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How Food Trucks Endured and Succeeded During the Pandemic

This article is part of Owning the Future, a series on how small businesses across the country have been effected by the pandemic.

The Covid pandemic hit California hard. It has seen well over 3.5 million cases and over 60,000 deaths. Scores of businesses have closed. But for Ana Jimenez the owner of Tacos El Jerry, a small fleet of food trucks in Santa Cruz County, it provided an opportunity to bring her business into the 21st century.

Ms. Jimenez’s four trucks began taking orders through an app and a website, delivering directly to customers, and cultivating a customer base through a new social media presence. All of that added up to a significant increase in sales.

Facebook and Instagram pages for the food trucks, a social media advertising campaign and began accepting credit card purchases. “Each truck is now serving around 300 people per day, which translates to roughly $5,000 in sales daily,” Ms. Jimenez said.

Food trucks — kitchens on wheels, essentially — are flexible by design and quickly became a substitute during the pandemic for customers who couldn’t dine indoors and coveted something different than their mainstream carryout options. That, in turn, has delivered a new client base to add on to an existing cadre of loyal followers. In a very real sense, food trucks are vehicles for equality in the post-pandemic world.

“While the pandemic has certainly hurt the majority of small businesses, it has also pushed many to be more innovative by looking for new revenue streams and ways to reach customers,” said Kimberly A. Eddleston, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern University.

Like Ms. Jimenez, some businesses have “focused on ways to maintain their customer base by, for example, delivering products directly to customers,” Prof. Eddleston said. “While others have created products and services that attract new customers.”

Blue Sparrow food trucks in Pittsburgh, adding pizza, four-packs of local beer, gift cards and five-ounce bottles of housemade hot sauce.

Mr. Cypher’s main fare since he hit the streets in 2016 has been global street food. His menu carries a heavy Asian inspiration. There’s made-from-scratch kimchi on the menu daily. Dishes can include rice bowls, Vietnamese banh mi, falafel burritos, and a burger made with a ramen bun.

During the pandemic, Mr. Cypher’s business took a hit when 24 festivals and over a dozen weddings where he was booked were canceled. “I switched gears to keep things as lean as possible,” Mr. Cypher said.

He temporarily shut down a second food truck — a retrofitted 35-foot, 1956 Greyhound bus that he used for the big parties — and introduced a website to interact with his customers and an online ordering system for his smaller truck, which he usually parked at a neighborhood brewery.

“I switched the menu to focus on soups, noodles, burritos and pressed sandwiches, so that the things that we were handing our customers would make it home and still be a good experience after they opened up the bag and took it out,” he said.

And he began to make and sell pizza one day a week at the kitchen where he used to do his prep work for the trucks before the pandemic. (The pizza, too, has an international flair: a banh mi pie, for example, made with pork or tofu, miso garlic sauce, mozzarella, pickled carrots, cucumbers, and cilantro.)

Accion Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit organization providing small-business owners with access to capital, networks and coaching. “Many food truck owners stepped forward to seize opportunity during a time of great uncertainty,” she said.

As Pittsburgh emerges from the pandemic, Mr. Cypher is adding a twist at his kitchen location. “We have licensing to offer beer on draft from our local breweries, so we’re going to have a small beer garden,” he said. “And that’s a revenue stream that we’re going to kind of lean into that we probably never would have done if not for Covid.”

In 2020, Mr. Cypher’s food trucks had $200,000 in gross sales, down about 40 percent from the previous year, he said. “But with the new offerings, more efficiency and only running one rig, we were actually able to net enough to keep the business moving forward,” he said. “This year we’re already up about 30 percent from where we were at last year at this time.”

Shiso Crispy, timing was much tricker: she opened her first truck in November 2019, just a few months before the pandemic. And yet Ms. Whaley, 35, who offers handmade gyozas, bao buns and their signature dish, dirty rice, now has two trucks because of a strategy of regularly parking in certain neighborhoods and offering discounted and free meals outside a nearby Ronald McDonald House. (She added the second truck in January.)

One challenge: “The internet here is shoddy. And cellphone service in different areas out here just doesn’t work,” she said. “During the height of the pandemic, I was consistently losing two or more transactions at my point of sale every shift.”

Clover Flex point of sale program for touchless transactions. “It has digitally transformed my business,” Ms. Whaley said.

She also signed on to an app, called Best Food Trucks, that allows customers near her to pre-order once they know her location for the day.

“The inextricably connected stories of food trucks and Covid are a perfect microcosm of the undeniable reality that women, immigrants and people of color, historically relegated to the edges of the economy, are actually the foundation upon which the next economy must be built,” said Nathalie Molina Niño, author of “Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs.”

But the silver lining from the pandemic for some operators is more personal — including bringing families together. “I have a ton of wisdom about how to operate food trucks and cooking,” Ms. Jimenez said. “It’s the coming together of the generations that made the business stronger now and for the future.”

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Australian Company Loses Ugg Trademark Battle

MELBOURNE, Australia — An Australian company’s long-shot bid to scrap a U.S. trademark on the word “Ugg” has suffered another blow after an American appeals court rejected its argument, in a loss that could have far-reaching consequences for Australian makers of the sheepskin boots.

It’s the latest step in a five-year, high-stakes legal battle between the brand’s owner in the United States, Deckers Outdoor Corporation, and a company called Australian Leather. They have been wrangling over ownership of the name of a shoe that has been derided as unfashionable and downright ugly but that has still found its way onto the feet of celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Tom Brady.

The Australian news media called the lawsuit a “David vs. Goliath” battle, and the case hit a nerve for many Australians, who consider the footwear a national, albeit unfashionable, symbol. The case also illustrated how global access to products on the internet could create clashes between local legal systems.

Australian Leather’s owner, Eddie Oygur, said after the court ruling on Friday that he would take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

2020 annual report.

The stakes for both companies were high. Before the verdict, Nicole Murdoch, an intellectual property lawyer at Eaglegate Lawyers in Brisbane, Australia, said a legal success for Mr. Oygur would have a “catastrophic effect for Deckers,” costing the company the trademark on which it had built its brand.

Mr. Oygur said before the verdict, “All the ugg boot makers in Australia will turn to imports because of the prices, and Australia will lose what’s been Australian since the 1930s.”

Personally, he had put everything on the line: the business he had run for nearly 40 years and a house he had mortgaged to pay his legal fees. He said he had spent over a million dollars on the case, lost the majority of his staff and seen the legal challenge scare off many of his customers.

“God help me, I’m not going to back down,” he said. “They gave me no choice. Absolutely no choice.”

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India’s Serum Institute Struggled to Meet Its Covid-19 Vows

NEW DELHI — Adar Poonawalla made big promises. The 40-year-old chief of the world’s largest vaccine maker pledged to take a leading role in the global effort to inoculate the poor against Covid-19. His India-based empire signed deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars to make and export doses to suffering countries.

Those promises have fallen apart. India, engulfed in a coronavirus second wave, is laying claim to his vaccines. Other countries and aid groups are now racing to find scarce doses elsewhere.

At home, politicians and the public have castigated Mr. Poonawalla and his company, the Serum Institute of India, for raising prices mid-pandemic. Serum has suffered production problems that have kept it from expanding output at a time when India needs every dose. He has come under criticism for departing to London amid the crisis, though he said it was only a quick trip. He told a British newspaper he had received threats from politicians and some of India’s “most powerful men,” demanding that he supply them with vaccines. When he returns to India, he will travel with government-assigned armed guards.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Poonawalla defended his company and its ambitions. He had no choice but to hand over vaccines to the government, he said. He cited a lack of raw materials, which he has partially blamed on the United States. Making vaccines, he said, is a painstaking process that requires investment and major risks. He said he would return to India when he had finished his business in London. He shrugged off his earlier comments about threats, saying they were “nothing we can’t handle.”

backed waiving intellectual property protections for vaccines, which could make it easier for Indian factories to make them. Still, that won’t help India’s current crisis, which as of Friday had claimed more than 230,000 lives — a figure that likely represents a vast undercount.

a horse breeder turned vaccine billionaire. Before the crisis, he was extolled in the Indian media as an example of a new class of young, worldly entrepreneurs. Photos of him and his wife, Natasha, were a staple of fashion spreads.

Serum received a $300 million grant from the Gates Foundation to supply as many as 200 million doses of Covishield and another vaccine in development to the Gavi Alliance, the public-private partnership that is overseeing Covax, the program to donate vaccines to poor countries.

Serum pledged between January and March to sell about 1.1 billion vaccine doses in coming months, according to a review of purchase agreements supplied by UNICEF. By the time India largely stopped vaccine exports, Serum had exported only about 60 million doses, about half to Gavi. India had claimed more than 120 million.

AstraZeneca has served Serum a legal notice over delivery delays. Serum has just “temporarily deferred” its commitments, Mr. Poonawalla said, citing the Indian government’s halt of exports.

“This is something coming from India,” he said. “It’s not the supplier that is defaulting.”

The world is grappling with the ripple effect. A spokesman for Gavi said that India’s decision to prioritize “domestic needs” is having “a knock-on effect in other parts of the world that desperately need vaccines.” Still, in a sign of the lack of options for getting vaccines, Gavi on Thursday signed a purchase deal with an American vaccine company, called Novavax, involving doses to be made by Serum.

people are being turned away from vaccination centers that have run out of doses.

Serum has missed its expansion targets. Mr. Poonawalla said last fall that by early this year, Serum Institute would be pumping out 100 million doses per month, of which about four in 10 would go overseas.

But after a fire at a facility that was supposed to help the company ramp up vaccine production, Serum’s capacity has remained at about 72 million doses per month. A grant of more than $200 million from the Indian government should help the company reach its goal by summer, he said.

Mr. Poonawalla has also cited raw materials supplies. In April, he asked President Biden on Twitter to “lift the embargo” on raw material used to make Covid-19 vaccines. White House officials said Mr. Poonawalla mischaracterized his situation. Still, the United States said it would send raw materials to the Serum Institute to increase its vaccine production, though Mr. Poonawalla said they haven’t yet arrived.

Mr. Poonawalla has also come under scrutiny for charging different prices to the central government, to India’s states and to private hospitals. Two weeks ago, Serum said it would charge state governments about $5 per dose, about $3 more than what it charges Mr. Modi’s government.

Last week, following criticism, Mr. Poonawalla lowered the price to $4. Still, the critics point to an interview in which Mr. Poonawalla said that he was making a profit even at the central government’s price.

Mr. Poonawalla said that Serum could sell at a lower price to India’s central government because it was ordering larger volumes.

People don’t understand,” Mr. Poonawalla told The New York Times. “They just take things in isolation and then they vilify you, not realizing that this commodity is sold at $20 a dose in the world and we’re providing it for $5 or $6 in India. There’s no end to the cribbing, the complaining, the criticizing.”

includes four to five armed personnel.

In an interview with The Times of London newspaper published last week, he described receiving constant, aggressive calls demanding vaccines immediately. “‘Threats’ is an understatement,” he told the paper.

He played down the threats in his interview with The New York Times, and his office declined to disclose further specifics. Still, the comments caused an uproar in India. Some politicians demanded that he name names.

tweeted that Mr. Poonawalla’s departure to London was “shameful” and that he should reduce prices.

The Serum Institute is planning a major expansion in Britain, investing nearly $335 million for research and development, to fund clinical trials, to build out its sales office and to possibly construct a manufacturing plant, Mr. Poonawalla’s office said.

“Everyone is depending on us to be able to give this magic silver bullet in an almost infinite capacity,” Mr. Poonawalla said. “There’s this tremendous pressure from state governments, ministers, the public, friends, and they all want the vaccine. And I’m just trying to equitably distribute it as best I can.”

Selam Gebrekidan in London and Bhadra Sharma in Kathmandu, Nepal, contributed reporting.

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Black Pound Day Aims to Support U.K. Black-Owned Businesses

LONDON — For Aimée Felone, whose children’s bookstore in London stocks tales with ethnically diverse characters, the Black Lives Matter protests last summer were, in a word, overwhelming.

“We had attention like we’ve never had before,” Ms. Felone said. People across the country clamored for books about antiracism and sought out Black-owned businesses like her store, Round Table Books, as a way to help reverse years of economic racial inequality. In early June, the store’s sales went through the roof.

But pandemic restrictions had shuttered the store’s warehouse. After two weeks, the four-person team was struggling to fulfill online orders. A publishing company affiliated with the bookstore, which Ms. Felone also co-founded, sold out of every book it had published. New customers grew impatient.

“The sales were wonderful,” Ms. Felone said. The problem was “the additional stresses that I think a lot of people don’t realize they’re putting” on the small Black businesses they are trying to help.

the largest social movement in U.S. history and quickly spread across the globe, businesses are looking for ways to convert that chaotic surge of interest into regular, reliable sales.

In Britain, one effort was created by Swiss, a British rapper. He calls it Black Pound Day, and the idea is simple: Once a month, people should spend money with Black businesses.

according to a study conducted by Jamii, a company supporting Black businesses, and Translate Culture, a marketing agency.

pardner. Small groups still use it to save together outside the banking system.

Swiss, 38, whose real name is Pierre Neil, grew up in South London. His grandparents had come to Britain from Barbados and Jamaica. At 17, he found fame with So Solid Crew, a garage and hip-hop group with dozens of members. In 2001, their song “21 Seconds” topped the British charts.

But the group’s reputation was always entwined with gang culture and violence — a point Swiss pushed back against in “Broken Silence,” a song he co-wrote describing how the group felt that it had been mistreated by the media and government and unfairly blamed for its low socioeconomic status.

“I’ve been making socially conscious tunes from back when I was a teenager,” Swiss said, adding that he was inspired by the rappers Tupac and Nas.

Swiss said he had mulled over the idea for Black Pound Day for years, noting how few businesses that Black people appeared to own.

A study by the British Business Bank, a state-owned bank supporting small businesses, and the consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that entrepreneurs who come from an ethnic minority background face systemic disadvantages, and that the average annual revenue for a Black entrepreneur was 10,000 pounds less than it was for white business owners in 2019.

0.02 percent of venture capital money invested in Britain from 2009 to 2019 went to Black female founders. That’s 10 women in a decade.

Those barriers contribute to large income and wealth gaps between Black and white households in Britain. The total wealth for a median household headed by a white British person (including property, investments and pension) is £313,900 ($436,000). For a Black Caribbean household, it’s £85,900 and just £34,000 for a Black African household, the national statistics agency estimates.

Ms. Ismain, the founder of Jamii, which offers a one-stop shopping site for Black businesses, said her organization and initiatives like Black Pound Day sought to remind consumers to keep Black businesses in mind even when antiracism protests weren’t front-page news.

“When it’s not trending, you don’t always think about it, you fall into old habits, and if you can’t find alternatives to things you are already buying anyway it’s just not very sustainable,” Ms. Ismain said. “That’s the thought process behind Jamii — making it super easy to find businesses.”

For Afrocenchix, a hair care brand for natural Afro hair, Black Pound Day has been transformative. Every month on Black Pound Day, the company gets two or three times its normal sales. To promote the day, it offers customers free delivery and a packet of tea and biscuits — a.k.a. cookies in the United States — with their order.

“We got trolled a bit on the first Black Pound Day by lots of people telling us we were racist and not British,” said Rachael Corson, a co-founder of Afrocenchix. So in response, she said, she and her co-founder, Jocelyn Mate, thought: “What’s more quintessentially British than tea and biscuits?”

Since the first Black Pound Day, they have doubled their number of customers, and in 2020, Afrocenchix’s sales were five times that of the previous year.

“It made a huge difference in terms of brand awareness for us,” Ms. Corson said.

And the influx of customers and revenue should help Afrocenchix’s founders with their next goal of overcoming the venture capital fund-raising odds. They are trying to raise £2 million.

For others, the advantages of Black Pound Day have dipped with time, and they speculate that consumer interest has been spread across more Black businesses. But Natalie Manima, the founder of Bespoke Binny, a housewares brand sold online, said the attention her company had gotten since people sought out Black-owned retailers during last summer’s protests had been “life changing.”

The interest “didn’t end,” Ms. Manima said. “It’s not the same barrage that it was, but I have not ever gone back to pre-protest level of sales.”

She recalled the day in early June when she woke up to hundreds of orders for her products, which include lampshades, oven mitts and blankets. It took her a few days to track the source of the surge — a list of Black-owned businesses circulating on Instagram at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Because Britain was under lockdown, the manufacturer of her products was closed, as was her daughter’s nursery school. So Ms. Manima was packing orders herself, late at night and early in the morning, until she sold out of everything and had to pause taking orders.

But once the manufacturers reopened and her business was running smoothly again, customers have kept coming back. She has since moved into a larger office (twice) and hired a team.

“I have gone from a one-woman show to this, and I know that it’s all down to what happened in June,” she said.

That said, the experience at Round Table Books, the children’s bookstore, is a testament to how hard it can be to permanently alter people’s spending habits, even with the help of initiatives like Black Pound Day. The store has been shut all winter in line with government restrictions. It sells books online, but it’s still hard to compete against giants like the British bookseller Waterstones and Amazon.

“When you don’t have the physical bookshops open, I find that a lot of the attention goes to the bigger brands,” Ms. Felone said. But she said that the store will reopen in early May and that she still supported Black Pound Day.

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How to Help India Amid the Covid-19 Crisis: Victims, Frontline Workers and Donations

India’s coronavirus crisis is the worst since the pandemic began, and it will probably worsen before it gets better.

Hospitals are full, oxygen supplies are dwindling, and sick people are dying as they wait to see doctors. As workers leave locked-down cities for their home villages, experts fear that the exodus could accelerate the spread of the virus in rural areas, as a similar one did last year.

Official estimates of the nationwide infection toll — well above 300,000 a day — are probably undercounted, epidemiologists say. The reported figure will mostly likely rise to 500,000 cases a day by August, they say, leaving as many as one million of India’s 1.4 billion people dead from Covid-19.

Charities, volunteers and businesses in India and beyond are trying to help the country’s Covid victims and frontline workers.

Guidestar and Charity Navigator grade nonprofits on their effectiveness and financial health.)

Here are a few ways to help.

  • United Nations agencies, including UNICEF and the World Health Organization, are delivering personal protective equipment kits, oxygen concentrators, diagnostic testing systems and other supplies to India’s frontline health care workers.

  • PATH, a global health nonprofit based in Seattle, says it has a team of more than 200 people working in India to procure oxygen supplies and accelerate Covid-19 testing and surveillance.

  • The International Medical Corps, which works in conflict areas around the world, is raising money for a campaign to help provide medical equipment, P.P.E., isolation facilities and other essential supplies in India.

  • Care India says it has supplied hospitals and frontline workers in India with more than 39,000 P.P.E. kits, along with masks and other supplies. The nonprofit, which has worked in India for 70 years, accepts donations in any amount.

  • The Association for India’s Development, a Maryland-based charity that partners with nonprofits in India, says it has volunteers distributing food and protective equipment in most of India’s 29 states.

  • Project HOPE, also in Maryland, is a nonprofit providing medical training, health education and humanitarian assistance around the world. The group says it has given Covid-related assistance in 150 countries during the pandemic, including India.

  • GIVE.asia, a fund-raising platform in Singapore for causes across the Asia Pacific region, says it is working with the Singapore Red Cross to send ventilators, oxygen concentrators and oxygen generators to India. The platform also hosts fund-raising campaigns by individuals.

  • AmeriCares, a nongovernmental organization based in Connecticut that specializes in emergency medical response work, says it is working in several Indian states to deliver P.P.E., ventilators and other medical equipment, as well as to educate people on how to prevent the spread of the virus.

  • The Indian Red Cross Society has staff and volunteers running blood drives, delivering aid and medical supplies, along with providing other essential services across the country.

  • Youth Feed India and Helping Hands Charitable Trust are delivering ration kits to vulnerable residents of Mumbai. Each kit includes staples like rice and dal, and feeds a family of four for 15 days. Donate here in a variety of ways, including through Google Pay.

  • Ketto, a fund-raising platform in Mumbai, a hot spot of the country’s latest Covid outbreak, is shepherding a campaign by hundreds of entrepreneurs to purchase 3,000 oxygen concentrators. (The organizers are tweeting live updates.)

  • FromU2Them, a Mumbai nonprofit, is raising money on Ketto from individuals and Indian businesses to pay for food and medical supplies in the sprawling financial hub.

Shashank Bengali contributed reporting.

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India’s Covid Crisis: How to Help Victims and Frontline Workers

India’s coronavirus crisis is the worst since the pandemic began, and it will probably worsen before it gets better.

Hospitals are full, oxygen supplies are dwindling, and sick people are dying as they wait to see doctors. As workers leave locked-down cities for their home villages, experts fear that the exodus could accelerate the spread of the virus in rural areas, as a similar one did last year.

Official estimates of the nationwide infection toll — well above 300,000 a day — are probably undercounted, epidemiologists say. The reported figure will mostly likely rise to 500,000 cases a day by August, they say, leaving as many as one million of India’s 1.4 billion people dead from Covid-19.

Charities, volunteers and businesses in India and beyond are trying to help the country’s Covid victims and frontline workers.

Guidestar and Charity Navigator grade nonprofits on their effectiveness and financial health.)

Here are a few ways to help.

  • United Nations agencies, including UNICEF and the World Health Organization, are delivering personal protective equipment kits, oxygen concentrators, diagnostic testing systems and other supplies to India’s frontline health care workers.

  • The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, which represents more than 80,000 doctors in the United States, is sending oxygen machines to India. Each one costs $500. Go here to donate in intervals of $500 or here to donate less than $500.

  • The Canadian Red Cross is providing financial support for its counterpart organization in India to respond to the latest Covid wave and to prepare for future “pandemic and/or emergency events.”

  • Care India says it has supplied hospitals and frontline workers in India with more than 39,000 P.P.E. kits, along with masks and other supplies. The nonprofit, which has worked in India for 70 years, accepts donations in any amount. A donation of $134 pays for four P.P.E. kits; $671 buys 20 kits.

  • The Association for India’s Development, a Maryland-based charity that partners with nonprofits in India, says it has volunteers distributing food and protective equipment in most of India’s 29 states.

  • GIVE.asia, a fund-raising platform in Singapore for causes across the Asia Pacific region, is hosting a campaign to help finance about $75,000 worth of oxygen tanks for Covid patients in India.

  • Ketto, a fund-raising platform in Mumbai, a hot spot of the country’s latest Covid outbreak, is shepherding a campaign by hundreds of entrepreneurs to purchase 3,000 oxygen concentrators. (The organizers are tweeting live updates.)

  • FromU2Them, a Mumbai nonprofit, is raising money on Ketto from individuals and Indian businesses to pay for food and medical supplies in the sprawling financial hub.

  • Youth Feed India and Helping Hands Charitable Trust are delivering ration kits to vulnerable residents of Mumbai. They say each kit costs about 7 cents, includes staples like rice and dal, and feeds a family of four for 15 days. Donate here in a variety of ways, including through Google Pay.

Shashank Bengali contributed reporting.

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California Is Awash in Cash, Thanks to a Booming Market

In the early days of the pandemic, no one would have looked to the stock market for salvation. From February to late March last year, the S&P 500 suffered one of its sharpest crashes ever, falling nearly 34 percent. But once the federal government began pumping money into the markets and the economy through bond-buying programs and stimulus, the market began rebounding.

And professional money managers kept buying stocks. Amateur investors, stuck at home, piled into the market and drove up stock prices further. After hitting a bottom in March 2020, the S&P 500 is up nearly 90 percent, creating close to $17 trillion in paper gains.

Much of that value was created by California companies. The market value of Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., has risen by over $1 trillion in the past year. The gains for Alphabet and Facebook, combined, have created another $1 trillion in value. Tesla, based in Palo Alto, Calif., added over $500 billion.

The surge in market value created a significant amount of wealth for executives and workers, including in the technology sector. Executives at major companies typically have pre-established stock sale programs that are constantly converting some of their shares into cash. As they’ve sold into a rising market over the last year, those gains have been especially large; in August, Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, sold more than $130 million worth of his stock.

“When the stock market does well, they do very well,” said David Hitchcock, the primary analyst on California for the bond-rating firm S&P Global, of the state’s wealthy residents. “And in fact, it’s not just the stock market but initial public offerings. Because with Silicon Valley, when entrepreneurs get stock grants that they exercise, or stock options, California makes out very well.”

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Jack Ma Shows Why China’s Tycoons Keep Quiet

Jack Ma, the most famous businessman China has ever produced, is avoiding the spotlight. Friends say he is painting and practicing tai chi. Sometimes, he shares drawings with Masayoshi Son, the billionaire head of the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank.

The wider world glimpsed Mr. Ma for the first time in months last week, during a virtual board meeting of the Russian Geographical Society. As President Vladimir V. Putin and others discussed Arctic affairs and leopard conservation, Mr. Ma could be seen resting his head on one hand, looking deeply bored.

For Mr. Ma — the charismatic entrepreneur who first showed, two decades ago, how China would shake the world in the internet age; whose face adorns shelves of admiring business books; who never met a crowd he couldn’t razzle-dazzle — it is a stark change of pace.

Beijing’s biggest targets yet, as officials start regulating the country’s powerful internet industry like never before.

snatched from a luxury Hong Kong hotel in 2017. Ye Jianming, an oil tycoon who sought connections in Washington, was detained, as was Wu Xiaohui, whose insurance company bought the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. Mr. Wu later went to prison. Lai Xiaomin, the former chairman of a financial firm, was executed this year.

“The general iron rule is that there should be no individual centers of power outside of the party,” said Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute and author of “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.”

Beijing’s clampdown on tech is already rippling through boardrooms beyond Alibaba’s.

Ant Group’s chief executive, Simon Hu, resigned in March. A few days later, Colin Huang stepped down as chairman of Pinduoduo, the mobile bazaar he founded and took public within a few short years. Pinduoduo announced his resignation the same day it said it had attracted 788 million shoppers over the previous 12 months — a bigger number than Alibaba.

proposed tougher rules for internet companies — or, as an official newspaper put it, “innovative methods of regulation and governance.”

China’s antitrust authority summoned 34 top internet companies to talk about new fair-competition rules. Within hours, they were discussing business changes and publicly pledging to stay in line.

“These new regulations are going to require internet platforms to look at how they innovate going forward, and the result is potentially less innovation,” said Gordon Orr, a nonexecutive board member at Meituan, the Chinese food delivery giant.

Even so, Alibaba and other internet titans have a status in China that could protect them from the most heavy-handed treatment. Officials have praised the titans’ economic contributions even as they tighten supervision. Mr. Xi wants China’s economy to be driven more by its own innovations than by those of fickle foreign powers.

That means it might be too soon to declare Jack Ma down for the count.

“His company is much more important to the success and functioning of the Chinese economy than any of the other entrepreneurs’,” Mr. McGregor said. “The government wants to continue to reap the benefits of his company — but on their terms. The government isn’t nationalizing Alibaba. It isn’t confiscating its assets. It’s simply narrowing the field in which it operates.”

Alibaba declined to comment.

Mr. Ma is no neophyte at dealing with the authorities in China.

He worked briefly and unhappily at a government-run advertising agency before founding Alibaba in 1999. At the time, China was still getting used to the idea of powerful private entrepreneurs, and Mr. Ma proved adept at charming government officials.

in the 2000s. “What a world-class company needs most is a soul, a commander, a world-class businessman. Jack Ma, I believe, meets this standard.”

Mr. Ma saw early on what success might bring with it in China, said Porter Erisman, an early Alibaba executive.

“There was only one person in the company who brought to our attention that one day we might face issues of being so big that we would come under pressure for having too much market power,” Mr. Erisman said. “And that was Jack.”

one of Alibaba’s biggest investors, Yahoo. Mr. Ma said the move had been necessary under new Chinese regulations. Alipay later became Ant Group.

“The Alipay transfer emboldened him,” said Duncan Clark, who has known Mr. Ma since 1999 and is chairman of BDA China, a consulting firm. “He kind of got away with it.”

work more closely with the state.

When Mr. Ma stepped down as Alibaba’s chairman in 2019, a commentary in the official Communist Party newspaper declared: “There is no so-called Jack Ma era — only Jack Ma as part of this era.”

China’s leaders need the private sector to help sustain economic growth. But they also do not want entrepreneurs to undermine the party’s dominance across society.

Last October, as Ant was preparing to go public, Mr. Ma spoke at a Shanghai conference and criticized China’s financial regulators. He had long seen Ant as a vehicle for disrupting the country’s big state-run banks. But there could scarcely have been a less opportune moment to press the point. Officials halted Ant’s share listing soon after.

In China, “it’s hard to say the emperor has no clothes these days,” said Kellee S. Tsai, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Mr. Ma has largely vanished from sight within his companies, too. In January, he popped up in an internal chat group to answer a business question, according to a person who saw the message but was not authorized to speak publicly. Employees later shared Mr. Ma’s message to reassure nervous colleagues.

estimated that Mr. Ma was not, for the first time in three years, one of China’s three richest people. The country’s new No. 1 was Zhong Shanshan, the low-key head of both a bottled-water giant and a pharmaceutical business.

Chinese news reports about his sudden wealth had to explain to readers how to pronounce the obscure Chinese character in his name.

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Covid-19 Pushes India’s Middle Class Toward Poverty

Anil G. Kumar, a civil engineer, was one of them. Around this time last year, he and his family were about to buy a two-bedroom apartment. But when last year’s lockdown hit, Mr. Kumar’s employer, a construction chemicals manufacturer, slashed his salary by half.

“Everything turned turtle within a few hours,” he said. Three months later, his job had been eliminated.

Now Mr. Kumar spends his days in his home in a working-class neighborhood in the western part of Delhi, searching for jobs on LinkedIn and taking care of his son.

The family’s middle-class life is now under threat. They survive on the $470-a-month salary Mr. Kumar’s wife draws from a private university. Instead of holding a big celebration for their son’s 10th birthday at a restaurant, which would have cost nearly $70, they ordered a cake and a new outfit for about one-fifth the cost. Mr. Kumar also canceled his Amazon Prime subscription, which he hadn’t used in a while.

“Every day you can’t sit on the laptop,” he said. “At times, you feel depressed.”

India’s middle class is central to more than the economy. It fits into India’s broader ambitions to rival China, which has grown faster and more consistently, as a regional superpower.

To get there, the Indian government may need to address the people the coronavirus has left behind. Household incomes and overall consumption have weakened, even though the sales of some goods have increased recently because of pent-up demand. Many of the hardest hit come from India’s merchant class, the shopkeepers, stall operators or other small entrepreneurs who often live off the books of a major company.

“India is not even discussing poverty or inequality or lack of employment or fall in incomes and consumption,” said Mahesh Vyas, the chief executive of the Center for Monitoring of the Indian Economy. “This needs to change first and foremost,” he said.

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