This is Kickstart—the daily morning management briefing on innovation, leadership, technology and the economy from the editors of Canadian Business. Sign up to get it directly to your inbox each weekday at 6 AM Eastern.
Good morning! Here’s what’s on our radar at the moment:
Trump wants a trade war. He’ll get one
The U.S. Department of Commerce decided this week to impose a 219% duty on Bombardier’s CSeries jet. Officially, the measure is to curtail unfair trade practices on Bombardier’s part, but let’s get real; it’s more about appealing to protectionist sentiment among American voters and legislators. Fine—that’s the administration’s prerogative. But it could very well backfire for Boeing, the aerospace contractor ostensibly at the heart of the conflict:
Americans, even the reasonable ones, tend to forget that politics is practiced in other countries besides their own. Bombardier builds the wings for the CSeries planes in Northern Ireland, and both Prime Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Theresa May are talking about stopping all business with Boeing. Expect more of this from other countries because the U.S. insults will keep coming. The Commerce decision on Bombardier was an invitation to American companies to sue their toughest international rivals rather than out-hustle them. The outrage that Canada’s political class demonstrated on Wednesday will spread to other countries. Because Trump is so unpopular, the pressure to retaliate will be great. Someone eventually will.
Link: Canadian Business
The guy at the heart of the Google–Uber lawsuit
Anthony Levandowski is the engineer at the heart of Google subsidary Waymo’s US$1.9 billion lawsuit against Uber. The two companies are sparring over Google’s allegation that Levandowski stole gigabytes worth of intellectual property when he quit to start self-driving truck company Otto in 2016, which was soon after acquired by Uber. This in-depth profile gets deep into the details of the case and Levandowski’s career, and the trial itself, when it actually begins in October, is going to be really something.
Levandowski has made a career of moving fast and breaking things. As long as those things were self-driving vehicles and little-loved regulations, Silicon Valley applauded him in the way it knows best—with a firehose of cash. With his charm, enthusiasm, and obsession with deal-making, Levandowski came to personify the disruption that autonomous transportation is likely to cause. But even the smartest car will crack up if you floor the gas pedal too long. Once feted by billionaires, Levandowski now finds himself starring in a high-stakes public trial as his two former employers square off. By extension, the whole technology industry is there in the dock with Levandowski. Can we ever trust self-driving cars if it turns out we can’t trust the people who are making them?
Trouble at 666 Fifth Avenue
It’s almost the weekend, so you might make some time for this agreeably shaggy profile of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor. An enigmatic figure within the White House, Kushner was previously quite the public figure—the scion of a New York real estate family and proprietor of a gossipy Manhattan newspaper. The family business, already roiled by a scandal that landed Jared’s father in prison, has hit some additional turbulence:
The Kushner Companies purchased [666 Fifth Avenue] in January 2007, paying $1.8 billion, a record in Manhattan. The Kushners put up $500 million and borrowed the rest from banks and partner Vornado Realty Trust, a publicly traded company run by Steve Roth. This meant a $1.2 billion mortgage—a super jumbo—with interest-only payments for the first several years. It was considered a vast overpayment, one of the most puzzling deals ever made in New York, even before the market crashed. […] The mortgage comes due on 666 in less than two years. If the Kushners don’t figure out something, they could lose their investment. Simply put, this Spruce Goose of a deal must be considered among the worst in the history of Manhattan real estate.
Link: Vanity Fair
WATCH: The business card of the future
Unity is a company that makes a computer graphics engine that underlies some of the biggest video games in the world. But as people find more applications for augmented or mixed reality—digital objects that get superimposed on the real world—the company is pitching itself more and more as a general purpose tool for manipulating reality. Recently they unveiled a concept video for an AR business card: hold it up and your visor/headset/ocular implant of choice brings it to life. It’s kind of neat!
We don’t normally editorialize this much about the videos we share, but this one needs a reality check. The trick proposed here is nifty in its own way, but it falls into a classic futurist trap, which is the delusion that the future will be just like today, but with more technology. We draw your attention to this semi-famous collection of paintings, circa 1900, of what French artists thought the year 2000 would look like. The very first image demonstrates the problem. Nearly 120 years ago, people could predict the coming of a robot vacuum cleaner—millions of them are at work in homes today!—but they couldn’t picture a world in which that robot wasn’t closely managed by a maid in a frilly black gown and white apron. The technological evolution was obvious; the social evolution (the breakdown of European social hierarchies amid two world wars and a Great Depression, for instance) was far less so. Unity’s all-singing, all-dancing business card displays the same lack of imagination. It’s much less likely that our business cards will spring to life via magic eyeglasses than it is that we just…won’t carry business cards anymore. The future of exchanging contact information—in a context where face-mounted computers shoot digital hallucinations directly into our eyeballs—is probably going to be much weirder than this video suggests.
Earnings reports today
Canadian publicly traded companies of note scheduled to report quarterly earnings today:
Fission Uranium (FCU)
Thanks for reading! Have a truly excellent day.