Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Worst business decisions of the year? (Maybe 2012 wasn’t all that bad, after all.)

There is only one thing I like about ringing in the new year, and that’s the look-back lists that pop up starting in mid-December. You know, those Top 10, Bottom 10, Best of Times, Worst of Times lists that I end up poring over as if they actually mattered. I mean, I’ll look through the Top 10 Movie lists even in years – like the one just closed – when I actually don’t go to the movies at all.

I’m even capable of whipping off a Top Me-related Things list of my own. 2012’s personal best:

  • Hearing from the oncologist and surgeon that my husband’s outcome from extensive cancer treatment was the ‘best outcome possible.’ (Fingers and toes remain crossed.)
  • Taking our nieces to Rome for their April vacation. (Bonus that this occurred in the midst of Jim’s treatment – post-radiation chemo/pre-gruesome surgery.)
  • Seeing Bruce Springsteen at Fenway with my sister Trish. (Next time The Boss comes to town, we’re taking Kath. Just as Trish initiated me into fandom, so we will jointly get Kath there.)

But I do like those lists, so I enjoyed the one I found on Money/MSM that catalogued the “worst business moves of 2012.”

First up, the Apple Maps fiasco, in which Apple replaced old quasi-reliable Google Maps with their own. This turned out to be colossal bollix, one that gave new meaning to the expression “get lost.” Because this was Apple, which usually gets it mostly right, there was a lot of shock and awe going around that they would release an app that was so incredibly faulty. Because this was Apple, the problem was magnified by the application of a thick layer of schadenfreude. (Pink Slip had a bit to say about this one.)

The Hostess CEO’s decision to cut pay by 8% companywide, while sparing himself the cut, also made the list. Talk about a ‘let them eat cake’ move. Frankly, I was too disheartened by Hostess’ closing down after years of piss-poor management and employee-screwing that I gave this company’s demise a blog pass. But I had commented on their bankruptcy earlier in the year. And what a heel this guy must be to keep his full $125K/month while nickel and diming the rank and file.

Then there was Yahoo’s giving Scott Thompson the heave-ho over a minor résumé exaggeration. It seems he claimed that he had a degree in computer science and accounting, when he really had a degree in business administration/accounting. As résumé exaggerations go, this one doesn’t seem to me to rise to the level of fire-able offense – it’s not like he lied about the school, or the level of degree obtained, or whatever. He didn’t say he went to Stanford and claim he had inadvertently confused Stonehill with Stanford. He didn’t say he had a Wharton MBA because one day he drove by Penn. But Thompson was caught out in a lie, and he was the CEO , so… Über baby mama Marissa Mayer, who got to be his replacement, is probably thankful that Yahoo was so persnickety.

I missed Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn’s affair to remember, but I’m sure the 29-year-old leadership trainer can recall that during a couple of business trips when the star-crossed lovers were separated he contacted her – e-mail, phone call, text – over 200 times. Glad to see he was using electronics!

Ah, to be young and in love. Too bad Dunn was 51 and running the company. He did get some walking around money when he left: $6.6 million worth of severance.

I also missed Groupon’s psychodrama, in which it was leaked that the board was considering dismissing the CEO and replacing him with someone with the experience to do something about the 80% drop in share price. They ended up keeping Andrew Mason, but those board meetings must be a bit tense and paranoia-inducing. I did have a tangentially Groupon-related post about a company investor who paid way over market price for his mansion. (Come to think of it, overpaying for your house is kind of in keeping with the major share price plummet, isn’t it?)

Also on the list: J.C. Penney’s failed turnaround strategy. Whatever it was, it hasn’t worked so far, and the company lost several billion in 2012. 

Hallmark UK issued what Money/MSN calls the “worst birthday card ever”, and I’d have to agree that a greeting aimed at a newly minted teen that has the following sentiment is pretty tasteless:

"You're 13 today! If you had a rich boyfriend, he'd give you diamonds and rubies. Well, maybe next year you will -- when you've bigger boobies!"

So much for those three-hanky, sap-orific Hallmark ads where the sweet young piano student sends her crotchety old piano teacher a card telling him just how – sniff, sniff – swell he is. Hallmark’s excuse was that the inappropriate card was produced by a company they acquired, and they hadn’t realized that it was still in circulation. Personally, I find it a lousy card on many different levels, but I can actually see some kids that age feeling very grown up and fun about sending it.

The Denny’s franchiser who threatened to add a surcharge to bills to cover the cost of Obamacare – and who “even suggested that customers could reduce the tip they give their servers in order to pay that surcharge” -  found a place on the worst-of-business list. Deservedly so. Nothing like taking your political pique out on those whose misfortune it is to have to earn their living serving obesity-inducing breakfasts at a Denny’s.  But about what you’d expect from a chain with the reputation that Denny’s has managed to cultivate for itself over the years. (Obesity-inducement is the least of it…)

No surprise that Facebook’s IPO made the cut. I didn’t do an aftermath on the IPO, which would have been a combination of gloat over greed-head losses, and elegy for the (yet again) little guy investor who gets rolled. But I did make note of the Facebook fellow who was going to renounce his US citizenship to spare himself post-IPO taxes. (Interestingly, the Facebook IPO also made one “best business moves” list because it made Marky Z and a bunch of employees oodles of money, even if the actual oodle turned out to be less than the anticipated oodle.)

The final bad business decision on the list was all the money that Wall Street threw behind Scott Brown, only to see their worst nightmare (that would be Elizabeth Warren) prevail. 

The securities and investments industry spent $3 million supporting Brown… The financial, insurance and real-estate sector gave him $6 million.

Well, it may not be Facebook IPO money, but $9M is not exactly loose change.

When you give money like that, you'd better make sure you give it to the winning candidate.

I don’t imagine Lizzie would have taken it…

Anyway, given all the strife in the world, I must say that, business-wise, if the above was the worst that 2012 produced, it was a pretty darned calm year.


Cathy Angellis said...

Excellent assessment of the 2012 year in business!

Cathy Angellis said...

Excellent assessment of the 2012 year in business. Glad I'm retired!