What we learned in 2015

John Lewis loses its Christmas crown, Mark Zuckerberg's philanthropic failure, how to become a billionaire.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 08 Jan 2016

(1) The eagerly awaited (or dreaded, depending on your Christmas spirit) battle of the Christmas adverts is still a draw for the general public, but John Lewis lost a bit of its lustre this year. While the Man on the Moon ad was a success, Sainsbury’s classic featuring Mog the cat was the public’s favourite. If that wasn’t bad enough, Aldi also tried to trump John Lewis on its own turf, with a tongue-in-cheek rip-off.

(2) No matter how sincere you might be, if you’re the bigwig at the helm of a company, people are probably going to view any philanthropic endeavours with suspicion – just ask Mark Zuckerberg or Dan Price.

(3) Becoming a billionaire actually isn’t that difficult at all. As long as you’ve got four rather specific personality traits. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it makes the billionaire, apparently. But bear in mind once you've made your money, it's actually pretty tricky to hold onto it.

(4) Good PR can help stem a negative tide of public criticism, even in a comms crisis. Look at Merlin CEO Nick Varney – whose response to the Alton Towers disaster went a long way in salvaging reputation. Taking responsibility and sometimes simply saying sorry can go a long way. That memo must’ve got lost on its way to Thomas Cook.

(5) You might not believe it amid the sea of scandals in 2015 – from Volkswagen to Fifa to the New York Times exposé into Amazon’s working conditions – but there were some companies to be admired. Unilever picked up the MT gong for Most Admired Company and easyJet’s CEO Carolyn McCall won Most Admired Leader. Both welcome reminders that big businesses shouldn’t always be associated with bad behaviour.

EasyJet boss Carolyn McCall was MT's most admired leader

(6) Britain is now the European hotspot for billion-dollar start-ups – churning out 17 so-called 'unicorns' since the 2,000s. But France needs to get its act together: ride-sharing app BlaBlaCar is its only company to have broken through the $1bn mark. 

(7) Mike Ashley is a resilient soul – Sports Direct had an eventful year while he’s been waging war on the Rangers board. To cap off a turbulent 12 months, the Guardian released an undercover report into conditions at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse, which sent shares plummeting. Ashley has said he’ll personally investigate the situation. Whether that’s reassuring or not, we’ll leave you to decide.

(8) There’s really no time for sentimentality in the boardroom. The business landscape was something of a bloodbath for 2015 with heads rolling at some of Europe's biggest firms. Volkswagen's Martin Winterkorn, Barclays' Antony Jenkins and Morrisons' Dalton Philips were among the casualties this year.

(9) Progress has been made when it comes to FTSE 100 diversity – but there’s not much to shout about. Lord Davies’ initial target of 25% female representation on boards was reached, but the persistent problem regarding the lack of female executives remains. And it's not just gender diversity which hasn’t been convincingly tackled in 2015. There are still 62 all-white boards and only four non-white chief executives in the FTSE 100.

(10) The general public aren’t the only ones fed up with big businesses’ tax dodging behaviour. A group of local traders from the small Welsh town of Crickhowell decided enough was enough. They protested against the likes of Starbucks and Amazon using offshore arrangements to slash their corporation tax bills… by doing exactly the same.

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