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Tesla names close Musk friend Larry Ellison to board

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(Reuters) – Tesla Inc on Friday named Oracle Corp co-founder Larry Ellison, a shareholder and self-described close friend of Chief Executive Elon Musk, to its board to provide the independent oversight demanded by U.S. regulators after Musk tweeted about taking the electric carmaker private.

The move is meant to usher Tesla past months of turbulence following Musk’s Aug. 7 tweet that he was considering taking the company private and had secured funding.

The fallout, which included the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission subsequently filing fraud charges against Musk for what it said were his “false and misleading” tweets, led some investors to call for stronger board oversight of Musk.

The inclusion of Ellison puts one of the world’s richest people with experience building a startup into a successful company on Tesla’s board. He served as a director at Apple at a critical time for that company – in the five years after Steve Jobs returned to the helm of the then struggling computer maker in 1997, helping oversee one the greatest turnarounds in corporate history.

Joining Ellison on the board, effective Dec. 27, was Walgreens Boots Alliance’s global head of human resources, Kathleen Wilson-Thompson.

Charles Elson, director of the corporate governance center at the University of Delaware, questioned adding a friend of Musk’s and another director with no experience at an industrial company like Tesla.

“Why would you put a friend (on the board) if the idea of the two independent directors were to be objective,” Elson said. “Investors who were hoping for two newly objective directors who could stand up to Mr. Musk would be rather disappointed by the choice.”

Under a court-approved agreement with the SEC, Musk agreed to pay a $20 million fine and step aside as Tesla’s chairman for three years to settle charges that could have forced his exit. Tesla also agreed to name the independent directors and a board committee to control Musk’s communications.

SEC officials could not be reached to comment on Friday, but Harvey Pitt, the agency’s former chairman, called the addition of Ellison a positive step.

“His personal investment in Tesla stock — said to be his largest personal investment outside of Oracle — means he will be focused on ensuring that Tesla develops profitable strategies,” Pitt said. “He also has the stature to stand up to Mr. Musk, should that become necessary.”

Tigress Financial Partners analyst Ivan Feinseth said Ellison’s “maverick type CEO traits” match Musk’s.

Ellison bought 3 million shares of Tesla earlier this year. Through a spokeswoman, he declined to comment.

FILE PHOTO: A Tesla Model 3 car is displayed during a media preview at the Auto China 2018 motor show in Beijing, China April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

Tesla’s shares closed up 5.6 percent at $333.87 on Friday.

Musk on Friday afternoon tweeted his welcome: “Excited to have Larry Ellison & Kathleen Wilson-Thompson join the Tesla board!”

In November, Tesla named director Robyn Denholm as board chair, fulfilling one of the SEC’s demands. Denholm, who joined Tesla as an independent director in 2014 and agreed to step down as finance chief of Australian telecoms firm Telstra Corp Ltd, spent 11 years as a senior vice president at Sun Microsystems, a unit of Oracle.

Tesla said it conducted a “thorough, expansive” search process for the directors, calling Ellison a “preeminent entrepreneur” and Wilson-Thompson “a human resources leader” and said both had a passion for sustainable energy. They bring the Tesla board count to 11 people.

The larger-than-life Ellison, like Musk, is known for making bombastic, brash public comments. He went on a diatribe attacking cloud computing at a 2008 analyst conference, which only served to highlight Oracle’s slow move into the space. He undermined Oracle’s business relationship with Hewlett Packard in 2010 in an email to the New York Times that chastised the board for firing its CEO and his friend, Mark Hurd, after a sexual harassment inquiry.

He rarely interacts with journalists or blogs, and has only tweeted once – a 2012 message promoting Oracle’s cloud products.

“VERY CLOSE FRIENDS”

Ellison, said by Forbes magazine to be worth $55 billion, has in the past defended Musk.

“I’m very close friends with Elon Musk, and I’m a big investor in Tesla,” Ellison, 74, said on a Oct. 26 conference call with analysts.

“This guy is landing rockets,” Ellison added about Musk, referring to his leadership of SpaceX. “He’s landing rockets on robot drone rafts in the ocean, and you’re saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Well, who else is landing a rocket?”

Wilson-Thompson, who could not be immediately reached for comment, spent 17 years at Kellogg Co before joining Walgreens, and serves on the boards of two U.S.-based manufacturing companies.

Musk has gained fans for his bold approach to business and technology, using his almost 24 million Twitter followers to promote Tesla, SpaceX and tunnel venture Boring Co.

Oracle’s Executive Chairman of the Board and Chief Technology Officer Larry Ellison speaks during his keynote address at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco, California September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

But the August claim that he had the funding to take Tesla private, and a subsequent U-turn, stunned Wall Street. It all came as Musk was filmed briefly smoking marijuana during a live Web show and as he called a British diver in the Thai cave rescue a “pedo.”

Tesla’s market cap exceeds that of traditional, established U.S. automakers that make millions of vehicles and billions of dollars in profits annually, and the company has garnered legions of fans despite repeated production issues.

Additional reporting by Jim Finkle, Katanga Johnson and Akanksha Rana; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Steve Orlofsky and Tom Brown

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Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics to commercialize Canada’s first automated heavy duty trucks

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Canadian Tire Corporation and Toronto based start-up NuPort Robotics, Canada’s first autonomous trucking company, are partnering with the Ontario government to invest $3 million to undertake an automated heavy duty trucking project to test a “first-of-its-kind-in-the-world” technology. 

The breakthrough technology provides a transportation solution for the middle mile, the short-haul shuttle runs that semi-tractor trailers make between distribution centres, warehouses and terminals each day.

It is designed to enable next-generation automated trucks that are more fuel efficient, safer to operate, and provide an enhanced driver experience.

Backed by $1 million in support from the Ontario government through Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network and matched by $1 million investments from Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics, respectively, the two-year project is applying proprietary, artificial intelligence technology from NuPort Robotics to retrofit two conventional semi-tractor trailers – which will always be attended by a driver – with high-tech sensors and controls, a touchscreen navigation system, and other advanced features such as obstacle and collision avoidance.

Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, says: “Ontario is proud to be a global leader in automated and connected vehicle technology and this innovative project is an exciting milestone toward automated vehicle tech in the trucking industry.

“Ontarians rely on goods being delivered by trucks across the province every day and projects like this are demonstrating the ways that automated truck technology could help businesses meet delivery demands more efficiently while supporting a strong supply chain in Ontario.”

Vic Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, says: “This project applies unique and made-in-Ontario Artificial Intelligence technology that offers increased safety and efficiency, with a reduced carbon footprint, to the goods supply chains on which we all rely.

“This is the latest example of how Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network acts as a catalyst, fostering partnerships between ambitious technology start-ups and industry to develop and commercialize next generation transportation technologies that strengthen our economy and benefit society.”

Raghavender Sahdev, CEO of NuPort Robotics, says: “The trucks are currently transporting goods between a Canadian Tire distribution centre in the Greater Toronto Area and nearby rail terminals within a 12.5 mile radius, and early results are promising.

“The aim of the project is to develop a system that incorporates an autopilot feature for conventional trucks with a driver, leading to the most efficient way to drive and increase safety.

“The sensors work as a ‘safety cocoon’ to cover blind spots and prevent accidents and the end result is peak fuel efficiency, meaning lower carbon emissions, and peak driving performance for an overall more optimal transportation experience.”

NuPort Robotic’s approach to autonomous trucking is unique in the industry because it focuses only on solving the middle mile challenge, using a known set of predetermined trucking routes that are repetitive and high frequency as opposed to general highway driving.

Ultimately, when implemented on fixed routes in the future, Canadian Tire will benefit from faster commercial deployments and improvements in supply chain sustainability.

Gary Fast, vice-president of transportation, Canadian Tire, says: “Canadian Tire embraces innovation and is always testing new technologies to improve our operational efficiency and safety.

“As proud Canadian companies, the safety of all stakeholders, including drivers, employees, customers, and public will be the top priority as we work together towards deployment of this technology.”

Cari Covent, vice president of intelligent automation, Canadian Tire, says: “Over the last three years, Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, and NuPort Robotics exemplifies what we look for in a start-up with a focus on innovation, automation and artificial intelligence.”

Sahdev says: “As NuPort Robotics continues to develop new technologies to overcome middle mile supply chain problems and advance autonomous trucking, I am extremely grateful for the support of the Ontario Government through AVIN and the Ontario Centre of Innovation.

“With their continued support, we are striving to position Canada as the leader in autonomous transportation.”

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Constellation Software is money in the bank, this fund manager says

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If you’re looking for a long-term hold in Canadian tech then Constellation Software (Constellation Software Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:CSU) should definitely be on your radar. So says Jason Del Vicario of Hillside Wealth Management who likes not only Constellation but its recent spin-off Topicus (Topicus Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSXV:TOI) which Del Vicario says could do even better than CSU over the next ten years.

Software consolidator Constellation has been running on the same game plan for years, buying small vertical market software companies providing so-called mission critical software solutions globally. Over the years CSU has completed over 500 such acquisitions, buying the top names in their respective niche verticals and then using its clout and breadth to grow the business and expand into new markets. The resulting cash flow is then plowed back into more acquisitions and the cycle repeats.

The strategy has worked wonders for Constellation, which has grown its revenue from $631 million in 2010 to almost $4 billion for 2020 while taking earnings from $4.12 per share in 2010 to $20.59 per share this past year.

Shareholders were given a special treat last month when Constellation spun out recently acquired Topicus, giving CSU owners about 1.9 Topicus shares for every Constellation share as a dividend-in-kind. Constellation bought Netherlands-based software company Total Specific Solutions BV (or TSS) in 2013 and that subsidiary recently acquired Topicus BV, a Dutch information service company focusing on sectors such as healthcare, education and finance.

Topicus was singled out by Constellation founder Mark Leonard for its ability to grow without using outside shareholder funding. Leonard said the spin-out was part of the intention since a purchase agreement was struck last year.

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Nuvei wins price target raise from National Bank

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Strong quarterly results and an even brighter outlook for 2021 are reasons to celebrate for Canadian payments company Nuvei (Nuvei Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:NVEI), according to National Bank Financial analyst Richard Tse. In an update to clients on Wednesday, Tse left his rating unchanged at “Outperform” while raising his price target from C$85.00 to C$100.00.

Montreal-headquartered Nuvei is a provider of payment technology solutions to merchants and partners around the world, with a platform geared for high-growth mobile commerce and e-commerce markets. Nuvei’s solutions include a fully integrated payments engine with global processing capabilities, a turnkey checkout solution and a suite of data-driven business intelligence and risk management tools and services.

The company released its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financials on Wednesday, showing Q4 revenue of $115.9 million, up 46 per cent year-over-year, and adjusted EBITDA of $51.3 million, up 61 per cent year-over-year. Total dollar value of transactions processed by merchants (‘total volume’) with Nuvei rose by 53 per cent to $13.9 billion. (All figures in US dollars except where noted otherwise.)

The 2020 year featured revenue up 53 per cent to $375.0 million and adjusted EBITDA up 87 per cent to $163.0 million, with total volume rising a full 76 per cent year-over-year to $43.2 billion.

“Our performance continues to be driven by strong momentum in the high-growth verticals we serve, as well as by our customizable, scalable and feature-rich technology platform which provides one of the industry’s most complete payment technology solutions going well beyond merchant acquiring,” said Philip Fayer, chairman and CEO, in a press release.

The company said the fourth quarter represented the strongest growth yet experienced by Nuvei, driven by wallet share expansion from current merchants along with accelerated uptake of new merchants. New e-commerce business almost tripled compared to a year earlier, Nuvei said, while the company expanded its connectivity coverage over the quarter, introduced new product innovations on its platform and continued to execute on M&A.

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