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Robot fan jumps at iRobot’s offer

Chris Morris for The Boston Globe

When a headhunter contacted Mohamed Ali about joining iRobot’s board of directors, Ali jumped at the chance.

After all, the Carbonite chief executive is a longtime fan of the Bedford robotics company. Ali expects that he’ll bring his experience in data analytics, honed during his days at IBM, to the table at iRobot board meetings. (The new board position, unveiled last month, comes with $220,000 in restricted stock.)

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Ali can also bring his experience as a customer. Carbonite recently started using a telepresence robot that frequently travels autonomously through the offices of Carbonite’s downtown Boston headquarters, giving engineers who are in California or Germany an opportunity to participate in meetings here.

The AVA 500 from iRobot is about 5 feet tall when cruising around, with a video screen that allows the remote worker to interact with others in a meeting, and leaves a bigger impression than a speaker phone. “You don’t forget about them because there’s this big metal thing in the room, staring at you,” Ali said.

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The workers at Carbonite, which specializes in data backup and storage, haven’t given the robot an official name yet. But Ali refers to it as “the Virtual Paddy,” a reference to Carbonite vice president Paddy Sreenivasan, a frequent user of the robot. — JON CHESTO

TIAA-CREF expands its footprint in Cambridge

TIAA-CREF, the big New York retirement fund manager for academics and health care workers, has expanded its Harvard Square digs. It has 18 staffers there now, tending to clients including Harvard University, MIT, the Whitehead Institute, and Boston College.

TIAA chief executive Roger Ferguson , in town last week to help mark the new office opening on Mt. Auburn Street, also spent a couple of hours at Draper Labs for a brownbag lunch, talking retirement and investments.

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Customers of the $869 billion investment manager were a little rattled by the market’s recent volatility, Ferguson said. “It’s a real cross-section of America,’’ spanning professors, scientists, doctors and maintenance workers, he added. His advice: Plan for the long term and don’t do anything rash in a rough market. — BETH HEALY

Politico: In Boston and up (very) early

Politico is billing Wednesday’s launch event for Massachusetts Playbook as a breakfast conversation with Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and chief White House correspondent Mike Allen.

But for Lauren Dezenski, who assembles the daily roundup of top stories in Bay State politics, the 9 a.m. start time will feel more like midday.

Dezenski, a former Dorchester Reporter scribe, rises each morning at 3:30 a.m. to begin scanning news sites and mining Twitter for the stories Massachusetts political junkies need to start their days.

Massachusetts Playbook, a local version of the popular national newsletter, arrives in subscribers’ inboxes around 7 a.m.

Dezenski has been in the routine for about a month, since a soft launch in August, and said the key to her early start is avoiding the snooze button.

“I only set one alarm — I’m not a multiple-alarm person,” she said. “I’ve found that no matter if I’m waking up at 3:30 or waking up at 9, I’m good to go if I get up right away. If I let it linger, I just can’t.” — CALLUM BORCHERS

With new ad campaign, Blue Cross gets flashy

Health insurance is not something we tend to think much about unless we’re sick and need to see a doctor. With a flashy new ad campaign, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is trying to change that.

The insurer’s latest promotion involves a big blue truck that will show up at various “healthy” events around Boston this month and surprise people with good-for-you giveaways, from sunscreen to water bottles to exercise bands.

The Boston advertising firm Allen & Gerritsen is running the campaign.

The blue truck showed up at a Zumba class at the Hatch Shell last week with a DJ and a laser light show. It will make its way to other gatherings, from intramural sports games to farmers markets, until the end of September. The exact locations are a secret.

If this is not something you would expect a health insurance company to do, that’s the point, said Kathy Varney, Blue Cross’s senior vice president of brand management and marketing communications.

“This is about celebrating healthy lifestyles,” Varney said.

The upside for Blue Cross?

When people stay healthy and avoid costly hospital stays, the insurer spends less on claims. — PRIYANKA DAYAL MCCLUSKEY

Johnson & Johnson chief gets a rousing ovation

Johnson & Johnson chief executive Alex Gorsky got a rousing ovation at a Boston College Chief Executives Club luncheon last Friday. But in a keynote speech to guests, he steered clear of anything controversial, making only an oblique reference to the growing backlash against the rising costs of new drugs, medical devices, and other health care products.

“In the end, living longer will likely cost more,” Gorsky, a West Point graduate, told the business leaders.

Based in New Brunswick, N.J., Johnson & Johnson has 127,000 employees worldwide and generates annual sales of $75 billion.

It also operates a J&J Innovation Center in Cambridge’s Kendall Square that’s focused on collaborations with local biotechnology and medical care startups.

Gorsky was introduced by Jeffrey Leiden, chief executive of Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., who thanked his hosts for providing a good view of Vertex’s headquarters across the harbor. Also at the head table was Peter Slavin, the president of Massachusetts General Hospital. — ROBERT WEISMAN

Can’t keep a secret? Tell us. E-mail Bold Types at boldtypes@globe.com.
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