company CEO

[Volunteering as an orderly] taught me much about the operations of a hospital, the roles of different personnel, how to be humble, physician-nurse relationships, empathy for patients, the dedication of healthcare professionals, and how much ‘little things’ mean to employees.
Dr. David Pate, CEO of the St. Luke’s Health System, Idaho

According to the American Hospital Association, some 6,000 hospital CEOs collectively oversee almost a million beds, more than 36 million patients, and over a trillion dollars in expenses. While those CEOs have their days shaped by the scope and scale of the hospitals they work for, each of them is responsible for maintaining the overall health and effectiveness of those facilities.

As guardians of some of the world’s key pieces of infrastructure, hospital CEOs have a tremendous impact on the lives of their constituents.

Being the chief executive officer of a hospital means being part business leader and part politician, requiring a blend of diplomacy, advocacy, business management, and financial sense.

And the stakes of this role aren’t just profit and loss, but life and death.

Hospital CEOs have a wide range of responsibilities; their work environment and day-to-day lives can vary immensely. In addition to requiring competence as both a business leader and a healthcare executive, hospital CEOs are increasingly being called upon to transition and modernize.

Data analytics and the integration of AI are providing new, complex ways to deliver top-quality care.

And the industry-wide transition from a fee-for-service model to a value-based service model—one focusing on the quality of services instead of the number of services provided—means hospitals have to rethink their financial operations from the ground up.

According to Dr. David Pate, former CEO of St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Texas and current CEO of St. Luke’s Health System in Idaho, the biggest challenge facing today’s hospital CEOs is this transition from fee-for-service to value-based payments and the declining revenues that go along with it.

He sees the continued decline in hospital revenues as a function of the outsourcing of higher-revenue services to lower-revenue outpatient settings; the increase in competition between ambulatory providers; and the shift from high-revenue insurance plans to lower-revenue Medicare plans as the population ages.

Today’s hospital CEOs must navigate the impacts of this continued decline in revenue while handling the pressure of growing wages, supply costs, and pharmaceutical costs.

“For those organizations, ours, that are making a significant transition in our business from fee-for-service to at-risk value-based arrangements, hospital CEOs will be challenged with the change in philosophy of hospitals previously being profit centers to now being cost centers,” Dr. Pate explains. “This changes the focus away from filling beds to now looking at every admission to learn how the system failed the patient and hospitalization became necessary.”

To run a hospital is to run an intensely complex business, but one where the bottom line is not solely profit, and one where the stakes have a human face. Read on to get a look at a day in the life of a hospital CEO.

Hospital CEOs are frequently on the move, with their schedules often planned down to the minute.

Community outreach, investment research, board meetings, and public speaking engagements are all part of the CEO’s jurisdiction and stretch outside the walls of the hospital.

And their work reaches into the digital space, too; Dr. Pate, for example, is active on , where he shares information about healthcare transformation.

Back in the hospital, CEOs interact with patients, providers, staff, and family members.

But their core clinical team is a small cadre of fellow executives, which includes a chief operating officer (COO), a chief financial officer (CFO), a chief nursing officer (CNO), and a chief medical officer (CMO).

This team enacts strategy proposals determined by the CEO, and reports back up on their impact or need for adjustment. Drawing from this team, a hospital CEO reports to and serves a governing board of directors, which ensures the CEO is managing the hospital effectively.

For students aspiring to become a hospital CEO, Dr. Pate prescribes a stint volunteering at a local hospital.

“I served as a volunteer orderly and then was given a paying job as a unit secretary in an intensive care unit at a busy trauma teaching hospital,” he says.

“These experiences taught me much about the operations of a hospital, the roles of different personnel, how to be humble, physician-nurse relationships, empathy for patients, the dedication of healthcare professionals, and how much ‘little things’ mean to employees.

Even today, some forty years later, I think about how the decisions I am making will affect those volunteers and professionals I used to work with.”

A hospital CEO can be seen as the mayor of a major medical facility, responsible for the thousands of constituents that they serve—patients, providers, staff, and community members—in addition to safeguarding the functionality of the facility’s financial and logistical apparatus. No two days are going to be precisely a, but here are four broad themes in a hospital CEO’s responsibilities.

A key responsibility of a hospital CEO is the development and maintenance of hospital policy. A sound strategic policy is critical in the areas of patient safety and compliance.

By interfacing with the executive team and getting input from the community, a hospital CEO must determine a strategic and rational direction that strikes a balance between serving the patient, maintaining compliance with federal regulations and privacy concerns, and ensuring the overall financial health and stability of the hospital. From the minute and technical to the grand and overarching, setting policies and enforcing them is a top priority for a hospital CEO.

One of the most critical responsibilities of a hospital CEO is maintaining the financial health of the hospital. Sound financial planning can have life-saving impacts on patient safety and care quality.

A hospital CEO must have a solid relationship with the CFO and a deep understanding of business management practices in order to keep a hospital in the black and operating at peak efficiency.

A complex and clever distribution of resources is required to not only meet the needs of providers and patients, but also to fund critical investments into medical research.

And the transition from fee-for-service to value-based payments means that hospital CEOs must be capable of completely rethinking a business while also holding on to the solid fundamentals that keep a hospital functioning and fulfilling its mission.

A hospital CEO is the ultimate authority in staffing decisions at a hospital. They play a key part in the recruitment of senior management and executives and also foster an environment where top talent wants to come and work.

A close coordination with department heads is critical in determining the precise staffing needs of each particular silo within the hospital, and then filling those roles with the most qualified people possible. Above all, a hospital CEO must strike a balance between the organization’s macro-level staffing needs and the individual staff’s micro-level needs.

A hospital CEO is the hospital’s ambassador to the outside world and between departments. They serve as a critical link between the hospital’s executive team and its board of directors, balancing one’s technical knowledge against the other’s objective governance. They also connect a hospital’s services to the broader community by promoting a culture of health and transparent accessibility.

They advocate for the hospital and its constituents in the media as well as at the local, state, and federal levels.

They draw in outside partnerships with research, funding, and service implications.

And, within the hospital, they can build consensus between departments, brokering internal policy adjustments that meet the needs of each concerned party and smooth the interactions between them.

Hospitals are always open, and, similarly, hospital CEOs have to be either working or on call at all times. And while the job demands expert-level skills and knowledge in the areas of communication, finance, and management, there’s a required level of near-fanatical dedication that a hospital CEO needs to be able to perform their daily tasks without burning out.

A bachelor’s degree is required, but the area of focus isn’t particularly important. Many hospital CEOs majored in finance or business as an undergraduate, but others have varied backgrounds that include bachelor’s degrees in English or a medical field.

Dr. Pate, for example, got his bachelor’s in biochemistry while also playing in Rice University’s Marching Owl Band. The key takeaway from undergraduate programs for future hospital CEOs is a breadth of knowledge, an ability to communicate clearly and effectively, and a network of motivated peers and mentors with whom they can consult and exchange ideas.

Graduate-level education is where the real work begins. Through an MHA, MPH, or MBA with a healthcare focus, future hospital CEOs can get a first-class education in the inner workings of healthcare and business. It’s here that they develop the keen business fundamentals, financial understanding, and communication skills necessary to run a large and dynamic organization such as a hospital.

Furthermore, graduate-level education provides the opportunity for future hospital CEOs to get familiar with big data analytics and the emerging role it’s playing in hospital leadership, and also gives students a broad view of the trends (e.

g., transition from fee-for-service to value-based payments) that are changing the industry’s landscape. The network one builds in a master’s program will be critical in securing mentorships and job opportunities that lead them up the ladder.

Dr. Pate, for example, got an MD in internal medicine and a JD in health law, practicing as a general internist and then an adjunct professor of law before becoming a hospital CEO. (He was also a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, which you can read more about below).

While there are exceptions, over a decade of leadership experience is seen as the minimum requirement for a hospital CEO.

This is in part due to the lessons one learns and skills one develops through real-world experience, but also in part due to the wide network one needs to be considered in the conversation for a CEO hiring.

Getting hired as a CEO requires not only a sterling resume and educational background, but also a clever navigation of key relationships and a careful blend of advocacy and diplomacy.

Each hospital has its own set of required skills and knowledge, unique unto itself. For Dr. Pate, there was a notable shift when he went from the CEO of a single hospital to the CEO of a health system that included several hospitals.

“From my experience as a CEO of a large teaching hospital, I already had skills involving operations, financial management, board management, physician relations, and human resources,” Dr. Pate says.

“The skills needed for my new job as a health system CEO require strategic planning and driving standardization across a system of hospitals, including the reduction of irrational care variation.

In all of the aspects of a hospital CEO’s work, the hours are long and the stakes are high, but the rewards do exist. For Dr. Pate, two things stand out:

One is that I love the people I work with and enjoy solving problems with them and knowing what is going on in their lives. The other is the opportunities that I have to get out and talk to employees at our hospitals and clinics.

We have amazing people doing amazing things and it always takes me back, no matter how difficult and consuming some of the challenges I may be dealing with, to the fact that we are making a big difference in people’s lives and helping them through significant life events.

Hospital CEOs do not need a specific certification or licensure in order to practice. But doing so can act as a mark of distinction on one’s record, and demonstrate both expertise and an ongoing commitment to the profession. Furthermore, joining a professional society can help build the critical network one needs to both become a hospital CEO and lead effectively from that position.

The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), for example, allows applicants to be credentialed as a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE).

This process takes a multifaceted look at an applicant’s educational, professional, and civic experience, and culminates in a Board of Governors Examination.

In order to be eligible for that examination, applicants must have:

  • A current position as a healthcare executive
  • A current membership of at least three years with the ACHE
  • At least five years of work experience
  • A relevant master’s degree
  • Two examples of civic or community activities in the last three years
  • Two examples of healthcare-related activities in the last three years
  • At least 36 hours of continuing education (12 of which must have been completed in-person through the ACHE) in the last three years
  • Two professional references: one of whom must be a current FACHE who will perform a structured interview with the prospective fellow, and one of whom should be a senior executive (VP or higher) at the prospective fellow’s organization

The Board of Governors Examination consists of 230 questions, of which 200 are scored. Source material for the test includes healthcare journals, periodicals, and textbooks.

A reference manual for the exam is provided by the ACHE, and a 12-week online tutorial is offered for $495. The ACHE website also includes study tips from fellows who have passed the exam.

The ACHE recommends between three and six months of study time before taking the exam, dependent upon the applicant’s experience and education level.

Upon certification as a FACHE, one will need to recertify every three years. As part of maintaining their status, fellows must complete 36 hours of continuing education, 12 of which must be in-person through the ACHE.

Alternatively, one may choose to retake the Board of Governors Examination.

As part of the three-year recertification, fellows must show involvement in at least two civic or community activities and two healthcare-related activities.


Is This the End of Stock Buybacks?

The surprising daily routine of a $36 billion tech company CEO

Major U.S. airlines — American (NASDAQ:AAL), Delta (NYSE:DAL), United (NASDAQ:UAL), and Southwest (NYSE:LUV) — are drastically cutting flights. In the age of coronavirus, this isn't surprising.

They're also asking for a bailout. It started with a request for $50 billion from the federal government. That number has since been revised down to $29 billion.

In the narrative put out by the airlines, this makes sense: How can an industry with such high capital requirements (gas, upkeep, new planes, etc.), and low profit margins possibly withstand a prolonged drought? 

But there's another narrative backed up by cold, hard facts: These airlines have had every chance in the world to prepare and have willfully chosen not to. That reality could lead to the end of buybacks in the industry — and perhaps others — for the foreseeable future.

Image source: Getty Images.

The reality: Business has been solid

Between the end of 2014 and 2019, these four major airlines have experienced marked success. Combined, they produced $34.6 billion in free cash flow (FCF). Here's how that all broke down.

Chart by author. Data source: SEC filings. Figures rounded to nearest $0.1 billion.

Some (Delta and Southwest) have done better than others (United and American). That's to be expected. 

What can airlines do with extra cash?

When companies have excess free cash flow, they have four general options:

  • Keep it: Companies can keep the money in the bank or short-term investments. 
  • Reinvest it: Airlines can upgrade planes and facilities, pursue new markets, or pay their employees more.
  • Pay it out: Shareholders can get dividends.
  • Buy back stock: By repurchasing shares, the total sharecount shrinks, creating more value for existing shareholders.

For the purposes of this article, we're going to focus on the last one — stock buybacks. Here's why:

  • Keep it: When you keep cash on the balance sheets, short-term investors might not it. But you become much more stable. Interruptions the one we've seen aren't abnormal (see: 2001), so it's prudent to prepare for a future without needing a government bailout.
  • Reinvest it: While reinvesting costs money, at least that money then filters through the economy. The companies that provide parts to the airlines pay their employees more, who can buy more things, and so on…
  • Pay it out: When investors get regular dividends, they can decide what to do with them — buy more stocks, take the money out for a new house, buy more gifts for the grandkids. The possibilities are limitless.

But buybacks have two ugly consequences we don't talk about enough. First, they often help hide ridiculous executive compensation (more on that below). More importantly, when “black swans” coronavirus hit, shares of airline companies plummet — rendering the economic value of share repurchases almost entirely moot.

They spent how much?

Okay, so how much was actually spent on these buybacks over the same timeframe? The answer: $38.6 billion.

Full stop. The airlines have spent more in share repurchases over the past five years than they've taken in via free cash flow. How can they afford to do that? By taking on more debt.

Here's a breakdown for each company.

Chart by author. Data source: SEC filings. Figures rounded to nearest $0.1 billion.

It would be easy to lay the entire blame at the feet of American Airlines. Clearly, American is the most egregious offender by a country-block. But that doesn't absolve Delta, Southwest, or United. The executives at these companies know full well they are in an industry uniquely exposed to black swans (again, does anyone remember September 11th?).

And yet they choose share buybacks. Why? Part of this is to satisfy institutional investors who own a large chunk of shares. But another is to cover up their own excess. Here's a telling calculation put together by using data compiled by Ben Hunt at Epsilon Theory.

AirlineCEOStock-Based Value (Payments) per Year as CEO
DeltaEd Bastian$36 million/year
AmericanDoug Parket$31 million/year
SouthwestGary Kelly$13 million/year
UnitedOscar Munoz$6 million/year

Data source: Compiled by Ben Hunt using Form 4 documents on the SEC's EDGAR database. All figures rounded to nearest million.

When companies choose to pay their executives with stock-based compensation, that creates more shares outstanding. Existing shareholders — people you and me — are diluted. But if the company uses its excess cash to repurchase shares, share-count actually falls at the same time executives are raking in these bonuses.

What should we do?

All of this leaves the American public — and federal officials — in a tight spot. Few want the airlines to disappear, but that's what could happen without some infusion of cash.

At the same time, executives have clearly demonstrated their eyes are set on profit maximization — which only increases the chances of us finding ourselves in the same situation again.

As Hunt put it in his piece:

Bailout the airlines and their rank-and-file employees? You bet.

Bailout the CEOs and Warren Buffett [note: Buffett is a major shareholder via investments through Berkshire Hathaway]? Not a chance.

The airlines have demonstrated they're willing to accept responsbility for some of these moves. On Saturday, industry leaders said they were willing to suspend buybacks and divided payments for the life of their loans.

That's a solid move, but I don't think its enough. If airlines simply pick up where they left off when these loans are paid back, we'll be right back in this situation in the future. To me, that leaves two — if unsavory — options:

  • Mandate an immediate end to buybacks and dividend payments for at least 10 years, including hard caps on executive compensation. Permission needs to be sought for any major operational changes. In essence, start treating airlines as utilities.  (another point made in Hunt's article)
  • Instead of a bailout, the government agrees to buy shares of these companies at set prices, thus becoming major shareholders with the power to dictate board and management decisions.

It's not fun to play games of chicken in times of crisis. But that's the situation we've found ourselves in. Few would argue against the necessity of airlines. Fewer could reasonably argue airlines have been responsbile stewards of capital.

We need to find a solution that acknowledges both realities — and fast.

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