When Apple boss Steve Jobs took the wraps off iCloud, the company's new cloud services, he gave us a glimpse at the future of computing.
What is iCloud? It's a system for storing various bits of your data online, and pushing all that data to all your devices so that they are always in sync. For example, let's say you create a document on your Mac. Without needing to hit "Save", iCloud will automatically save a copy of it online, and push it out so you can edit that same document on your iPhone or iPad.
Apple calls iCloud a breakthrough. Jobs says it's the culmination of a decade-long effort to kill the desktop file system.
He arrived decades ago on Wall Street with long hair and turquoise jewelry. Today, he presides over the world's largest money manager, with assets of more than $3.5 trillion.
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has emerged in recent years as a pre-eminent force in the post-recession financial world, but maintains a lower profile than many of his contemporaries. In addition to the funds it controls, the company recently helped the Irish government evaluate the strength of its banking system.
"We're involved in some enormous things that can change the course of countries," says Fink, when asked about what he still enjoys about the job after more than 20 years. "Our stress tests in Ireland that we are doing. Our auctions now for Maiden Lane II for the Federal Reserve. These are very important, visible things and we take it very seriously."
His reference to the so-called Maiden Lane fund is certainly topical: BlackRock is currently overseeing the auction of nearly $40 billion worth of sub-prime assets bought by the Fed from AIG as it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. It puts the firm in the unusual position of having the world's most powerful central bank as a client. How does he keep track of the firm’s many tentacles?
"We are the largest shareholder of corporations worldwide. We have a 5% position in 2,500 companies worldwide. And I don't manage money myself so I can't tell you what we are doing with one specific stock... Did I have any idea we would be of this scale? Not at all. But it is exciting as the leader of this firm watching it grow."
We met Fink at BlackRock's global headquarters in midtown Manhattan. Housed in a non-descript tower, the offices are immaculately maintained and have the discreet aroma of a luxury business hotel. One floor was largely deserted and the trading floor seemed to have an excess of desks and Bloomberg terminals.
Still, it was a busy session, with events moving fast in the Middle East. For Fink, markets need to look past the conflict in Libya.
"The area I am most concerned about is Bahrain. Bahrain is a causeway. On the other side of that bridge are the oilfields of Saudi Arabia. That area of Eastern Saudi Arabia is also where all of the many Shiites are. So the problem you see in Bahrain, which is being funded by Iran, is the most important thing to watch.”
He planned to fly to Saudi Arabia the following week, to learn more about the situation on the ground and offer BlackRock's support to regional clients. During a time of such global instability, the role of a CEO must surely be more vital than ever. Before we left, we asked him what his best and worst management qualities are.
"Intense neuroses. That's positive and negative. I am what I am. You can see me on my sleeve,“ he says brandishing his wrist. There is no evidence of turquoise jewelry, but the enthusiam remains undimmed.
New York (CNN) – Ford's new Focus Electric drove into the glare of the assembled media in a Manhattan showroom, approaching a mocked-up version of a domestic garage. Bill Ford - the great grandson of Henry - plugged the car into a charging station.
The display was part of a twin city ceremony in New York and Las Vegas to herald the auto giant's answer to the electric passenger cars released by General Motors and Nissan in 2010.
Ford is currently riding high, with record profits and strong consumer reviews. In recent years, the firm has refocused on its iconic brand and diversified its range of models. But it comes to the eco-party late: The car will not be released until late this year - nearly a year after its rivals.
"The biggest difference is we're electrifying our mainstream vehicle called the Focus," Executive Chairman Bill Ford tells CNN. "It's not a one-off vehicle. And of this platform, we're going to have a conventional gasoline engine, we're going to have a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and we're going to have pure electric."
This portfolio of consumer options is key for Ford: Demand for electric cars remains an unknown quantity and the company is planning to let buyers drive manufacturing and supply.
With oil prices expected to rise throughout 2011, some analysts are predicting interest will jump. But others say progress for all electric cars will be hamstrung by the lack of public charging stations and an inability to travel long distances.
If Ford's gamble will pay off remains an open question.
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