The year 2013 might eventually come to be known as the year of selfies, Snowden, and secret Beyoncé albums. But before all of the details are lost to the ages, it's worth reflecting that the last year was also full of business lessons. Whether they were Leaning In, fat-shaming, or turning their companies around, the top business leaders this year provided instructive lessons in how to (and how not to) be successful. Below, some of the biggest business fails of 2013, as well as a few triumphs.
Five years after the financial crisis, is the American public still mad at the banks that sold bad mortgages? Of course it is, but JPMorgan didn't think twice about that when it announced an #askJPM Twitter chat in November. What it got was a barrage of snark and rage.
"As a young sociopath, how can I succeed in finance?" asked one Twitterer.
"Can I have my house back?" asked another.
The swift reaction was "arguably one of the fastest and most negative reactions to any major global brand on Twitter," says Paul Argenti, professor of management and corporate communication at the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth University in his list of the top communication blunders of 2013.
The company subsequently canceled the chat before it even started.
"Tomorrow's Q&A is cancelled. Bad Idea. Back to the drawing board," the company tweeted.
Lululemon Criticizes Women's Bodies
Lululemon's recall of a batch of see-through yoga pants was unfortunate, but the company handled it with good humor.
And then founder Chip Wilson opened his mouth, telling Bloomberg that women's bodies were partly to blame for subsequent complaints that even after the recall, Lululemon pants were pilling (a sign of fabric wear) and coming apart only months after they had been purchased.
"Quite frankly, some women's bodies just don't work for [the pants]," he said on Bloomberg. "It's really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time."
The result, as with #AskJPM, was a social media firestorm, not to mention plenty of angry Internet rants.
Blackberry Continues to Tank
This one wasn't so much one incident of spectacular failure as much as a chronic lack of success. The brand that was once at the top of the smartphone market is now an anachronism for many smartphone shoppers, and the company can't seem to catch a break with new models. The company's latest earnings report featured a $4.4 billion loss, following a second-quarter loss of almost $1 billion. The company's Blackberry 10, which had originally been framed as a potential brand saver, has failed to deliver since it was introduced earlier this year. Now, investors are left wondering how the company can turn itself around.
Eike Batista Loses His Fortune
Many Americans may have missed the story of the Brazilian businessman's spectacular fall, but it's worth reading. Once the richest person in Brazil with a net worth of $30 billion, Batista is now worth around $200 million, according to the International Business Times. The man who created oil company OGX in 2007 despite no experience in the industry pursued offshore drilling aggressively, only to find this year that his company's oil reserves were not what he had once thought. OGX defaulted on a $45 million bond payment in October and filed for bankruptcy. Sister shipbuilding company OSX soon followed, filing for bankruptcy in November.
Congress Approaches the Debt Ceiling. Again.
No, Congress isn't a business. But ask any CEO if it's a good idea to let investors know, over and over, that you're willing to hold your creditworthiness hostage over ideological spats, and he'll laugh in your face.
The U.S. fortunately didn't suffer any major credit rating downgrades this time around, but repeated threats of default won't exactly inspire investor confidence.
Schadenfreude can be fun, but it's worth taking time to appreciate some success stories. Below are 5 of the biggest business winners of 2013.
Netflix's Fantastic Year
Remember Qwikster? It's hard to remember Netflix's 2011 flop after a year when millions fell in love with Frank Underwood and Piper Chapman. Thanks in part to House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and the fourth season of Arrested Development, Netflix this year surpassed the 40 million subscriber mark, and in its latest quarterly earnings report said that its income had quadrupled.
The Facebook COO was perhaps 2013's biggest personal branding success, though it had nothing to do with the social media company. When she wasn't at her day job, Sandberg was promoting her bestselling book "Lean In" and starting a related "Lean In Foundation," aimed at boosting women at work. Though not everyone agrees with her ideas (to put it mildly), Sandberg's book defined discussions of gender dynamics in the workplace this year, making her a household name.
Beyoncé's Secret Album
If 2013 was the year Sheryl Sandberg built her personal brand, it was the year Beyonce showed off just how powerful hers already was. While releasing even a supremely successful album wouldn't ordinarily be a "business success," Beyonce's recent self-titled album release could change how other mainstream artists approach their releases.
The visual album consisted of 14 songs and music videos and was released on Dec, 13, without any prior announcements. In its first six days, it sold over 1 million copies on iTunes, where it was released exclusively, suggesting that trappings like traditional promotion and physical CDs are superfluous in the age of Instagram and .mp3s.
Amazon Teams Up with USPS
As if grocery delivery and making its own TV shows weren't enough. Amazon this year decided to upend Americans' understanding of the US Postal Service by announcing the two would join forces for Sunday delivery to Amazon Prime customers. The result is a win-win: not only will Amazon be able to boast delivery every day, but the agreement could lure more customers into Amazon's Prime service. Meanwhile, the flailing USPS will have a new avenue for taking in desperately needed revenue.
Feminism as Marketing Ploy
"What does self-esteem have to do with soap?" you may have asked yourself this year when bombarded by feel-good ads that took over Facebook this year. "And what does shampoo have to do with women succeeding at business?"
Valid questions, but they miss the point entirely. Companies like GoldieBlox, Pantene, and Dove this year crafted ads touting the brands' woman-friendly identities, generating massive social media goodwill and meaning plenty of online airtime: Dove's "Real Beauty Sketches" ad, for example, has been viewed more than 61 million times.