This has been anything but a normal year. One of the strangest U.S. elections in history has finally ended, and businesses have come and gone. Throughout the year, a few people and organizations have stood out as leadership beacons, showing the world the best way to accomplish things. Conversely, others have shown themselves to be less-than-stellar leaders and role models.
We’ve looked back at the last year and all the crazy events that have happened. With that, here’s our rundown of the best and worst moments in leadership.
There were undoubtedly some great leaders this year. Numerous people spent 2016 trying to make a difference and show others the good that can be done. While there are hundreds of people who fit the bill as good and thoughtful leaders, here’s our top five list.
Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO, Chobani
The smartest leaders are the ones who look out for their employees. Chobani’s Hamdi Ulukaya fits into that category, thanks to his recent plan to give employees shares in the company. Of course, offering stock programs for employees isn’t unheard of, but Chobani is a somewhat new and very successful company (it’s currently making $1 billion in revenue). Employees can transfer these shares into stock or cash in the event of a sale or IPO, which is something most workers aren’t able to do. According to Ulukaya, he wants those at Chobani to be truly invested in the company’s growth.
However altruistic this move may seem, it’s also a smart business tactic for retaining talent and maintaining internal satisfaction. All the same, you’d be hard pressed to find other companies at Chobani’s scale that have offered similar programs.
Ulukaya, however, doesn’t stop at just stock options. He’s also committed to giving all kinds of workers an option for employment. He’s committed to offering refugees a place to work. This has caused some to call for a full-on Chobani boycott. Ulukaya didn’t back down, and days after the boycott was announced, he told Fast Company at our annual Innovation Festival that he plans to continue helping out those in need.
Barack and Michelle Obama
This has been the Obama’s final year in the White House, and no matter which end of the political spectrum you’re on, it’s undeniable that they got a lot done. What’s more important for this list: They’ve shown the world how to be a calm, cool, and respected leaders. In the latest Gallup approval ratings, President Obama had more than half of the country signing off on what he did. And the first lady has continually made headlines with her thoughtful, composed speeches that connect with American women.
In October, Michelle Obama gave a speech in New Hampshire that was considered one of the best and most powerful presentations given this election season. “It was for the absolute master class she offered in that elusive quality of leadership: ‘authenticity,'” wrote the Washington Post. Throughout the year, she was the go-to woman for words that both galvanized audiences and made everyone feel included.
Meanwhile, President Obama has led the country–dramatically reducing unemployment, building a national health care system, and working toward an international climate change agreement. While some may disagree with the policies, Obama’s leadership style was never confrontational, always presidential. The president and the first lady were a leadership dream team, trying to make change in the world and compel fellow Americans to act.
The mayor of Washington, D.C., may not appear to be an obvious choice at first glance, but she had a major moment this month. Bowser, who campaigned on a platform to foster a culture of inclusion, transparency, and action, was sworn in on January 2015. Since then, she’s earned solid support for improving public schools and reducing corruption.
This year, Bowser led a charge to make Washington, D.C., a capital of tech industry to rival hubs such as New York City, Boulder, Austin, and others. With a population dominated by black and Latino residents, this goal also paves the way for more inclusion in a very homogenous industry. The city’s Innovation & Technology Inclusion Council just released its first “Pathways to Inclusion Report,” that details both strengths and weaknesses. Most notably, the lack of computer and broadband access in black homes is contributing to the lack of representation in D.C.’s 30,000 tech jobs. This level of transparency stands in contrast to companies in the tech sector that have delayed publishing their diversity numbers, potentially setting the industry’s efforts back even further.
This year, Bill and Melinda Gates received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In his note describing why they received the honor, President Obama explained that the foundation donated millions of dollars to help “all people lead healthy, productive lives.” The foundation has done work in the U.S. and developing countries.
Melinda Gates has been at the helm of that Foundation, but that’s not the only thing she’s been doing. In September she announced her own initiative to provide resources to get more women in tech, a problem she sees as fundamental. Gates uses her enormous wealth to create platforms for good, and this latest initiative may spotlight the issue of gender parity in tech.
How a company visualizes both its and the world’s future shows a lot about what it values. For Google, renewable energy has been a quiet pillar.
Over the last few years, the company has been inking deals with various renewable energy companies in the hopes that it would be able to lower its carbon footprint. This December, the company announced something big: The tech giant will run entirely on renewable energy in 2017, including its data centers.
Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that. While Google computers and offices are run via local energy companies that are powered by a number of nonrenewable sources, the company has spent years investing in renewable energy–including wind, solar, etc.–that are then plugged back into the grid to offset what the company has been consuming, reports the New York Times. These investments, beyond just making the company carbon neutral, also give vital capital to renewable energy sources so that they can scale and become more mainstream. Thanks to the incremental deals Google has been forging with these companies for nearly a decade, the company has been able to make environmentally friendly energy more readily available.
Other companies have made similar gains–Microsoft notably considers itself carbon neutral, although a great deal of that is due to work it’s done with renewable projects like tree planting. Google’s attempt to allow for new, sustainable businesses to grow help make it possible for new forms of energy to become a part of the world’s energy consumption. The company says that it’s going to continue investing and seeking out better energy avenues.
The Apple CEO went to bat with the FBI when the department asked that the company make a backdoor in its software so the government could more easily access user data. He posted an open letter, describing the demands as “chilling,” as a way to signal that Apple would protects its users’ privacy.
The Black Lives Matter activist has been speaking out, going to protests, and trying to get people politically involved for quite a while now. Mckesson has been working both on the streets and digitally to highlight the Black Lives Matter movement. And 2017 likely won’t slow him down.
Much like last year, it wasn’t difficult to point to examples of bad behavior on both the individual and corporate level. Here is a short, and by no means comprehensive list of ethics breached, responsibilities shirked, narcissism flagrantly displayed, and other scorched earth behavior.
In addition to an operating ploy that led Wells Fargo employees to open up millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts to meet cross-selling targets, the bank took advantage of a tax law loophole to give a “bonus” of over $100 million to Carrie Tolstedt, an executive who oversaw Wells Fargo’s Community Banking group where much of the fraud happened. The company then deducted $78 million of that from its taxes, “effectively giving itself a $27 million tax boost.” Shortly after the news broke, Tolstedt left the company without severance or $19 million in unvested equity awards.
Further investigations revealed that the largest bank in the U.S. (by market value) allegedly fired staff who blew the whistle on this unethical practice.
Wells Fargo maintained that those 5,300 employees who opened up 1.5 million false bank accounts and 565,000 fraudulent credit cards on behalf of its customers acted alone. A spokesperson for the bank also told Fast Company that Wells Fargo has a non-retaliation policy for reporting on its EthicsLine, suggesting that the firings weren’t related to people calling to complain about the breach.
This year Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy. And this was all because billionaire Peter Thiel had an axe to grind with the news organization. For years he harbored ill will because of critical articles the site published–bullying, as he described it–and secretly funded a slew of lawsuits aimed at undercutting the company’s financials. The most high-profile lawsuit, a $100 million case with wrestler Hulk Hogan, hamstrung Gawker and ultimately forced it to become cashless.
Thiel didn’t just go after the company itself, but its editors and writers, too. In most cases journalists are protected by media organizations that give them the freedom to punch up to richer entities without fearing the wrath of a deep-pocketed foe. Thiel’s secret legal team used a series of legal maneuverings to try and make the writers themselves liable, which forced the assets of one former Gawker editor, A.J. Daulerio, to be frozen. Daulerio is still in legal limbo. Meanwhile, Thiel has continued to double down publicly on his disdain for the now-dead website.
Thiel, a Facebook board member, was outspoken in his support for Donald Trump, and donated $1.25 million to his campaign just before the election.
Back in June, Ailes, the chairman and megaforce behind Fox News, was sued for sexual harassment by Fox and Friends host Gretchen Carlson who had been fired after 11 years at the network. She said she was let go because she wouldn’t have sex with Ailes and complained about it. More reports surfaced after Carlson came forward. The Washington Post reported that 25 women spoke out with claims dating back to the 1960s. “Interviews with four of those women portray the 76-year-old television powerhouse as a man who could be routinely crude and inappropriate, ogling young women, commenting about their breasts and legs, and fostering a macho, insensitive culture,” according to the Post.
Ailes resigned a month later, but the stories keep coming. Although she was reportedly pressured to put out a positive statement in light of the events, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly devoted a whole chapter of her memoir to Ailes’s harassment. According to the New York Times, Lidia Curanaj, a reporter for Fox 5 in New York, filed a 28-page discrimination and hostile work environment suit against the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, saying that Ailes harassed her. Ailes continues to deny the allegations.
It’s been a rough year for Yahoo. The company has been trying to figure out a path forward, and things with Marissa Mayer at the helm haven’t been going as well as planned.
The company has been hacked multiple times and has been reticent to own up to the magnitude of the attacks. In September, Yahoo admitted that nearly 500 million accounts had been hacked by a “state-sponsored actor” back in 2014. It’s unclear when Yahoo became aware of the attack.
But that’s nothing compared to the most recent blunder: Now Yahoo has admitted that in 2013, hackers were able to obtain the records of over 1 billion users. This makes it one of the biggest attacks in history. While cyberattacks of these kind are becoming more commonplace, the magnitude of Yahoo’s security missteps are more glaring than nearly any company in history. Now, as Yahoo’s sale to Verizon may be in limbo, it becomes clear that the ailing company needs to figure out a strong path forward through stronger leadership.
President-Elect Donald Trump
Last year, the billionaire businessman and reality-TV host was on the presidential campaign trail, leaving scorched earth in his wake. This year, he continued a campaign that centered around insults and vulgarity, racism, sexism, and xenophobia, and was voted in to become the 45th president of the United States.
Emboldened by his newly won power, the PEOTUS has continued his attacks on critics, the media, the current administration, members of his own party, women who have claimed he sexually abused them, small business owners who were bankrupted when he failed to make good on payment of services rendered, and more.
But beyond his Twitter tantrums and controversial political moves, Trump’s transition and ongoing cabinet appointments point to many conflicts of interest as his businesses and family members remain tangled in his governing choices.
Not a week after his election, he’d surrounded himself with the same class of special interests and corporate leadership that he’d decried on the campaign trail. Fast Company is keeping a running list of the lobbyists that continue to be appointed to the transition team.
The company that makes EpiPens jacked up the price of the medical devices by over 500%. The company has since been fighting to defend its odious actions.
The State of Michigan
Whether the news headlines continue or not, the Flint water crisis persists. The city has been drinking contaminated water for years because of a decision to reroute the water source. Now the city remains in peril because of the government’s inaction and inability to fix the crisis.