Target to Buy Shipt for $550 Million in Challenge to Amazon

Target Corp. agreed to purchase grocery-delivery startup Shipt Inc. for $550 million, stepping up its challenge to Inc. by speeding the rollout of same-day shipping.

The all-cash deal will let Target customers order groceries and other goods online, and then have the items sent directly to their doors from nearby Target stores.

Buying Shipt further beefs up Target’s logistics operations after the retailer earlier this year acquired software company Grand Junction, which also manages local and same-day deliveries. Target now offers same-day delivery in New York City and can send orders from 1,400 of its stores. Competition in this space is growing fiercer, though, as rivals Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co. also offer same-day service, keeping pace with Amazon.

Target’s decision to buy Shipt, rather than partner with it, “shows how serious they are,” Kantar Retail analyst Robin Sherk said. “One-stop shopping was convenient in the 1990s but for today’s families you have to be able to do instant food delivery as well. It’s also a realization that Amazon, this big technology disruptor, has entered the consumer landscape.”

Four out of five shoppers want same-day shipping, according to a survey by fulfillment software maker Temando, but only half of retailers offer it.

“With Shipt’s network of local shoppers and their current market penetration, we will move from days to hours, dramatically accelerating our ability to bring affordable same-day delivery to guests across the country,” John Mulligan, Target’s chief operating officer, said in a statement.

The deal will give Target same-day delivery at about half of its 1,834 stores by next summer, with the number growing to a majority of stores in time for next year’s holiday season. The service — costing $99 a year for unlimited deliveries — will initially encompass categories like groceries, household essentials and electronics before expanding to all major product groups by the end of 2019.

Improved Position

“While it will not affect Target’s capability this holiday season, the fact that Target will have this service in place during 2018 will significantly improve its online competitive position,” Charlie O’Shea, an analyst at Moody’s Corp., said in a note.

Target rose 2.7 percent to close at $62.67 Wednesday, while the news caused a momentary dip for the shares of Shipt’s existing retail partners, Kroger Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. Kroger ended the day up 1.4 percent, while Costco was little changed.

Kroger said it’s still optimistic about the company’s prospects for home delivery after expanding its logistics operations in recent years via partnerships with Instacart Inc. and others.

“We feel really good about the variety of partnerships Kroger has going,” corporate communications head Keith Dailey said. Costco Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti declined to comment.

Online Preference

Consumers’ increasing preference for shopping online, along with Amazon’s purchase of upscale grocer Whole Foods and its encroachment into new arenas like apparel, have sent retailers scrambling to improve their online offerings. E-commerce sales are up about 17 percent this holiday season, according to Adobe Systems Inc., and online merchants racked up a record $6.59 billion on Cyber Monday alone, the company found.

The question for traditional retailers is how to handle all those internet orders. They could build their own delivery network, but it’s an arduous and expensive process. That’s why many of them are seeking help from e-commerce startups like Shipt and Instacart.

Founded in 2014, Shipt serves about 20,000 customers through partnerships with retailers including Publix Super Markets Inc., HEB Grocery Co., Kroger and Costco. It will continue to operate independently and plans to expand its business with other retailers, Chief Executive Officer Bill Smith said in an interview.

‘Scale Matters’

“We’ve spoken to a number of our existing partners about this deal and all the conversations have been very positive,” Smith said. “Having multiple retailers allows us to grow our membership base and make it more attractive. In same-day delivery, scale matters.”

For now, Target shoppers will need to pay Shipt’s $99 annual membership fee to gain access to the service. Once a customer orders, they send a “shopper” into the store to grab the groceries, and then deliver the items. Target is working on how to integrate Shipt into its website and mobile shopping app, Mulligan said.

The deal is expected to close before the end of the year and will be “modestly accretive” to Target’s profit in 2018, while boosting online sales, the company said. The retailer’s e-commerce sales already grew 24 percent in the third quarter.

‘Big Loser’

Target has worked with Shipt’s rival Instacart for same-day service in cities like Minneapolis and Chicago since 2015, and Mulligan said he “will have conversations with them on where we go next.”

“The big loser in this deal is Instacart,” said Cooper Smith, an analyst at business-intelligence firm L2.

Following Target’s announcement, Instacart said it works with more than 165 retailers, including seven of the eight biggest grocers in North America.

“As an independent company, Instacart doesn’t compete with any of our partners,” the company said. San Francisco-based Instacart has recently expanded its partnerships with retailers including Costco, Kroger, Albertsons Cos. and drugstore giant CVS Health Corp.

Target and Shipt began discussing the deal in the middle of the summer, Mulligan said. They decided to pursue an acquisition rather than just a partnership in order to plow Target’s resources into expanding Shipt’s business, and to maintain its current level of customer experience.

Smith will stay in his role, reporting to Mulligan, and its 270 employees will remain in Shipt’s offices in San Francisco and Birmingham, Alabama.

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    Benefits of coffee outweigh risks, says study

    Image copyright Getty Images
    Image caption The effects of caffeine can vary from person to person

    Moderate coffee drinking is safe, and three to four cups a day may have some health benefits, according to a large review of studies, in the BMJ.

    It found a lower risk of liver disease and some cancers in coffee drinkers, and a lower risk of dying from stroke – but researchers could not prove coffee was the cause.

    Too much coffee during pregnancy could be harmful, the review confirmed.

    Experts said people should not start drinking coffee for health reasons.

    The University of Southampton researchers collected data on the impact of coffee on all aspects of the human body, taking into account more than 200 studies – most of which were observational.

    Compared with non-coffee drinkers, those who drank about three cups of coffee a day appeared to reduce their risk of getting heart problems or dying from them.

    The strongest benefits of coffee consumption were seen in reduced risks of liver disease, including cancer.

    But Prof Paul Roderick, co-author of the study, from the faculty of medicine at University of Southampton, said the review could not say if coffee intake had made the difference.

    “Factors such as age, whether people smoked or not and how much exercise they took could all have had an effect,” he said.

    Image copyright Getty Images
    Image caption Everything in moderation, including coffee

    The findings back up other recent reviews and studies of coffee drinking so, overall, his message on coffee was reassuring.

    “There is a balance of risks in life, and the benefits of moderate consumption of coffee seem to outweigh the risks,” he said.

    The NHS recommends pregnant women have no more than 200mg of caffeine a day – two mugs of instant coffee – because too much can increase the risk of miscarriage.

    This review suggests women at risk of fractures should also cut back on coffee.

    For other adults, moderate caffeine intake equates to 400mg or less per day – or three to four cups of coffee – but that isn’t the only drink (or food) to bear in mind.

    How much caffeine in my drink?

    • one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
    • one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
    • one mug of tea: 75mg
    • one can of cola: 40mg
    • one 250ml can of energy drink: up to 80mg
    • bar of plain chocolate: less than 25mg
    • bar of milk chocolate: less than 10mg

    The researchers say coffee drinkers should stick to “healthy coffees” – which avoid extra sugar, milk or cream, or a fatty snack on the side.

    And they are calling for rigorous clinical trials on coffee intake to find out more about the potential benefits to health.

    You might also be interested in:

    At present, the researchers said pinning down exactly how coffee might have a positive impact on health was “difficult” but it could be down to the effects of anti-oxidants and anti-fibrotics, which prevent or slow damage to cells in the body.

    Commenting on the BMJ review, Eliseo Guallar, from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said there was still uncertainty about the effects of higher levels of coffee intake.

    But he added: “Moderate coffee consumption seems remarkably safe, and it can be incorporated as part of a healthy diet by most of the adult population.”

    Image copyright Getty Images
    Image caption Best not to opt for sticky, sweet snacks with your espresso

    Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, said coffee drinkers may be healthier people to start with – and that could skew the findings.

    “Coffee is known to cause headaches in some people and it also increases the urge to go to the toilet – some people chose not to drink coffee for these reasons.

    “Patients with abnormal heart rhythms are often advised to drink de-caffeinated coffee. Caffeine also acutely increases blood pressure, albeit transiently. ”

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    Fake documents tried to lob sexual harassment claims against Chuck Schumer

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has handed over fake documents which try to smear him with a concocted sexual harassment scandal to U.S. Capitol Police, Fox News has confirmed.

    The documents about allegations toward the highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate were shopped around to multiple news organizations Tuesday. 

    “The document is a forged document and every allegation is false. We have turned it over to the Capitol Police and asked them to investigate and pursue criminal charges because it is clear the law has been broken,” Schumer’s spokesman, Matt House, told Fox News. “We believe the individual responsible for forging the document should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law to prevent other malicious actors from doing the same.”

    The incident follows many allegations of sexual misconduct this year, known as the “Me Too” movement in which “silence breakers” brought down rich and famous men of media, politics and the entertainment worlds.

    Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken last week resigned from the U.S. Senate following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against him that ranged from groping to forcibly trying to kiss women.

    The 88-year-old Rep. John Conyers retired last week amid allegations by about a half-dozen women who once worked for him that they were harassed and touched inappropriately. The Michigan Democrat has denied the allegations. Conyers, who was facing a House Ethics Committee investigation over claims by former staffers, cited health reasons for his resignation. Conyers first was elected in 1964.

    Late last week, Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks abruptly resigned, saying he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. A former aide told The Associated Press he pressed her to carry his child and offered her $5 million to be a surrogate.

    Fox News’ Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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    39 of the best celebrity responses to Keaton Jones’ powerful video about bullying.

    Last week, a Tennessee woman named Kimberly Jones posted a video of her son Keaton online. It went mega-viral.

    The video, which has been viewed on Facebook more than 20 million times since posting, shows Keaton in tears over being bullied at school. There’s a sense of despair and helplessness in his voice that no child should have to feel, but too many have.

    “Just out of curiosity, why do they bully?” a distraught Keaton asks his mom. “What’s the point of it? Why do they find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to them?”

    The video clearly resonated with people — some who have been bullied, some who have been the bully — and within hours, words of support began to roll in from around the world, including some notes from some high profile people.

    Hollywood has Keaton’s back.

    Avengers Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo came up big for the little guy.

    As did Eleven from “Stranger Things,” offering her friendship.

    The delightful Tom Cavanagh of “The Flash” voiced his support  for Jones and against bullies everywhere.

    Same with Beth Behrs of “Two Broke Girls.”

    He got some love from members of “The Walking Dead” cast.

    Even Gaston and LeFou (a couple of fiction’s most famous bullies) weren’t having it.

    Broadway star Ben Platt offered a few words of support.

    And so did voice actors Susan Eisenberg and Kevin Conroy, who provided the voices for Wonder Woman and Batman, respectively, on the animated “Justice League” TV show.

    “Coco” director Lee Unkrich and “Ghostbusters” mastermind Paul Feig stepped up.

    Some of the biggest stars in professional sports showed up, as well.

    LeBron James called bullies “straight up wack, corny, cowards, chumps.”

    Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo and Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen both offered words of kindness and comfort.

    Former Green Bay Packers cornerback Bernard Blake urged Jones to “never be ashamed of who you are.” Former NFL star Antonio Cromartie stepped in to say that bullies are often just insecure about themselves, asking him to be strong.

    Former NFL wide receiver Donté Stallworth urged caution for people suggesting that the bullies be confronted with hostility, asking people who really want to make a difference to try to do it through lessons of love.

    “Bullying is bullshit,” summed up World Cup champion Ali Krieger. “We need to start coming together, supporting each other and most importantly, standing up for beautiful kids in this world like Keaton.”

    Similarly, the music world had words of encouragement and support for Jones.

    Demi Lovato predicted that Jones would come out of this experience much stronger than he entered it. Enrique Iglesias called the video “heartbreaking.”

    “This extremely raw and real moment has brought hope and truth to so many people,” wrote Kevin Jonas. Nickelback called Jones “a brave young man,” asking if there was anything the band could do for them.

    Justin Bieber and Snoop Dogg posted words of support on Instagram. “The fact that he still has the sympathy and compassion for other people when he’s going through it himself is a testament to who he is,” said Bieber.

    A post shared by Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) on

    Anti-bullying activists, models, and YouTube sensations all got in on the act as well.

    Monica Lewinsky offered a few kind words, saying that she’s sorry Jones is being treated this way, saying that other kids “would be lucky to be friends with [Jones].”

    Model Mia Kang said Jones is her “absolute hero,” offering to fly out and visit him at school for lunch.

    Logan Paul offered to chat with Jones on FaceTime and send some gear his way.

    Politicians across the political spectrum offered words of kindness and courage.

    Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) thanked the young man for his courage, and Representative Joe Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts) asked others to look to Jones as a positive example.

    Responding to an offer from UFC head Dana White to visit the organization’s headquarters, Donald Trump Jr. offered the Jones family a place to stay. Jane O’Meara Sanders of the Sanders Institute urged action over platitudes, calling on the country to “stand up to bullies — in our schools and communities, on social media and in politics and the White House.”

    Media personalities joined the chorus with offers of support and workplace tours.

    Jemele Hill and Sean Hannity offered Jones and his family tours of ESPN and Fox News, respectively. NBC’s Stephanie Ruhle pointed to Jones as a motivation for a more honest, brave, and kind world.

    HLN’s S.E. Cupp shared a story about being bullied as a child, saying, “It’s got nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.” Sunny Hostin, from “The View,” ended with a reminder that “being different makes you special.”

    It’s wonderful to see so many people, from so many backgrounds, come together in support of this one boy.

    It’s worth remembering, however, that he’s not the only child in the world being bullied.

    According to, 28% of U.S. students in grades 6 through12 have experienced bullying. 30% of students have admitted to being a bully to others. School bullying creates a hostile environment not conducive to learning and puts students’ physical, emotional, and mental health at risk.

    If Keaton Jones’ story inspired you to take action, check out the StopBullying prevention toolkits for students, parents, teachers, and community members.

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    Trump’s FCC Chairman Went After Alyssa Milano Over Her Net Neutrality Comments And She Totally SCHOOLED Him!

    So, it turns out Alyssa Milano is the boss…

    The Charmed star has been a crusader for Net Neutrality, an extremely important issue the FCC is voting on in just a matter of days.

    At its simplest, net neutrality keeps the Internet as it is, with all websites given equal speed, allowing people to access what they want, when they want.

    Video: John Oliver Explains So Much Better Than We Can!

    Ajit Pai, whom Donald Trump made the chairman of the FCC, has been Net Neutrality’s most vocal opponent. Essentially, he wants Internet Service Providers (and the corporations that own them) to have the power to create different speed channels — meaning some websites will go faster, others will start to CRAWL like it’s 1994 dial-up.

    Trump obviously loves this because it’s good for corporations AND he gets to undo something Barack Obama did.

    Because Pai apparently doesn’t want to answer direct arguments for keeping Net Neutrality, he’s instead making attacks on his opponents because they’re celebs — instead of convincing the American people.

    Well, when he tried it on Alyssa, it did NOT go well for him! She tweeted in response to his insult:

    For those who didn’t see it and don’t wish to look at his mug any more than they have to, he said:

    “I’m threatening our democracy? Really? If this were ‘Who’s the Boss?’ this would be an opportunity for Tony Danza to dish out some wisdom about the consequences of making things up.”

    Alyssa was ready to hit him back not with jokes but with facts, something he didn’t bring to the fight:

    Look into Net Neutrality for yourselves — and if you agree with Alyssa call the FCC at 202-418-1000 and let them know!

    [Image via C-SPAN/FayesVision/WENN.]

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    4 Lesser Known Trump Administration Fuckboys Who Are Actually Shady AF

    The Great Orange Meanie himself can be so distracting that it’s easy (and more comforting at times tbh) to forget that he has an entire cabinet of shitheads facilitating his outlandish behavior and allowing him to Tweet come-ons at North Korea and Lavar Ball at 3:00AM. Sure, you know Kushner, Bannon, and Tillerson, but have you heard of these other shady monsters standing blindly standing on the sidelines as America goes down in flames? No? Well then let’s put them on blast.

    Steven Mnuchin

    You probably saw this picture recently and thought to yourself “Fuck, another God forsaken James Bond movie I’m going to have to endure this Christmas with my Dad.”

    Well, I have good news and bad news. You won’t have to suffer through two hours of everyone pretending that Daniel Craig is God’s gift to the world because this is not the latest Bond villain. No, it’s former Goldman Sachs bro and current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Louise Linton, his way-too-hot-for-him wife that for sure married him for love. Old Stevie here got his job by having no morals being rich af, and that’s basically it. He had no government experience before taking Alexander Hamilton’s old job, but he did design a mail opening system for Trump Tower and was an executive producer on , so there’s that. Steve is a major supporter of the Republican tax bill –  aka the bill that would give giant tax cuts to people who do shit like take tone deaf pictures holding giant stacks of money and looking slightly off camera – because fucking duh.

    We also don’t have time to go into Louise Linton right now but like, shes basically a mashup between a Real Housewife and Cruella De Vil and you should really just Google her or something.

    Scott Pruitt

    Scott Pruitt is the Administrator of the Environmental Protection agency, AKA the guy in charge of saving the planet. Pruitt is a literal climate change denier, who went into office promising to back off the “overreaching” focus on climate change that was in place and “move towards things like cleaning up the air, land, and water.” So you’re going to stop focusing on climate change, but also save the environment? Sounds like those might go hand and hand, but I guess I’m not an environmental expert. Oh wait, neither is Pruitt. Scott Pruitt’s claim to fame isn’t that he’s like, a climate scientist or anything like that. It’s that when he served as Oklahoma Attorney General, he sued the EPA 13 times. That’s like, the political equivalent of making you Administor of the [Your Ex] Protection Agency. 

    Since taking office he’s held true to him promises, rolling back environmental protections, given the fossil fuel industry sway in public health decisions, and moved towards a system that will likely undermine actual pollution clean-up efforts. At least he’s honest? 

    Dan Scavino

    Dan Scavino is the White House Director of Social Media and I have only one question for him: What the fuck? What the actual fuck, Dan?

    Trump is 71-years-old, are you really telling me that you can’t figure out some way into tricking him into thinking he isn’t tweeting? Remember how Jim opened a Word doc and made Creed think it was his blog? Literally do that. He’ll have no idea.

    Better yet, about a month ago it was revealed that Scavino may actually be ghost writing some of Trump’s tweets when an identical tweet appeared on both their accounts at the same time. So, like, Trump’s tweets might actually be  by somebody? Sad! Whatever, Dan. Have fun being a 41-year-old social media director.

    Ryan Zinke

    As Secretary of the Interior, part of Zinke’s job is to “honor our nation’s responsibilities to tribal nations,” so you can probably guess how well that is going. One look at this guy tells me that that particular duty isn’t high on his priority list, probably because he’s too busy scamming old people and ensuring that Puerto Rico remains entirely powerless months after Hurricane Maria. Yeah, remember that shady two-man company that somehow snagged the $300 million contract for restoring power to Puerto Rico? That was Zinke’s friend.

    Another one of his jobs is to sustain America’s water, lands, wildlife, and energy sources which makes that time he told a bunch of oil execs that “fracking is proof that God’s got a good sense of humor and he loves us,” extra poignant. Thanks, Zink!

    Oh, and while serving as a Congressman to Montana, Zinke conveniently neglected to mention that he was living in California. I mean, we can’t really blame him for that one, but still. Sketch.

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    House Speaker Paul Ryan wants to cut Medicare, punishing a key part of the GOPs base older Americans

    House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the Republican Party seem intent on punishing a key part of their base – older Americans.

    Ryan announced Wednesday that in 2018 the Republicans will be ready to put Medicare on the chopping block to pay for tax cuts. And those tax cuts are aimed at corporations and the rich – not the middle-class.

    “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said. But a good chunk of the future deficit and debt would be fueled by separate tax-cutting bills approved by the House and Senate. The two houses still need to reach agreement on a single piece of legislation for it to go to President Trump for his signature.

    As usual, the numbers tell the story. In 2016, older voters who were the most likely to look to Medicare to pay for their health care in retirement put Donald Trump over the top. According to Election Day exit polls, he garnered an almost 20-point margin among white seniors, a 28 percent lead among whites voters ages 45 to 64, and a historic 37-point victory with white working-class voters.

    But now the GOP seeks to punish the very folks who brought them to power. Unlike food stamps and welfare, Medicare and Social Security are benefits that working Americans have earned over a lifetime of steady, reliable, and conscientious work. They paid for these benefit with weekly payroll deductions.

    In other words, Social Security and Medicare are not welfare. Working Americans shouldn’t be treated as moochers. As Trump declared back in 2013: “It’s not unreasonable for people who paid into a system for decades to expect to get their money’s worth – that’s not an ‘entitlement,’ that’s honoring a deal.” 

    For Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., targeting earned entitlements like Social Security and Medicare is nothing new.

    Fresh off his 2012 loss as the Republican vice presidential candidate, Ryan – then chairman of the House Budget Committee – unsuccessfully pressed the idea of restricting Medicare to Americans who were already at least 56, and giving younger workers vouchers when they hit retirement.

    In the aftermath of recapturing the Senate in 2014 and on the eve of the 2015 State of the Union address, McConnell beseeched President Obama to “allow us to save and strengthen Medicare” and to “cooperate with both parties to save Social Security.” In other words, make sure both parties have their hands on the dagger and no one will get blamed.

    In case Ryan and McConnell forgot, the sole source of income for most Americans now turning 65 is their monthly Social Security check, which averages a little more than $1,200 – before paying $100 a month for Medicare Part B. And the GOP is now a predominately working class party, with voters relying on their earned retirement benefits.  

    Indeed, among whites without a college degree, the mortality rate is rising. As death from heart disease and cancer have slowed, drug overdoses, suicide and alcoholism have increased.

    Moreover, Alzheimer’s disease looms as a disaster for all – a development that stands ready to blow the lid off of any budget. Already, Japan is confronting a “pandemic of dementia” and there is no reason to believe that America won’t be next.

    Which leaves us with President Trump. As a candidate, he took a “you paid for it, it’s yours” approach to older Americans. In May 2015, Trump tweeted: “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me.”

    But stating is one thing. Doing something is another.

    Now Paul Ryan is sounding like a guy who thinks he’s convinced the president to take a 180- degree turn on Medicare. Ryan has let the world know that he has been speaking privately with  President Trump, and that the president has started to cotton to the idea of cutting entitlements.

    As Ryan framed things: “I think the president is understanding choice and competition works everywhere, especially in Medicare.” 

    Politically, this looks like a play that the Republican cannot afford as they head into the 2018 midterm elections. If the recent Virginia governor’s race and the latest polls tell us anything, it is that younger voters don’t support the GOP, and that the Republicans need older voters if they are retain their grip on Congress.

    This past November in Virginia, Ralph Northam – the successful Democratic candidate for governor – outran Hillary Clinton by 15 points among voters under 30, and by 8 percent among the 30-44 set.

    By contrast, Ed Gillespie, the Republican, barely matched Trump’s margins with older Virginians and lost by 9 percent.

    Although GOP congressional leaders Ryan and McConnell seem intent on pleasing Republican donors. But they need to remember that politics is about winning – not sticking it to your base.

    Creating a Republican version of “death panels” by cutting Medicare and Social Security is a surefire way to hand Democrats control of Congress in the 2018 elections and turn the congressional GOP into the minority party.

    Lloyd Green was staff secretary to the George H.W. Bush campaign’s Middle East Policy Group in 1988 and served in the Department of Justice between 1990 and 1992.

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    After Decades of Hints, Buffetts Heir May Now Be More Apparent

    “If I die tonight, I think the stock would go up tomorrow.”

    That was Warren Buffett, addressing an arena full of shareholders at Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s annual meeting in Omaha in May. For more than half a century, he’s made the company his investing canvas, designing an unlikely conglomerate. It owns Geico, BNSF Railway, Fruit of the Loom, Dairy Queen, Duracell, and dozens of other companies, as well as billions of dollars of stock in blue chips such as Apple Inc. and Coca-Cola Co.

    The glue is Buffett, who’s argued persuasively for decades that this hodgepodge makes sense. His market-beating returns have helped: $100 invested in Berkshire in 1964, when he began aggressively buying shares to take control, would be worth more than $2 million today. “There’d be speculation about breakups,” Buffett went on at the meeting, and the shares would trade higher because some investors would assume that the parts are worth more than the whole. Finally, the guy standing in the way would be gone, he said, adding dryly, “It would be a good Wall Street story.”

    Who Is Warren Buffett's Heir Apparent?

    Nothing of the sort is likely to happen while Buffett is there. He’s still the controlling shareholder, Berkshire is his life’s work, and he doesn’t want it torn apart by investment bankers or activist investors. To slow that process, Buffett assembled a board that backs his approach, and after his death he’ll leave his remaining shares to charities run by family and friends who know his wishes. But the pressure to dismantle his creation will mount—eventually.

    The bulwark against that impulse will be Buffett’s successor as chief executive officer, whose identity is one of the business world’s best-kept secrets. In all his years of giving interviews and taking questions at the company’s marathon annual meeting, Buffett has acknowledged that the board has picked his replacement, but he’s never disclosed the name.

    Maybe that’s because doing so would take the spotlight off Buffett, who, at 87, still loves the attention. At the annual meeting, his likeness has adorned Coke cans and sneakers, rubber duckies and underwear. It’s a celebration of capitalism—but also of Buffett. When he walks through the hall where Berkshire’s businesses display their wares, fans throng around him, snapping selfies.

    Keeping the successor’s identity a secret also gives the board more flexibility. Circumstances can change, after all, and probably have during the long period Berkshire’s board has been weighing its options. These days, however, most arrows are pointing toward one man.

    People have tried for decades to guess Buffett’s heir, but it’s always been an academic exercise: He never hints at retirement, his health seems to be remarkable, and his grip on the company is firm. In the meantime, contenders have come and gone. In 2000 the put Richard Santulli, the head of Berkshire’s NetJets business, on its short list of candidates. He quit to pursue other ventures in 2009. In 2008, predicted in a cover story that David Sokol, head of Berkshire’s energy business, would take over. He resigned three years later.

    Buffett, at least, has talked about the qualifications for the position. In a 2015 letter to shareholders, he said the board wants his successor to be drawn from the company’s ranks and “relatively young, so he or she can have a long run in the job.” He suggested future Berkshire CEOs should hold the post for more than a decade and that they should be “rational, calm, and decisive.” And, he noted, they should have upstanding character, be unmotivated by ego or a big paycheck, and be “all-in” at Berkshire.

    Nowhere in all this is there a mention of stockpicking skills. To help the next CEO, Buffett hired two former hedge fund managers, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, in recent years. They’re responsible for about $20 billion of Berkshire’s massive stock portfolio and preparing to oversee all of it when he’s gone. They’ll also help evaluate deals. Nor will the successor likely serve as chairman. That’s a role earmarked for Buffett’s eldest son, Howard, who’s on the board. His main job will be to guard the company’s culture—and force out any future CEO who messes with it.

    At the same time this was laid out, Berkshire released a separate letter from Vice Chairman Charles Munger. In it, Munger called two executives—Ajit Jain and Greg Abel—examples of the company’s “world-leading” managers who are in some ways better than their boss. While Buffett later denied that any executives were in a “horse race” to succeed him, the logical inference from Munger’s letter was that the board had already settled on one of these two—and probably wasn’t as seriously considering other internal candidates such as BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose or Tony Nicely, the CEO of Geico. Abel declined to comment, and Jain and Buffett didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    Jain and Abel each fit many aspects of Buffett’s carefully tailored job description. They’re deeply committed to Berkshire’s culture, which prizes efficiency and long-term thinking. Neither has outward character flaws that would immediately be disqualifying. And each has built large businesses for Buffett.

    Ajit Jain.
    Photographer: Nati Harnik/AP

    Jain runs the company’s namesake reinsurance operation, which for decades has provided Berkshire with billions of premium dollars for investments and acquisitions. Buffett has repeatedly said that Jain has probably made more money for shareholders than he has. In 2011 he said the board would make Jain CEO if he wanted the job.

    Abel has steadily expanded a utility holding company in Iowa into a colossus in the energy industry. It runs several power companies throughout North America and the U.K., interstate natural gas pipelines, and giant wind and solar farms. It’s a big part of Berkshire that stands to get only bigger, Buffett said in May, adding that it’s “hard to imagine a better-run operation.”

    Greg Abel.
    Photographer: Nati Harnik/AP

    A key distinction between the two executives is age: Jain is 66, Abel is 55. Buffett is proof that the CEO can do well by shareholders long past typical retirement age. Even so, Jain has been facing some health challenges that could eventually make working more difficult, according to people who’ve recently spent time with him. Analysts and some longtime investors don’t think he wants the job. He’s also spent his career in insurance, a business less essential to Berkshire than it once was.

    All this has many Berkshire investors and others close to the company homing in on Abel. When Sarah DeWitt, an analyst with JPMorgan Chase & Co., initiated coverage of Berkshire in September, she noted the energy executive was the “most likely” successor. While Jain was also a possibility, she wrote, “his age may preclude him.”
    Berkshire’s success has created a massive challenge: its size. This year’s U.S. stock rally has helped push the company toward a market value of almost half a trillion dollars. A conglomerate that big simply can’t grow as fast as a smaller business.

    Not only will returns most likely be lower under the next CEO but the job itself will be more difficult. In May, Buffett estimated that over the next decade, the company will have to figure out what to do with some $400 billion—more than he’d deployed over the previous five decades. “You need a very sensible capital allocator in the job,” Buffett said of his successor. “Capital allocation might even be their main talent.”

    That’s a skill Abel has spent years honing. An accountant by training, he joined the business he now runs in 1992 when it was a small geothermal power producer in California. Its head at the time was Sokol, who spotted talent in the young executive and promoted him to bigger roles. In 2000, as investors chased the latest dot-com stocks, Berkshire bought a majority stake in the business.

    Being part of Buffett’s empire created an opportunity. Abel’s company, then called MidAmerican Energy Holdings, was able to retain its earnings, a rarity in the utility industry, where the norm is to pay generous dividends. That extra cash meant he and Sokol had to find opportunities to reinvest the money. They snapped up more power companies and pipelines. They also expanded aggressively into renewable energy. The company’s Iowa utility now generates about half its electricity from wind.

    In 2008, Abel became CEO of MidAmerican. Sokol took on a broader position at Berkshire at that time but resigned three years later after trading in the stock of a company he suggested Buffett buy. A board committee found that he’d broken the company’s insider-trading rules. Regulators declined to take action.

    Stepping out from Sokol’s shadow over the past decade has increased Abel’s prominence at the conglomerate. In 2014 his business was renamed Berkshire Hathaway Energy, identifying it more closely with Buffett.

    From outward appearances, Abel is the antithesis of a Wall Street master of the universe. He grew up in Edmonton, studied commerce at the University of Alberta, and runs his business from Des Moines. Like Buffett, he’s no hayseed and can easily keep pace with Harvard-trained elite. He’s negotiated many tough deals. For a time, he ran a utility in the U.K. People who’ve worked for him say he’s steeped in the details of his operations. He often visits his far-flung utilities in person. “He’s made big bets,” says Jeff Matthews, an investor who’s written three books about Berkshire. “He’s as smart as they come.”

    In a way, Abel has structured his empire to mirror the way Buffett runs the whole conglomerate. Berkshire Hathaway Energy employs more than 20,000 people across all its businesses. But the head office has about two dozen staff. That keeps the overhead small and leaves most decisions to the presidents of the company’s utilities.

    Abel has also been getting exposure to other industries. He’s a director of Kraft Heinz Co., the food giant that Berkshire controls with buyout firm 3G Capital Inc. He’s also served on the boards of an Iowa convenience-store chain and two insurance companies. In addition, he oversees Berkshire’s large residential real estate brokerage business and an investment in Chinese electric car maker BYD Co.

    Like many Berkshire executives, Abel is already very wealthy. He’s collected tens of millions of dollars in salary and bonuses over the years. He also has a 1 percent stake in the business he runs. According to regulatory filings, that holding can be converted into more than $400 million worth of Berkshire stock, a move that would directly align his interests with shareholders if he became CEO. “I would certainly applaud that,” says David Rolfe, chief investment officer of Wedgewood Partners Inc., a money manager that owns stock in Berkshire. “That would not be an unnoticed throwaway line in the press release” on succession.

    Abel doesn’t seem like he’s gunning for Buffett’s job, and he could even turn it down if asked. He doesn’t exude Buffett’s charisma and rarely does interviews. But that doesn’t matter. Spending hours on cable TV and hobnobbing with celebrities such as LeBron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger is fun, but it’s not what made Buffett so successful. “The next CEO will not have the same PR requirements,” says Richard Cook, a longtime Berkshire shareholder and fund manager in Birmingham, Ala. “Being as good as Buffett is on CNBC is not a way to judge the results.”

    Buffett is singular. There are shelves of books about him. Legions of investors have been inspired by his way of thinking about business and money. At stake in succession is whether his life’s work will live on—as he says it will—or whether it only makes sense with him at the top.

    His successor will have to protect that legacy while running one of the world’s biggest and most unusual conglomerates. He’ll have to allocate billions of dollars, manage the occasional scandal that could tarnish the company’s reputation, and keep the dozens of CEOs who run Berkshire’s businesses motivated and happy. Perhaps most important, he’ll have to keep outsiders from tearing it all apart.

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      As a young boy, every time I would see or hear about Shaolin monks in movies, for whatever reason, I would associate them with magic.

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      These stretches involve opening up the hips and warming up the leg muscles and have been performed by Shaolin monks for thousands of years. Not only are these stretching exercises incredibly helpful to their health and wellness, but they’re also amazing to watch.

      While some of their stretching poses look like something you’d do before a sporting event…

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      Their flexibility is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

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