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Reinvention is the holy grail of business, both for tech companies trying to bend the arc of the universe and old-line companies desperately attempting to stave off oblivion. Two long years ago, Fortune hosted a conference in Chicago that spotlighted stories of reinvention, realized and aspirational. Some of the companies featured were unambiguous successes and have become more so since: New York Times Co., Microsoft, Slack. More, in retrospect, were putting on a brave face and have slid further: IBM, Wells Fargo, Ford, AT&T, WW International.
Obstacles aside, reinvention is an imperative, for companies and individuals. The world doesn’t stand still. The pandemic has cruelly made this clearer than ever.
Fortune senior editor Beth Kowitt and I have started a podcast expressly to examine reinvention. In our first episode, we pondered the plight of restaurants in a time when crowding indoors isn’t possible. In our latest episode, we revisit Vivienne Walt’s fine feature on BP’s attempt at reinvention. The former British Petroleum recently made a bold goal that amounts to reducing its commitment to oil and gas. Reducing doesn’t mean ending. But it does mean funneling more resources into alternative energy and less into carbon-extraction businesses.
Older business readers will recall that this isn’t BP’s first reinvention rodeo. In the 90s, it tried convincing consumers it had moved “beyond petroleum.” It hadn’t. And that was before Deepwater Horizon. When companies say they are “reinventing,” it is necessary to probe beyond the headlines to know if they are truly changing or more likely putting a fresh coat of descriptive paint on a decaying fence, cheered on by a pliant press and a complicit business lobby.
On Wednesday at 1:30 Pacific, I’m moderating a panel for the Milken Institute’s annual global conference. It’s on the future of investing in software companies and features varying-stage investors Orlando Bravo, Anu Duggal, Anton Levy, and Deven Parekh. When the Milken event happens in person in Los Angeles, it is a high-wattage barrage of tailored suits, bright ties, and liberal dollops of hair product. This year, though participation is limited to registered guests, anyone can watch online. Watch a livestream of my panel here.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.