The year in business: who were the winners and losers? | Business

January

Just days into 2018 the vast government outsourcing and construction business Carillion collapsed into bankruptcy. Chairman Keith Cochrane, chief executive Richard Howson and former finance directors Zafar Khan and Emma Mercer were eventually branded “delusional” by MPs as the full extent of the failings at the business became clear in bruising hearings. The bankruptcy is estimated to have ended up costing the taxpayer £150m.

Julian Dunkerton, founder of Superdry, cashed out £18m in shares of the fashion retailer at the start of the year just before he quit the brand he started in 2003. Those same shares are worth about a quarter of that now, after a torrid year for British retailers, bashed by shoppers moving online, Brexit uncertainty and unseasonable weather. The sale might have been good timing … but the value of his remaining 18% stake has since been hammered – and is down more than £230m. The former boss – who quit the company in March – is not happy. He reckons he could do a better job than chief executive Euan Sutherland and has launched a comeback campaign.

Bruce Ritchie, a Mayfair property developer who founded Residential Land, and David Meller, from the luxury good specialist Meller Group, are now better known as the men behind the Presidents Club. The all-male event was shut down after a Financial Times exposé revealed alleged sexual harassment at a black-tie dinner, and shone a light on sexism in the City. Meller was forced to resign from the board of the education department in the aftermath.

Nicky Morgan



Nicky Morgan, Conservative MP for Loughborough and Chair of the Treasury select committee at her office in Portcullis House. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

February

Nicky Morgan, the Conservative MP, has set about chairing the powerful Treasury select committee in the same spirit as her predecessors, holding the government’s feet to the fire on Brexit and keeping the financial sector on its toes. In February the committee made public a confidential report by the Financial Conduct Authority into shocking misconduct at Royal Bank of Scotland’s global restructuring group.

March

Michael Spencer, the City financier and former Conservative party treasurer, netted some £670m in March when the company he founded, Nex Group, was bought by CME Group, the world’s largest exchange. Spencer,is still involved in politics.

Lady Judge was chair of the Institute of Directors and known as the “best connected woman in Britain” until March. She served in high-powered roles such as the UK Atomic Energy Authority before becoming the IoD’s first female head, but that role ended in ignominy after allegations of racism and bullying within the organisation, which focuses on promoting good corporate governance.

April

Mike Coupe, chief executive of Sainsbury’s, shocked the retail world when the FTSE 100 company and its Walmart-owned rival, Asda, announced plans for a merger to create the country’s biggest supermarket. Coupe was then filmed, ahead of an interview on ITV, singing “We’re in the money”, into a hot mic. The deal and his song, Sainsbury’s insisted, were totally unconnected.

Jeff Fairburn, the former chief executive of Persimmon, was handed a pay packet that was more like a lottery win with a £110m bonus after the housebuilder’s profits were pumped up in part by the government’s help to buy subsidy. In April, despite widespread outrage, investors voted 51% to approve it . Persimmon eventually cut Fairburn’s bonus to only £75m and he promised to set up a charitable foundation. Fairburn finally lost his job in November after a disastrous local TV interview, but he keeps the money – and there is still no sign of that charitable foundation.

Liv Garfield, chief executive officer of Severn Trent.



Liv Garfield, chief executive officer of Severn Trent. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

May

Liv Garfield, chief executive of Severn Trent and the FTSE 100’s youngest female boss at 43, picked up Veuve ­Clicquot’s prestigious Business Woman of the Year award. Garfield’s rapid ascent started at BT and she joined the water utility in 2014. But her biggest challenge could lie ahead: if Labour win the next election the water companies are top of shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s list for nationalisation.

As chief executive of TSB, Paul Pester had big plans to make the high street challenger a real force in British banking. But then came a massive computer glitch, which resulted in millions of customers being locked out of their bank accounts, some for several weeks. Pester did not react well to a grilling from MPs, and was forced to forfeit his bonus in May. By September he was an ex-chief executive.

June

Sir Martin Sorrell, the ex-chief executive of FTSE 100 ad agency WPP, had quite a year. He resigned abruptly in April from the company he transformed from the wire shopping basket manufacturer he had tuned into a global marketing and advertising giant. His departure came after allegations of “personal misconduct”, which he denied. Explaining his departure he said: “WPP is not just a matter of life or death, it was, is and will be more important than that”. In June came allegations that he had been spotted by colleagues entering premises in Mayfair used by sex workers. An investigation found there was no proof of misuse of company money and Sorrell, 73, has since bounced back with a new advertising company.

Richard Branson, the billionaire owner of the Virgin empire, enjoyed a healthy bump in his already considerable wealth in June as CYBG, the owner of the Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank brands, swooped for Virgin Money in a £1.7bn deal to create the UK’s sixth largest lender. Branson owned a 35% stake, and will continue to earn licensing revenues as the Virgin brand is extended across the UK.

July

Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, became the world’s richest person as a result of fast rising tech company share prices. By September the company was worth $1tn (£788bn) and Bezos was worth more than $160bn. Since then tech stocks have fallen sharply – and Amazon is down 27%, but Bezos is still worth ¢117bn.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, has had a tough year at the helm of the company whose motto used to be “don’t be evil.” In July Pichai had to contend with a £3.8bn fine and a dressing down from the European commission after competition concerns on its Android operating system. Since then there have been internal sexual harassment protests and a row over plans to produce a censored search engine for China.

August

Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, will forever be the man who led the first listed company to a valuation of more than $1tn. However, the trillion-dollar landmark did not last long amid a deep market sell-off in October and concerns that iPhone sales growth was waning – with particular attention on the troublesome Chinese market.

Elon Musk



A year of controversy for Elon Musk. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

Elon Musk, the founder of the Tesla electric carmaker, is hailed by many as a visionary, but even visionaries have to abide by market abuse rules. So when he tweeted in August – reportedly while driving himself to work – that he had “funding secured” for a private buyout of the car firm, an immediate investigation was launched. In October the US Securities and Exchange Commission forced him to resign the role of chairman (although not chief executive) and fined the billionaire $20m. It wasn’t Musk’s only controversial moment this year – he also called a British cave diver trying to rescue trapped Thai boys a “pedo” and was pictured smoking marijuana while recording a podcast.

September

Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire owner of News Corporation, may have failed in his aim to take over the broadcaster Sky, but the £12bn payday for his company, 21st Century Fox, when it sold shares will probably sweeten the pill. Murdoch is also in the process of a separate $71.3bn sale of Fox to Disney. Comcast ended up paying £30bn for Sky, significantly more than the £18bn bid made by Fox in December 2016.

Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive of Uber, has tried to take a different path from founder Travis Kalanick’s abrasive manner since taking over in August 2017. However, changing the ride-hailing company’s culture has proved to be no easy feat: Khosrowshahi was forced to apologise for the app’s mistakes in London in September, a year after Transport for London moved to remove its licence in the capital.

October

Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, once said he wasn’t very impressed by Facebook: “I’m not especially bedazzled by Facebook,” he wrote. “I actually find the messianic Californian new-worldy-touchy-feely culture of Facebook a little grating.”

But then he lost his parliamentary seat and his career trajectory started to head south – and took a new job in the US as global head of communications at Facebook. One of his top priorities will be to avoid a regulatory showdown with Brussels at a time when Facebook’s policies and behaviour are under scrutiny – not least after Sheryl Sandberg was accused of condoning a smear campaign against financier George Soros.

Sir Philip Green, the owner of Topshop parent Arcadia, is no stranger to controversy, but this autumn he was named in parliament as the man behind multiple non-disclosure agreements. The NDAs still hold, but Green has denied “unlawful sexual or racist behaviour”.

November

Denise Coates, chief executive of Bet365, is the best paid woman in Stoke, and the rest of the world, for that matter. Coates turned her father’s bookmaker into one of the world’s biggest online gambling businesses. Her record-breaking £265m annual pay packet provoked criticism, but it is a private, family-owned company and she controls it.

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Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of Renault, apparently had little idea that he was about to be arrested and detained when he arrived in Tokyo in November. The Lebanese-Brazilian executive, who forged an alliance between France’s Renault and Japan’s Nissan and Mitsubishi – one of the very biggest names in the global motor manufacturing business – was shopped by Nissan for allegedly underreporting his income. The Japanese firms quickly ousted him from their boards, leaving the alliance – and Ghosn’s freedom – in the balance.

December

Ray Kelvin was probably the biggest name in retail no one had ever heard of – until 300 former and current employees of his Ted Baker fashion firm signed a petition on campaigning website Organise complaining about his behaviour, including “forced hugs” and ear kissing. The company said Kelvin’s hugs were “part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon”. But then details of an office brawl emerged – which had earned Kelvin a formal warning – and “further serious allegations” eventually prompted the rag trade multimillionaire to take leave of absence while an independent investigation is carried out.

It’s not been such a great year for Nick Robertson, the co-founder of Asos. He has watched the value of his stake in the online fashion retailer fall by around 70% – or £275m – between its peak in March and the aftermath of a shock profit warning in December. The British retail sector laboured during 2018, but analysts were taken aback by declining margins online at a time when most eyes were on the travails of the high street.

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