20. Uniqlo Ditches Sander For New Designer
The Japanese casual wear designer replaced designer Jil Sander, who helped drive the brand to prominence, with experimental Japanese designer Jun Takahashi, just as the company invests heavily in the U.S. market. Takahashi's first collection with Uniqlo will debut in the spring, while Sander's wildly popular +J brand collection this fall will be her last.

Image: thinkretail
19. Music Labels Surrender To Spotify
After years of battling music piracy in the courts, three major labels--with Warner, the fourth, on the way--signed with "freemium" music-streaming service Spotify. Music executives and industry analysts say it could generate too little revenue and may jeopardize more lucrative download sales with Amazon or iTunes. But it's early to tell: Spotify just launched in the U.S. in July.

Image: nothingatall
18. Contract Drama Pits AMC Against "Mad Men" Creator
AMC fought Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner over cast cuts (to save money) and less episode time (for more ad time), leading to a half-year delay in the show's return. The contentious contract dispute pushed back filming by months, and Season 5 won't air until January.

Image: AMC
17. Walmart Ups Prices
Everyday low prices? Maybe not. The discount chain raised prices in tough times. It also began rolling out its first Walmart Express "mini-stores" in notoriously resistant urban markets, earning the ire of dollar stores chains that have flourished as shoppers seek bargain prices.

Image: Walmart Stores
16. GM Rolls Out Luxury Wheels
Despite economic uncertainty and less-than-robust vehicle sales, General Motors is trying to recapture the luxury-car market by revamping the Buick and launching the Cadillac Ciel. The top-of-the-line Buick Verano, set to go on sale later this year, will compete with the likes of the Acura TSX and Lexus IS 250, while the Ciel--which is enormous--has drawn comparison to Rolls-Royce.

Image: GM
15. Before Opening, "Spider-Man" Producers Fire Director
The producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark spent $65 million on the most expensive and technically ambitious show ever (which would have to run at capacity for 12-plus years to turn a profit). In March, they ousted Julie Taymor, its creative director of nine years, and delayed the opening by three months while a new director overhauled the show.

Image: Spiderman on Broadway
14. Cisco Restructures, Ending Flip Camera's Reign
Cisco flipped the switch on its popular Flip camera in a restructuring plan that also eliminated at least 6,500 jobs. After years of declining financial results, the troubled networking giant is returning to a more network-centric business-to-business strategy. In September, after "streamlining" its sales and engineering departments, the company posted conservative growth estimates for upcoming quarters.

Image: Cisco
13. Gap Hires New Creative Team, Fires Creative Director
Following a short-lived rebranding last fall (resulting in a switch back to the iconic blue logo), the flailing retailer hired a new creative team aimed at reversing a sales slide in North America--led by a new president who is a self-proclaimed non-merchant. In May, the company sacked creative director Patrick Robinson. Their upcoming spring 2012 collection features a brighter color palette than Gap is used to as the brand tried to lure customers back.

Image: thinkretail
12. Fox Taps "American Idol" Audience And Concept For "X Factor"
Fox cannibalized its flagship show American Idol with Simon Cowell's The X Factor. The new singing competition, adapted from the British version, debuted in September and features former Idol judge Paula Abdul at the judges' table alongside Cowell. While The X Factor is distinctly Idolesque, there's one key, high-stakes difference: winners on the new show take home a $5 million recording contract.

Image: American Idol
11. Kraft Splits Food Empire In Half
In the grand finale of a successful five-year restructuring, Kraft announced in August it would split the brand into two publicly traded companies: one focused on its global snacks business, and the other centered on its North American groceries business. The announcement took the market by surprise and came just 18 months after an $18 billion acquisition of Cadbury, the British confectionary.

Image: Sarah Braun
10. New York Times Charges For Web Content
Following the lead of the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, in March The New York Times erected a paywall betting that loyal readers would pay for top-notch content. It's a move that could have alienated longtime customers--but in July, the nytimes.com site announced that it had reached 224,000 digital subscribers, great news for traditional newspapers considering their own online paywalls.

Image: mlcastle
9. Microsoft Overpays For Skype
Microsoft acquired Skype in May for $8.5 billion, nearly three times Skype's market value, as estimated by eBay's sale of a 70% stake in the company to private investors last year. The acquisition was Microsoft's largest ever, and was surprising given the two companies' considerable overlap in free voice-and-video-chat offerings.

Image: jdlasica; niallkennedy
8. AT&T Bids For T-Mobile
AT&T spent $40 billion to acquire T-Mobile in a potential marriage between the country's second and fourth-largest wireless carriers that would unseat Verizon from its number-one spot. The deal--on track to become the largest of the year--has been held up by a Justice Department antitrust suit raising questions it would hamper competition and raise prices for consumers.

Image: FuzzyTech
7. S&P Cuts U.S. Credit Rating
S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating to AA+, stripping the world's largest economy of its prized Triple-A status. The move came amid partisan bickering over the debt ceiling and Bush-era tax cuts, and the credit rating agency blamed dysfunctional policymaking in Washington for its "negative" outlook.

Image: Stuck in Customs
6. AOL Buys HuffPost, Butts Heads With Arianna
AOL bet its future on Arianna Huffington by spending $315 million to acquire Huffintgon Post in February in an attempt to reverse its decade-long decline. The move brought AOL's local and national news under Huffington's control, and the queen of media made clear her role as boss: she quickly ousted TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington after learning about his controversial VC fund.

Image: TechCrunch; jdlasica; thekenyeung
5. Netflix Announces, Then Kills, Qwikster
After announcing a 60% price hike for customers watching both DVDs and online video, Netflix spun off its signature DVD-by-mail business into a separate service called Qwikster. The deal would have forced customers to make two separate accounts and pay for two separate services originally bundled together. But Qwikster met an early end: the plan was scrapped in October just four weeks after the announcement.

Image: Netflix
4. Nokia Ditches Symbian For Windows Phone
The struggling handset maker hitched its wagon to a less-than-popular Windows Mobile platform, spurning Android and casting aside its own flagship Symbian mobile operating system. The "strategic partnership" saves money for Nokia, which was spending $4 billion on R&D, while Microsoft can tap Nokia's loyal customer base.

Image: Nokia
3. ExxonMobil Spends $3.2B On Russian Oil Pact
ExxonMobil snatched up BP's blundered deal with Rosneft, Russia's state-run oil company, and invested $3.2 billion to explore potential oil fields in the Artic's frozen Kara Sea. The deal gives ExxonMobil access to substantial Russian reserves, while Russia may invest in Gulf of Mexico and Texan properties. It was hailed as a strategic business--and political--partnership between the U.S. and Russia.

Image: Getty Images
2. Groupon Says No To Google, Attempts IPO
Groupon turned down a $6 billion buyout bid from Google in favor of going public--a polarizing snub for the search giant. The move drove up Groupon's valuation and spurred dozens of copycat deal sites. But the company credited with making couponing cool hit some bumps on the road to its IPO: Amid criticism of its financial disclosures, its public offering has been repeatedly delayed.

Image: The DEMO Conference
1. HP Kills Its Tablet, WebOS--And Maybe PCs, Too
HP took a hatchet to its business in an apparent identity crisis. In August, HP moved to kill its WebOS software business, including a smartphone line and the TouchPad, the struggling tablet it released just a month earlier. Adding to the company's sweeping overhaul, it spent $10 billion in cash to buy U.K. software maker Autonomy and tried to ditch its PC business--a stunning move for the world's largest PC manufacturer. Then dumped its CEO of less than a year for Meg Whitman.

Image: HP

20 Riskiest Business Moves Of 2011

From Fox cannibalizing its flagship show to Netflix (almost) spinning off its DVD-by-mail business, here's a countdown of boldest steps companies made this year—and whether or not they were taking the right risks.

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