May 19, 2016
Over its 118-year history, Bechtel has arguably changed the face of the physical world more than any other company, anywhere. Here’s a short list of its signature projects: the Hoover Dam (completed in 1936), the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (1950), the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (1976), NASA’s Space Launch Complex 40 (1992), the Channel Tunnel (1994), and the Athens Metro (2004), not to mention Jubail in Saudi Arabia, where Bechtel has been overseeing the construction of one of the world’s largest industrial cities for over 40 years. It recently completed the Hamad International Airport in Qatar, which is built to eventually handle more than 50 million passengers a year (matching the traffic at New York’s J.F.K.). And with BrightSource Energy, it constructed the Ivanpah solar electric complex, a landscape of 350,000 heat-generating mirrors in California’s Mojave Desert that’s the largest solar-thermal plant on the planet. ... Bechtel is currently overseeing a major portion of Crossrail, the largest infrastructure installation in Europe—a network of tunnels and rail links in London that will connect the city to the outer suburbs. And the company has developed the first liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in the continental United States. ... The parade of projects has made Bechtel one of the half-dozen largest privately held companies in the U.S., with $40 billion in 2015 revenue, outranking the likes of chocolate giant Mars and grocery chain Publix. ... In an increasingly competitive environment, the company needs to be able to attract the best engineers and managers to thrive. Today those elite recruits demand to understand the values of the companies that are wooing them. “Ours is a people business that depends on fielding the most capable project teams in the world,” he says. Like many other major private companies, Bechtel’s leaders feels they can no longer afford to hide behind its closely held status and let others control the narrative about its business. ... Bechtel must win on competence, not contacts. It’s all about a company’s ability to deliver a job on schedule and on budget, at the lowest cost.
The reaction was understandable given the lofty goals outlined in the Echo's original plan: It envisioned an intelligent, voice-controlled household appliance that could play music, read the news aloud and order groceries — all by simply letting users talk to it from anywhere in the house. ... the Echo's path into consumers' homes was hardly a sure thing. The gadget was stuck in Amazon's in-house labs for years, subject to the perfectionist demands of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and lengthy internal debates about its market appeal. And in the wake of the high-profile failure of Amazon's smartphone, the industry rumors that circulated for years about a speaker product languishing within Amazon's labs seemed like more confirmation that the ecommerce giant lacked the chops to create a game-changing hardware device. ... The story of the Echo's origins, recounted by several insiders, reflects the ambitions and challenges within Amazon as it quietly set its sights on the tech industry's next big battleground. ... The key to getting latency down was to collect as much data as possible and constantly apply them to improve the product. The team did thousands of internal tests and weekly data analysis with speech scientists. Eventually, the team was able to bring latency down to below 1.5 seconds, far exceeding the speed of its competitors.
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Three weeks ago, though, Sports Authority decided to liquidate instead of restructure; a spokesperson told Racked it was "pursuing a sale of some or all of the business." On Monday, the sports giant began auctioning off its assets. The winning bid belonged to a trio of liquidators (Hilco Global, Gordon Brothers, and Tiger Capital Group; Tiger Capital is also liquidating 41 Aéropostale stores in Canada), which will operate the company's going-out-of-business sales at all of its locations. ... Sports Authority isn't alone. Last month, Vestis Retail Group, the parent company of Eastern Mountain Sports, Bob's Stores, and Sport Chalet, filed for bankruptcy. With $500 million in liabilities, the company plans to close 56 stores, including all 47 Sport Chalet locations. Six months ago, the East Coast-based City Sports filed for bankruptcy and closed eight of its 26 stores. Although City Sports is currently being revived by Brent and Blake Sonnek-Schmelz, brothers who own the Soccer Post retail chain ... From the rise of the casual camper to the boutique fitness boom, it can feel like there have never been more people in the market for sports apparel. As of 2015, sporting goods stores in the US were bringing in as much as $48 billion in annual revenue, according to IBISWorld, up from $39.8 billion in 2012. Sports participation is up, too. According to Euromonitor, participation in high school sports has increased from 25 percent to 35 percent over the last 35 years, with nearly double the number of female students playing sports as compared to the 1980s. ... But there's a stark gap between an increasing customer base and many sports retailers — a gap that only continues to widen, no matter how many times companies see new ownership or rethink their businesses.
One Thursday in January 2001, Maksym Igor Popov, a 20-year-old Ukrainian man, walked nervously through the doors of the United States embassy in London. While Popov could have been mistaken for an exchange student applying for a visa, in truth he was a hacker, part of an Eastern European gang that had been raiding US companies and carrying out extortion and fraud. A wave of such attacks was portending a new kind of cold war, between the US and organized criminals in the former Soviet bloc, and Popov, baby-faced and pudgy, with glasses and a crew cut, was about to become the conflict’s first defector. ... The once-friendly FBI agents threw Popov in an isolation room, then returned an hour later with a federal prosecutor, a defense attorney, and a take-it-or-leave-it offer: Popov was going to be their informant, working all day, every day, to lure his crime partners into an FBI trap. If he refused, he’d go to prison. ... Popov was shocked. He’d been played for a durak—a fool. He was placed under 24-hour guard at an FBI safe house in Fair Lakes, Virginia, and instructed to talk to his friends in Russian chat rooms while the bureau recorded everything. But Popov had some tricks of his own. He pretended to cooperate while using Russian colloquialisms to warn his associates that he’d been conscripted into a US government sting. ... There seemed no escape from a future of endless jail cells and anonymous American courtrooms. ... Except that in a backwater FBI office in Santa Ana, California, an up-and-coming agent named Ernest “E. J.” Hilbert saw that the government needed Popov more than anyone knew. ... They called the operation Ant City. Now that he was back online, Popov adopted a new identity and began hanging out in underground chat rooms and posting on CarderPlanet, portraying himself as a big-time Ukrainian scammer with an insatiable hunger for stolen credit cards. ... One thing Popov had always known about Eastern European hackers: All they really wanted was a job.