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Trump, Bezos, Musk And The Biggest Business Stories Of 2018

Chief Executive Magazine looks back over a tumultuous and disruptive year for business. The list of things that mattered the most starts with Trump, Bezos, and Musk, not surprisingly.

Breaking Bad: Carlos Ghosn and Papa John. The most shocking case has been the charge against Renault’s Carlos Ghosn for underreporting equity compensation in Japan. He remains in custody, and his case is still a mystery now that the French automaker gave him a lukewarm exoneration. The likely outcome will be to resist placing so much power in one person ever again. Brilliance is scalable. Morality is not.

The other case was John Schnatter, the founder and former chief executive of Papa John’s Pizza when he used the “N” word during a racial bias training. It seemed improbable for a chief executive to utter something so egregious, even a good old boy like Schnatter, and it was. He was telling an anecdote how another famous fast food founder, KFC’s Colonel Sanders, spoke when he started in the business. Papa John’s ad agency had organized the session, took offense at his remark, and quickly reported the matter to Forbes Magazine.

Racism and Starbucks. The retail coffee powerhouse felt the wrath of consumers when a store manager evicted two African American customers from the premises. The ruckus turned into a national boycott, with leaders from the black community ready to march in protest. Starbucks moved swiftly to quell the matter by making a donation to a related activist group and closing their stores nationwide for a day of bias training.

The incident was a warning that social media video tends to capture the reaction and not the cause of a customer mishap. Companies like Starbucks need to implement more realistic training for these kinds of sensitive issues and a help desk where their employees can escalate matters before calling the cops.

Nike and Colin Kaepernick. The former San Franciso 49ers quarterback became a folk hero, at least for his generation, after Nike signed him up for their ‘’believe in something even it if means sacrificing everything.” Some complained it was a sensation grabbing tactic that would hurt the company. In fact, Nike was of mixed opinion about the controversial football player and debated the issue for months according to the New York Times. It became a meme that led to an upgrade of Nike’s stock.

Apple and Warren Buffett. When the sage of Omaha became Apple’s second-biggest shareholder, it made news because he has never expressed love for a tech company (IBM doesn’t count). Now, with his latest move, tech is thoroughly mainstream, and the bad news is that even old-line industries isolated from Silicon Valley are in trouble. As Buffett said, “I love Apple because of the power of its brand and ecosystem.” Those factors are the new disruptors now, not algorithms.

California and Women Directors. Governor Jerry Brown signed the first legislation in the United States mandating California headquartered companies impanel a minimum of two female directors if the company has five directors, or three women if it has seven directors, by the close of 2021. Failure to meet this standard will result in a fine, but the real threat is bad publicity. While other states have not yet followed suit, the sunset state does tend to be a bellwether, and companies should be implementing fast acting gender plans for their boards. When the country tells the boardroom what to do it means boards are moving too slowly.

GE and Jeff Immelt. After announcing his resignation, Jeff Immelt was succeeded by John Flannery, a no-nonsense GE lifer who promised radical change. He delivered it by becoming the second CEO to leave in one year. The reins were passed to Larry Culp, a former CEO of Danaher, and whether he can bring back the heady days when GE was worth $600 billion (it is a tenth of that now) will be seen. One thing for sure, the board seems adrift. The battle they are losing is that old line industrial companies are going through the latter stage of disruption. GE may have figured out the right things to do, but hasn’t figured how to do them right.

Read more: Sonnenfeld: Trump, Tech and 2018’s Standout CEOs


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