Day: January 23, 2021

Instacart to eliminate about 2,000 jobs and GitHub head of HR resigns

Hey y’all. You’ve just landed on Human Capital, the weekly newsletter that details the latest in labor, and diversity and inclusion in tech. The week kicked off with GitHub making a public apology to the person the company terminated for cautioning his employees about Nazis in D.C. on the day of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Later in the week, Google revoked corporate access from AI ethicist Margaret Mitchell in what some are saying is reminiscent of the company’s treatment of Dr. Timnit Gebru. Meanwhile, Instacart is making some changes to its platform that will result in job loss. 

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GitHub’s head of HR resigns; company offers fired Jewish employee his job back

A GitHub internal investigation revealed the company made “significant errors of judgment and procedure” in the firing of the Jewish employee who cautioned his coworkers about the presence of Nazis in the D.C. area on the day of insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

In a blog post, GitHub COO Erica Brescia said the company’s head of HR took full responsibility for what happened and resigned from the company yesterday. GitHub did not disclose the name of the person who resigned, but it’s widely known that Carrie Olesen was the chief human resources officer at GitHub.

GitHub said it has “reversed the decision to separate with the employee” and is talking to his representative.

“To the employee we wish to say publicly: We sincerely apologize,” Brescia said in the blog post. However, the terminated employee previously told me that he did not want his job back but instead some other form of reconciliation.

Google AI ethicist under investigation 

Google is investigating AI ethicist Margaret Mitchell for reportedly using automated scripts to find examples of mistreatment of Dr. Timnit Gebru, according to Axios. Gebru says she was fired from Google while Google has maintained that she resigned. In a statement to Axios, Google said the company had locked Mitchell’s account:

Our security systems automatically lock an employee’s corporate account when they detect that the account is at risk of compromise due to credential problems or when an automated rule involving the handling of sensitive data has been triggered. In this instance, yesterday our systems detected that an account had exfiltrated thousands of files and shared them with multiple external accounts. We explained this to the employee earlier today.

The recently-formed Alphabet Workers Union made a statement saying it was concerned by Mitchell’s suspension of corporate access:

“Regardless of the outcome of the company’s investigation, the ongoing targeting of leaders in this organization calls into question Google’s commitment to ethics—in AI and in their business practices. Many members of the Ethical AI team are AWU members and the membership of our union recognizes the crucial work that they do and stands in solidarity with them in this moment.”

Google’s Sundar Pichai to meet with HBCU leaders

At least five HBCU presidents are scheduled to meet with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Chief Diversity Officer Melonie Parker later this month to discuss recent allegations of racism and discrimination at the company, according to CNN. Additionally, the goal of the meeting is to ensure HBCUs have a good relationship with Google and that the company offers a good environment for its students and graduates.

Context:

I’m finna tell yall why @Google fired me- their MOST successful diversity recruiter in the history of their company- with the receipts to support that statement.

— Real Abril🌈 (@RealAbril) December 21, 2020

Amazon launches anti-union website

Ahead of Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama gearing up to vote on whether to form a union, Amazon launched an anti-union website. Called Do It Without Dues, the site aims to dissuade workers from voting to unionize.

Instacart plans to terminate nearly 2,000 jobs 

Instacart plans to lay off nearly 2,000 of its workers, including the 10 workers from the Kroger-owned Mariano’s who unionized early last year, Vice reports. These workers are responsible for in-store shopping and packing of groceries.

According to Vice, 10 of the workers affected unionized with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1546 in Skokie, Illinois. However, they have yet to negotiate a contract with Instacart, according to Vice. Instacart notified the union of the planned changes earlier this week. In the letter, Instacart said it planned to stop using in-store shoppers at Kroger-owned stores, which includes the Mariano’s store in Skokie, in Q1 and Q2 of this year, but no earlier than mid-March.

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Is any company too big to be SPAC’d?

While many deemed 2020 the year of SPAC, short for special purpose acquisition company, 2021 may well make last year look quaint in comparison.

It’s probably not premature to be asking: is there any company too big to be SPAC’d?

Just today, we saw the trading debut of the most valuable company to date go public through a merger with one of these SPACs: 35-five-year-old, Pontiac, Michigan-based United Wholesale Mortgage, which is among the biggest mortgage companies in the U.S.

Its shares slipped a bit by the end of trading, closing at $11.35 down from their starting price of $11.54, but it’s doubtful anyone involved is crying into their cocktails tonight. The outfit was valued at a whopping $16 billion when its merger with the blank-check outfit Gores Holdings IV was approved earlier this week.

Why is this interesting? Well, first, despite UWM’s size, unlike with a traditional IPO that can require 12 to 18 months of preparation, UWM’s path to going public took less than a year, beginning with Gores Holdings IV completing its IPO in late January 2020 and raising approximately $425 million in cash.

Alec Gores, the billionaire founder of of the private equity firm Gores Group, led the deal. The tie-up was announced back in September and ultimately included an additional $500 million private placement. (It’s typical to tack-on these transactions once a target company has been identified and accepts the terms of the proposed merger. Most targets are many times larger than the blank check companies with which they are joining forces.)

Also notable is that UWM is a mature company, one that says it generated $1.3 billion in revenue in the third quarter of last year alone and whose CEO, whose father started the company in 1986, said last fall that the company is “massively profitable.”

It’s a story unlike that of most outfits to go public recently through the SPAC process. Consider Opendoor, Luminar Technologies, and Virgin Galactic. Each are developing businesses that need capital to keep going and which might not have found much more from private market investors.

SpaceX director Steve Jurvetson underscored the point pretty bluntly last week, saying, for example, that Virgin Galactic has seen “no positive business development” since being taken public. “They announced that they’re going to develop a hypersonic plane, but that has zero synergy with the current business they’re trying to launch, which is suborbital spaceflights, which have yet to happen for customers.”

If more profitable, more mature, more businesses with a very clear path to future revenue begin choosing SPACs over traditional IPOs, it could, at long last, change stubborn perceptions of SPAC candidates as fly-by-night operations that aren’t sustainable as public companies.

It could also widen ideas about what size companies are appropriate to take public this way.

More certain: UWM isn’t likely to hold the record for ‘biggest SPAC deal ever’ for long. Not only is interest in SPACs as feverish as ever, but one vehicle in particular seems poised to take the title, and that’s the SPAC of billionaire investor William Ackman, whose blank-check company raised $4 billion last summer.

Presumably, the deal will be a doozy. Reportedly, Ackerman was at one point looking to take public Airbnb with his SPAC. When Airbnb passed on the proposed merger, he reportedly reached out to the privately held media conglomerate Bloomberg. (Bloomberg has said it’s untrue.)

Because SPACs typically complete a merger with a private company in two years or less, speculation has been runs rampant about what Ackman — who plans to kick in an additional $1 billion in cash from his hedge fund — will piece together with all that money.

In the meantime, there have been 59 new SPAC offerings in the last 22 days alone — as many as in all of 2019. They’ve raised $16.8 billion. And there’s seemingly no end in sight.

Just this week, Fifth Wall Ventures, the four-year-old, L.A.-based proptech focused venture firm, registered plans to raise $250 million for a new blank-check company.

Meanwhile, Intel Chairman Omar Ishrak, who previously ran medical device giant Medtronic, is planning to raise between $750 million and $1 billion for a blank-check firm targeting deals in the health tech sector, Bloomberg reported on Sunday.

As for Gores Group, on Wednesday, it registered plans to raise $400 million in an IPO for its newest blank check company. It will be the outfit’s seventh SPAC to date.