87: Dinesh Paliwal, Harman CEO; Plus, A Subscription Shakeup and Media's Wild Summer

 
 Dinesh Paliwal is CEO of Harman, which includes the AKG, JBL and Harman/Kardon audio brands.

Dinesh Paliwal is CEO of Harman, which includes the AKG, JBL and Harman/Kardon audio brands.

The conversation with Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal begins at 27:58. 

Free speech is getting exhausting. It’s a game of online publishing whack-a-mole as wingnut Alex Jones, of Infowars fame, finally gets suspended from Twitter, only to direct his audience to Tumblr. How should those of us who still love America feel about the amount of crazy that’s going on in the media game these days? 

MoviePass is testing its business model … on Solo. Borrowing a page from Darth Vader’s Cloud City book of negotiating tactics, movie theater subscription company MoviePass is altering the terms of your deal – pray they don’t alter it further.  

And skinny bundles are the new skinny jeans. In further evidence of a trend I like to call “The Great Rebundling,” digital distributors and content companies are hooking up faster than you can say, “Ban Alex Jones.” The latest to swipe right on each other: Verizon doing a deal for free Apple Music and Samsung doing a deal to pre-load Spotify on all its devices.  

Last but not least, for the Fortt Knox one-on-one this week I’ve got Dinesh Paliwal, CEO of Harman International, the high-end audio company Samsung bought for 8 billion dollars last year. He’s talking straight about the future of music formats and the right way to play business hardball with China.  

Welcome to Fortt Knox, rich ideas and powerful people. I am Jon Fortt at the Nasdaq Marketsite in New York’s Times Square.  

Joining me on the show today to break down the headlines: I’ve got Ed Lee of the New York Times. Dan McComas, former senior vice president of product at Reddit. And joining me a bit later, Brent Lang, the senior film editor at Variety; and Cherie Hu, columnist at Billboard.

Dinesh Paliwal is CEO of Harman International, the high-end audio company Samsung bought for $8 billion last year. He sits down with CNBC's Jon Fortt at the Nasdaq Marketsite in Times Square. He talks straight about the future of music formats, his journey from India to America to the international business world, and the right way to play hardball with China.

86: Startup or Corporate Giant? How to Decide What Kind of Employer Fits You

 
 At the Nasdaq Marketsite in Times Square, this week's Fortt Knox tackles the plusses and minuses of working for a startup vs. an established company.

At the Nasdaq Marketsite in Times Square, this week's Fortt Knox tackles the plusses and minuses of working for a startup vs. an established company.

I've got something different for you this week: A big conversation about work. As in, where should you work? What kind of company: Big or small? Young or established? 

The idea for this episode came from my CNBC colleague Sharon Epperson, who's just great. Sharon covers personal finance, and I'll often stop at her desk and strategize about work and life.  

Sharon did a piece on how to land a job at a startup, and I wanted to expand the topic to, should you take a job at a startup, even if you can? So I huddled with CNBC producer Evan Falk, as I do every week to talk about Fortt Knox Live, and we decided to put a show together. Get Sharon, a couple of top-flight venture capital investors, and I wanted to get some students and recent graduates, too. I mean, they're the target audience for this stuff, right? 

So that's what we did.  

My guests are two venture capitalists: Jeff Richards, managing partner at GGV Capital, and Graham Brown, partner at Lerer Hippeau. Three students: Ahmad Eshghyar, an MBA candidate at Yale; Roni Barak Ventura, a doctoral candidate at NYU; and Raymond Willey, an MBA candidate at Baruch College. And one CNBC colleague, Sharon Epperson.

85: Roger Lynch, Pandora CEO and Sling TV co-founder: The Great Rebundling

 
 Pandora CEO Roger Lynch was the founding CEO of Sling TV; his strategy includes lots of deals.

Pandora CEO Roger Lynch was the founding CEO of Sling TV; his strategy includes lots of deals.

Pandora, the music streaming service, has a culture that's heavily musical. So as a new CEO of the company, it helps that Roger Lynch not only plays guitar, but he actually still plays live gigs with a band. 

Lynch sat down with me above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, before the opening bell. He's been in the job for less than a year – and he's got his work cut out for him. Spotify just went public, and has grabbed a lot of attention. Meanwhile, many of the most powerful companies in tech are competing with him in the market, including a few little names like Apple, Amazon and Google. How does he plan to win? 

Lynch started out a scientist, became and investment banker, and found his groove as an entrepreneur – he's the founding CEO of video streaming pioneer Sling TV. 

84: George Kurian, NetApp CEO: A Twin and a Team Builder

 
 George Kurian sat down with me at the New York Stock Exchange about three years into his tenure as NetApp CEO.

George Kurian sat down with me at the New York Stock Exchange about three years into his tenure as NetApp CEO.

George Kurian is the CEO of NetApp, a storage technology company whose stock market value is more than $20 billion. Normally I like to start off talking about what makes my guests unique. But in this case, George has a lot in common with another Silicon Valley tech executive named Kurian – his twin brother Thomas is president at Oracle. 

George and I could spend a lot of time talking about how unlikely it is that anyone climbs to the top level of a multi-billion-dollar Silicon Valley tech company, much less that two brothers would do it. We did talk about that a bit. But we also talked about strategy, and the challenges he's faced leading in a period of rapid change.  

81: Tobi Lütke, Shopify founder and CEO: Snowboards Don't Sell in Spring

 
 When business at his online snowboard shop slowed, Tobi Lütke founded Shopify to sell the technology behind the store instead.

When business at his online snowboard shop slowed, Tobi Lütke founded Shopify to sell the technology behind the store instead.

Tobi Lutke is the founder and CEO of Shopify, a public company worth 17 billion dollars. The shopping landscape is changing fast, with new tax laws, same-day delivery, in-store pickup and mobile payments adding new twists and capabilities all the time. Lutke, and Shopify, provide technology tools to simplify all that for merchants. 

I talked with Tobi recently at the Nasdaq Marketsite in Times Square, as talk of tariffs and taxes are swirling. We talked about what's allowed Shopify's stock to double in a year, and how he went from a teenage German apprentice to a Canadian entrepreneur … who's now a billionaire on paper, by the way. 

80: Q-Tip, the Abstract: Championing Creativity in the Digital Age

 
 Q-Tip, of pioneering hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, has branched out as a producer, solo artist, artistic director at the Kennedy Center, and soon a lecturer at NYU.

Q-Tip, of pioneering hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, has branched out as a producer, solo artist, artistic director at the Kennedy Center, and soon a lecturer at NYU.

The mission of the Fortt Knox podcast is to bring you one-on-one, unfiltered conversations with interesting entrepreneurs and leaders, and show what makes them tick. Most of the time, they're CEOs or founders. Sometimes I get to spend time with a guy like Q-Tip, whose approach to his craft has shifted the way we think about modern music.

Q-Tip is probably best known as part of A Tribe Called Quest, a group that emerged in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Hits like “Can I Kick It?” “Scenario” and “Bonita Applebum” cemented Tribe’s place as innovators, both in their lyrical cadence and the way they used sampling and a broad mix of musical genres to make something new. 

 A Tribe Called Quest released its final album in November 2016. Member Phife Dog, Malik Taylor, passed away from diabetes complications earlier that year. I talked to Tip about his new music, his other creative efforts, mourning Phife, and the state of the music business. 

Here's a bit of what he shared. For the full conversation, subscribe to the podcast or stream the video on the Fortt Knox YouTube channel.

On working with Elton John on the last Tribe album and a tribute record with Demi Lovato:

I was working with Jack White, and we had this song, and I was like – man, we should get Elton. And we reached out, played it for him, he dug it, flew out to London, cut it – and he was just extremely gracious and just open and it was just a great experience. When the time came for him to do his legacy piece, where he had all these different artists cover, you know, he reached out and gave me the pick of the litter – so many great songs he’s done – to choose from and redo. And I was like maybe "Don’t Go Breaking My Heart," because at that time it was crossing into disco, it was still a great song, it had some soul. So I was like, let me take it, and flip it, recut it. Reached out to the great Demi Lovato, who’s amazing, and we knocked it out.

He’s kind of rooted in blues, country and soul. He’s really on more of a blues-man, piano-playing, kind of edge, rather than a modern-rock thing. That’s his rearing. Obviously having the facility as a musician – he and Bernie were able to kind of pen some of the greatest songs of the last century and in this one. They had a connection, they had a real partnership creatively, and they rode it till the wheels fell off. It’s, like you said, such a diaspora of different idioms that he melds into what’s uniquely him.

I think that’s what keeps him going – is just his joy and his love for what he does. You know, he’s on the road right now probably doing three hundred shows. He’s one of those people that’s definitely an inspiration.

On his friendship with Prince, one of his biggest musical influences:

Major. One of my major influences. You know, I have a few, and he’s definitely in there. Since his first album. I feel like, especially in today's world, the word 'genius' gets used carelessly, but it’s appropriate in his case. You know, you’re talking about a prodigy who at 18 recorded his own album, and self-produced it, which was kind of unheard of in 1979. He’s somebody that I’ve always admired, studied – he’s just so much a part of what I do, even still to this day. As I went into my career, having the opportunity to have worked with him and knew him intimately – that was my boy. He was like my big brother. We would have just hours and hours and hours of conversation about music, life – everything you could imagine. To be able to share the stage with him, and work in the studio with him – I mean, I’m pinching myself.

… That was my big brother. He would tell me other stuff, and he was like one of the first guys on the Internet. I remember him telling me all about it and setting up his sites and stuff like that and watching it. It was just really a great – you know, he’s one of my mentors, and I miss him dearly. That whole year, 2016, of the loss, because right prior to that I lost Phife. I think he reached out but I didn’t get to speak to him because I was just in the middle of all the bereavement and all that stuff. Then a few weeks later, he was gone, and it was just like, "wow" – it was a heavy blow. But his contribution is timeless. When the archaeologists come to go through the rubble and they look for, "What was this culture?" They are going to look to the art first, and I’m sure they’ll find his follicle.

In a rare, in-depth interview, Q-Tip, the Abstract, a.k.a. Kamaal Ibn John Fareed talks to CNBC's Jon Fortt for an episode of the Fortt Knox Podcast. They discuss the state of the music business, the creative process, reflections on the Native Tongues movement in the '80s, the role of streaming platforms, and a lot more.

On the danger of artists losing themselves in record contracts:

We exist in a paradigm here where it’s capitalism, we have to capitalize. So then when we enter into these contracts, into these deals, everybody, I think, is trying to look out for their best interests, but it seems the controlling factor goes beyond looking for their best interests – control. If you don’t have faith, and I’m not just talking about a faith in your talent or a faith in what you were gifted, but a faith in where that comes from. It could be rough, because you’re always going to be dealing with challenges.

On the consequences of the music industry coming late to the Internet:

I think that the music industry has missed a step or two, but one of the major steps that I think that they missed in the latter part of the last century, which they’re still kind of licking their wounds from, is not embracing the Internet and how the Internet can be another conduit for them to put out product. Where the music industry was still a little bit fat off of the CD explosion, because it’s all about ‘how many different ways can we present this that’s in a hardware?’ It’s vinyl, then when they figured out they could put the same thing out with no cost, but just on a different medium which is cassette, they reintroduced that. They have these talks with different audio companies and car companies on how they can change their formats that now can assist this – it gets a wider reach which is great for the audience and great for the artist, because now it’s dispersed on another medium. Now here comes the CD, and when everything was reissued on CD in the 90s, or the 80s rather, the music business saw a crazy surge because their catalog just got bought again by all of the consumers.

When the Internet came along, I think a lot of the gatekeepers were like ‘get away from here, kid.’ It was something they didn’t have the vision to see that far ahead – it was kind of a new thing for a lot of us on that end in the business. They didn’t really have people that could see the explosion. So now, the music business, kind of, has to re-approach it. Re-approach the contracts, re-approach how they deal with artists. They cut off different arms of their companies, like artist development arms and things of that nature, to save costs, and now it’s really about analytics and numbers and metrics to try and gauge what’s what so they can try and jump in.
 
On the importance of artists taking time to craft high-quality music, even though it's easier to release it now:

Putting your music out, like you said, you don’t have to wait around – you can get it going on your own. It’s really liberating to do that. The other problem on the other side of that is that because of that availability, because of that instant access, to be able to professionally gather your ideas, launch it out yourself, is that because of the ease, now a lot of people think like they can do it too, kind of. That’s a problem, because for the actual work – like I didn’t just wake up and just do it – I had to still work, it’s work. You have to put that time in. You have to put the hours in. You have to put the days in. And you can’t cut corners, because if you do, all that easy access to be able to make stuff and push a button and put it out – you may catch a look initially, but because of the lack of work and substance that’s there, it’s going to be short-lived. So, I would encourage everybody that, because yes, there is an ease and a quicker track to getting your thoughts and ideas out there, you still can’t duck the responsibility that you need to have to your craft.

On how music has become a part of the way he has coped with the pain of loss:

It’s cathartic. It’s a refuge. That’s one of the things that unifies all of us under the auspices of art. It could be music, or literature, or film or what have you; these things are able to potentially encapsulate where you are in your life, good, bad, or otherwise. These things are able to encapsulate how you feel about yourself or the world or about others in a specific way. These things are able to encapsulate your queries or your pains or your questions or your sadness, and they’re also able to help build you, and make you, and inspire you to go forward. So for me, watching my father basically pass for over a year in front of me, and then him passing when I was 16, the music was always a safe haven for me. It was a place where I got to express myself. It was definitely a refuge.

On performing as A Tribe Called Quest (On Saturday Night Live), without Phife:

It was very trying, but it was also cathartic too. We were still working it out. I’m sure some of the people who were watching or listening were still kind of working out that loss for them, but just loss in general. For me personally, it was something – you know, after that we did a few shows. But I couldn’t move without him there. It was definitely a lot. But I’m happy I accepted that challenge and went through it and experienced that. And I’m able to call it out and notate what I was feeling. I think that was instrumental for my continued growth. But yeah, it was tough. When you hear the voice, and you’re on stage – it’s something that not only did we build it, but I knew him since we were four years old. To lose your friend – it’s not many people that you grow up with since four, that you still stay in contact with through your latter years, and on top of it, create something with that person, and make something with that person. And, on top of that, make something that people seem to dig, you know what I’m saying?

On the legacy of Native Tongues and the emergence of A Tribe Called Quest in black culture:

I think that at the time, we were just blessed to be able to be at the right time at the right place – that’s part of it. Also, prior to us, you were starting to see the different shades of black complexity through this music. On its initial implosion from the early '70s up into the '80s, it was kind of like a smaller dimension, but like most things that grow, it started to widen, and then through that it was able to carve out paths for other people to enter. You know, at that time, we were able to express that we were more than one dimension. We don’t just do X. We do A and D and H and J – just like everybody else. Because we were one of the first to have that position about showing our complexity, and showing our levels, and showing our depth – I think that’s probably why you still, you see J. Cole and you see Kendrick – there’s still outgrowths of that.

On whether he's an "iceberg" who has 90 percent of the music he's made still unreleased:

Yeah, yeah I do. Which is probably why Prince is my boy. I have a lot of stuff, but I’m striving to put it all out. There’s other things that happen in life that you kind of have to tend to, as well, and take care of, but I’m confident that all of that stuff will see the light of day, and I can continue to do that.
 
On the work that goes into creating Abstract Radio on Apple Music:

You can’t get that time back. So I try to make it enjoyable and again, palatable, for everybody who can be potentially checking it out. It makes me happy. I feel connected, energized, peace with it – you know, fun. It informs – because I get to through mixing, I put myself where I have to listen to a whole bunch of new things. I really try to source out certain things and make certain musical connections between something that could be present day that people haven’t looked at and something that could have been yesterday …

… and is the lesson from your to do work that makes you hone the fundamentals of your craft …?

…that makes you work. That makes you not think about the fact that you’re doing work. Do work that makes you not think about the fact that you’re doing work. Before we set off to do our work, we could be anxious or doubt or nervous or whatever. But the minute we drop into, and we step – 'cause we have to do it – so when you drop into it, and you get into it, it’s almost like when you start running for all you runners out there. After you hit a certain pace, your endorphins kick in, it gets bright, and you can go a bit further. You don’t think about the pace, at a point, that you’re running, because you’re working and it starts to feel good and it builds you. So when you do work that makes you not think that it’s work, and you drop in, you start to do it – it feeds you, it builds you. The work it becomes rote, it’s a mediation, and then by the time it’s done, it’s like, "Wow, I did that?"
 
On the uneasy alliance between artists and streaming services:

For them it’s really about market share. It's about consumption. It’s about having the most to be the biggest. Because when you’re a conglomerate in that way, you kind of become – like, I don’t know if you’re into comics, but you become Galactus. And Galactus was the one going around swallowing worlds. That’s all he did was swallow worlds.

So, who's going to be Silver Surfer?

See? Silver Surfer. And that’s where I believe Jay-Z is Silver Surfer, and QuestLove is Silver Surfer, and I can be Silver Surfer. Instead of airing complaints and stuff like that, you have to kind of see it from both sides. You have to put yourself in their shoes, right? So I understand that in order for Galactus to survive, his practical need is to eat worlds. In order for Norrin Radd, or Silver Surfer, to save his world, he says, look, "I love my dear world of peace so much, I’ll go out and get other ones, but leave this one alone." So I understand Norrin Radd’s position. You’re dealing with something that’s just one-dimensional, you have to consume, cause if they don’t have market share, then they fall. That’s bottom line. There’s thousands and thousands of people who work at these companies. People. They have to sustain themselves and their lives.

A big shout-out to CNBC producer Tyler Eyre, who worked to book Q-Tip, transcribe the interview, and get the video edited.

79: Scott Wagner, GoDaddy CEO: Big Plans for Small Businesses

 
 Scott Wagner has taken the CEO seat at GoDaddy after the company has moved beyond shock marketing into a very different approach to its small business customers.

Scott Wagner has taken the CEO seat at GoDaddy after the company has moved beyond shock marketing into a very different approach to its small business customers.

Few companies have gone through the kind of image transformation GoDaddy has over the past decade. 

Back in 2005, GoDaddy launched its first commercial that used women in revealing outfits and sexually suggestive themes to sell web services. Wagner became GoDaddy's CEO at the beginning of this year, and those commercials are long gone.  

Today's GoDaddy bears little resemblance to the one of a decade ago, which is probably a good thing given how cultural winds have shifted. I talked to Wagner about his journey to the CEO seat, and what he's working to do with the products and culture.   

I got some time with Scott Wagner at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. We talked about leadership, culture, and what it will take for small businesses to thrive in this latest wave of the digital economy. We also streamed the conversation live on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the CNBC apps on Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.

78: Anthony Wood, Roku founder & CEO: Continual Reinvention

 
 Roku founder and CEO Anthony Wood started the broadband streaming powerhouse before broadband and streaming existed. So how did he build Roku into what it is? And what's the history with Netflix? He tells his story.

Roku founder and CEO Anthony Wood started the broadband streaming powerhouse before broadband and streaming existed. So how did he build Roku into what it is? And what's the history with Netflix? He tells his story.

Today it's a $4-billion publicly-traded company. It's synonymous with streaming video, going head-to-head with Apple, Amazon, Google and lately Netflix, in the cord-cutting era. But Roku's been around for more than 15 years. That means it's older than YouTube. 

Anthony Wood, the founder and CEO, hasn't followed a straight line to get Roku where it is. He's gone through a few different business models. He got some help from Netflix. Now he's defying the odds and talking about Roku's latest strategic moves.

I met Anthony Wood at Roku's New York office in Midtown Manhattan. We talked about his journey as an entrepreneur – from selling used golf balls as a kid to his big move to Silicon Valley. He also gives his take on what's next in this golden age of TV.

77: Kay Koplovitz, founder of USA Network: The Tools to Break Barriers

 
 Kay Koplovitz pioneered cable television – especially live sports – and founded USA Network.

Kay Koplovitz pioneered cable television – especially live sports – and founded USA Network.

A little more than 40 years ago, there was a live event that changed television forever. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. A boxing match: "The Thrilla in Manilla."

But the men in the ring weren't the only ones with big career stakes on the line. A 30-year-old entrepreneur named Kay Koplovitz had waited about a decade for this moment. She was the driving force behind making the fight the first live satellite broadcast. It changed the cable industry forever, and laid the groundwork for her to become the first woman to head a television network – one she launched two years later – USA Network. 

Kay Koplovitz today is a venture capital investor, a board member, and an advocate for women in business. I got some time with her on a busy day at the Nasdaq Marketsite in Times Square to talk about her journey, and lessons for the rest of us who – maybe in our jobs, maybe with some new venture – are trying to do what's never been done. 

76: Bastian Lehmann, Postmates CEO: Forget About Plan A

 
 Bastian Lehmann thought he wanted to direct movies, until his film school application didn't go so well. Entrepreneurship is working out much better.

Bastian Lehmann thought he wanted to direct movies, until his film school application didn't go so well. Entrepreneurship is working out much better.

Sometimes Plan A doesn’t work out. You’ve got to be ready to improvise. 

That’s one of the themes in Bastian Lehman’s story. He had a different career path in mind, but ended up settling for entrepreneurship. So far it’s going pretty well. He’s the cofounder and CEO of Postmates, a delivery startup that’s part of this race to remake the way we shop. He's raised about a quarter billion dollars.  

Postmates was originally supposed to be doing furniture delivery. That didn’t work out for some interesting reasons. When I sat down with Bastian Lehmann at the New York Stock Exchange, I got a fresh appreciation for why the ability to make smart adjustments is often better than being able to divine the future. 

75: Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO: The Vision for Power in Cloud and AI

 
 Satya Nadella is pushing Microsoft into a future he believes will be led by artificial intelligence platforms.

Satya Nadella is pushing Microsoft into a future he believes will be led by artificial intelligence platforms.

I’ve never had a repeat guest on Fortt Knox in the year and a half I’ve been doing this. That’s not because there’s a rule against it, I just never had a compelling reason to.  

That changes this week.  

A few days ago I flew out to Seattle and then went up to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, and sat down with CEO Satya Nadella. Satya was my guest in October, when his book "Hit Refresh" came out. It was a big deal because Nadella has dramatically changed the perception and trajectory of one of the world's most iconic companies, and most people had no clue who he is. "Hit Refresh" was his big moment of public definition, both for his vision for Microsoft and for himself as a leader. 

Satya wasn't new to me, though. We first met about seven years ago, before he was CEO, on one of his trips to Silicon Valley. I was CNBC's tech correspondent, he was in charge of Microsoft's Server and Tools division, which at the time most people outside of the tech industry thought was a boring backwater. The bright spotlight was on phones, PCs, Xbox, even search. Little did the masses know that the future was in cloud, and Satya Nadella's division would keep Microsoft relevant. 

So – fast forward to today, May 2018. Microsoft has its Build developer conference in Seattle, and Satya took some time ahead of it to talk about his vision for the company's platforms; his chief rivals in the cloud, Amazon and Google; his views on data privacy after Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal; his view on U.S. trade tensions with China, and a lot more.  

A quick correction – when I'm ribbing him in the beginning about his book tour, I say he was in Better Homes and Gardens. It was actually Good Housekeeping. Go figure. 

74: A Multi-Billion-Dollar Midlife Crisis: Vlad Shmunis, RingCentral founder and CEO

 
 Vlad Shmunis was doing well as an engineer in the tech industry when he decided he was bored, and needed to start his own thing.

Vlad Shmunis was doing well as an engineer in the tech industry when he decided he was bored, and needed to start his own thing.

Vlad Shmunis just wasn't an enthusiastic employee. Didn't like following directions. And he had ideas – lots of ideas. Eventually, something had to give. So the entrepreneurial engineer took a leap, even though family members said he was nuts. 

How'd that work out? Well today, Vlad Shmunis is the founder and CEO of RingCentral, a Silicon Valley company at the intersection of communication and cloud. The company went public just under five years ago. Today it's worth more than $5 billion. 

If you're a long-time Fortt Knox listener, you're going to sense a pattern. Vlad is the third CEO I've had on who grew up in the former Soviet Union and eventually found his way to the U.S. There was Citrix CEO Kirill Tatarinov, Coupa CEO Rob Bernshteyn, and now Vlad. Their stories are all pretty different in key details, but similar in some important core ways, when it comes to education, values and … please listen for this one … the family's approach to risk. 

If you or someone you know is thinking about taking a leap to start your own thing, but you're not quite sure, listen to Vlad's story.

71: Tim Ryan, PwC U.S. Chairman: Tech is Reshaping the Dynamics of Global Business

 
 PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan grew up in working class Boston before launching into a career in accounting.

PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan grew up in working class Boston before launching into a career in accounting.

Tim Ryan grew up in a working-class family in Boston, where his early jobs included a paper route and a job at a grocery. He’s now the U.S. chairman of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the global accounting firm known as one of the big 4 auditors. In 2016 it was ranked as the fifth largest private employer in America.  

Whether it’s the changing political landscape, the headaches companies face over protecting data, or getting the right envelopes at the Oscars, PwC handles issues large and small – and a lot of it crosses Ryan’s desk.  

I sat down with Tim Ryan at PwC’s office on Madison Avenue in Manhattan to talk about the challenges facing global business, and his own rise from blue-collar roots to the top level of a company that touches many of the world’s most powerful companies.

70: Tony Xu, DoorDash CEO: It's About Data, Not Just Food or Delivery

 
 Tony Xu, cofounder and CEO of DoorDash, plans to expand operations from 600 cities to 1,600 over the next 12 months.

Tony Xu, cofounder and CEO of DoorDash, plans to expand operations from 600 cities to 1,600 over the next 12 months.

Tony Xu just raised more than half a billion dollars to build out his business at DoorDash. 

There’s this idea out there that today’s consumers are lazy, and that’s why we're getting stuff delivered all the time. The thing is, I don’t know about you – but the reason why I’m ordering so much delivery is because I’m so busy.  

That’s where DoorDash comes in. The company was cooked up by four students at Stanford four and a half years ago. One of the four, Xu, is the company's 33-year-old CEO. 

Xu was in New York recently after raising a monster round of funding – $535 million. I sat down with him at the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square to find out what he's really building, and why he thinks he can beat Grubhub, Amazon, Google, and a lot more rivals lining up to take him on. 

69: Danny Govberg, Watchbox CEO: Tech Didn't Kill the Luxury Watch Business After All

 
 Watchbox CEO Danny Govberg had a watch face custom painted with his family on it. It took the artist 400 hours.

Watchbox CEO Danny Govberg had a watch face custom painted with his family on it. It took the artist 400 hours.

Everybody loves a David and Goliath story. The problem is, in business these days, the David is usually a family business, and the Goliath is some technology-juicing giant. Goliath is usually winning. 

So here's a story that returns to classic form: Danny Govberg is the CEO of Govberg Jewelers in Philadelphia – and he's also the CEO of Watchbox, an app and website that's shaking up the world of luxury watches. By Govberg's count, he's selling at a rate of $200 million worth of watches this year between the two businesses, much of it in brands like Rolex, Patek Phillipe and Omega – brands that run in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars per watch. And he says he's growing more than 30% a year. 

All of this is happening while the popular narrative is stacked against him. Supposedly hardly anyone wears watches anymore, and for those that do, the Apple Watch and Samsung Watch are running roughshod over the market. Well? That's not the whole story. 

I met Danny Govberg at the Breitling Boutique on Madison Avenue in Manhattan – you'll hear the sounds of the store and some construction next door. We talked about how the business evolved from his immigrant grandfather's beginnings as a watchmaker, and why technology is growing his old family business while it's killing others.

68: Abe Ankumah, Nyansa cofounder & CEO: Building on a Legacy of Entrepreneurship

 
 Abe Ankumah got introduced to computers at CalTech and is now CEO and cofounder of Nyansa.

Abe Ankumah got introduced to computers at CalTech and is now CEO and cofounder of Nyansa.

Abe Ankumah had never touched a computer before he arrived at Caltech in 1997, but quickly became captivated and decided to major in computer science. Now he’s the cofounder and CEO of Nyansa, a Silicon Valley startup that monitors the health of wireless networks.

An immigrant from Ghana, raised by hopeful entrepreneurs, he has the kind of story that has fueled Silicon Valley for decades.

I met Abe at the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square and talked to him about his journey, and the experiences that paved the way for what he's working on now.

67: Oren Jacob, founder and CEO of PullString: Teaching Alexa to Be a Better Conversationalist

 

Oren Jacob saw Star Wars as a kid, and fell in love with the idea of bringing together technology and storytelling to create something entirely new.  

Today, he’s the cofounder and CEO of PullString, a tech startup that teaches software how to have conversation. That could mean helping companies build an Alexa skill for Amazon’s Echo, or allowing Hello Barbie to talk.

I caught up with Oren at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where he spoke to leaders in the tech world about laying the groundwork for the future of voice interaction with computers.  

He told me how his early fascination with Star Wars led him to an internship and first career at Pixar – before he decided to start his own thing.

66: Matt Meeker, Bark co-founder & CEO: Super-Serving the Pet Economy

 
 Matt Meeker was trying to do something nice for his Great Dane when he and a friend came up with BarkBox.

Matt Meeker was trying to do something nice for his Great Dane when he and a friend came up with BarkBox.

Boutique treats and toys for dogs, it turns out, are a big business. Bark was co-founded by Matt Meeker, who's now its CEO. It's the seller of the subscription BarkBox. And it expects to do a quarter billion dollars in sales in 2018. 

Americans spend about $70 billion a year on their pets; that’s part of the reason why General Mills just announced that it plans to pay $8 billion for pet food maker Blue Buffalo. And it’s part of the reason why I went to see Matt Meeker at Bark’s headquarters in New York City’s Chinatown, and learn how he saw this pet-pampering mega-trend coming six years ago.  

When you’re pursuing a big idea, it’s important to keep refining it, and questioning your assumptions. That’s one of the things I took away from Matt’s story.

65: Rob Bernshteyn, Coupa CEO: Saving Your Way to Success

 
 Coupa founder and CEO Rob Bernshteyn became a master at using one small success to fuel his next big effort.

Coupa founder and CEO Rob Bernshteyn became a master at using one small success to fuel his next big effort.

Frugality is baked into Rob Bernshteyn’s life experience. His family immigrated from Russia when he was a kid, and he used savings from a paper route to start a baseball card business … which helped pay for his college education. In his mid-30s, after an executive role at SuccessFactors, a tech company that went public, Rob’s entrepreneurial itch became overwhelming, and he used his modest IPO windfall to launch Coupa. 

Coupa’s mission? What else — help businesses save money through smart software. 

Rob and I met at the Nasdaq Marketsite in Times Square to talk about how far Coupa’s come — it’s now a public company worth $2 billion — and how he got there. 

64: Ron Shaich, Panera founder: Raise the Minimum Wage, Build for the Long Term, and Other Heresies

 
 Panera founder Ron Shaich got started in business when he opened up a convenience store in college, as an act of protest.

Panera founder Ron Shaich got started in business when he opened up a convenience store in college, as an act of protest.

Who doesn't like to eat? Maybe my seven-year-old … he'd rather talk at the table … but the rest of us, when we're hungry, want something right now, and something that's not going to induce a lot of guilt. 

That, in a nutshell, is what has given birth to the fast casual movement over the past 20-plus years, and this week, I want you to join me for my conversation with the father of fast casual, Ron Shaich. Before there was Chipotle or Dig Inn, there was Panera Bread. Founded in Missouri in 1987, it now boasts more than two thousand locations. But Shaich, one of the founders, was selling cookies when he first got into the restaurant business. And he's got some insights to share about the journey.

I got some time with Ron Shaich to talk technology, and quality, and wages, and more. We had half of this conversation on Fortt Knox Live, which you can catch Wednesdays at 2 pm, and see by the way on YouTube, and the CNBC app on Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. Also, Ron and I kept the conversation going exclusively for this podcast, so there are parts that are new here, even if you watched live.