Magazine

The Best & Worst of 2006


COVER STORY PODCAST

It was a year of surprises. Sure, some companies hit their targets, hewed to their strategic plans, and got their products out on schedule. But we were struck by how many of the year's business developments were unpredictable, even downright weird. Who would have dreamed that YouTube would go from startup to a $1.65 billion cash-out in 18 months? Who could have foreseen Jonathan Schwartz's turnaround at Sun Microsystems or Martha Stewart's (MSO) smash alliance with KB Home (KBH) during a housing bust? Or the private equity rampage—note Blackstone's record $36 billion offer for part of Sam Zell's real estate empire—or some truly dizzying mistakes, such as Sony's exploding laptop batteries?

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BusinessWeek's second annual Best & Worst issue will guide you through the peaks and gulches. We begin with Leaders, from standouts like steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal to fallen titans like Pfizer's (PFE) Henry McKinnell. We offer a list of those CEOs who delivered good value to shareholders—and those who didn't. Don't forget the rogues' gallery of ex-CEOs in trouble with the law.

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Our picks for Products range over the innovation landscape. For a mere $1.5 million, you can get yourself the Eclipse 500 "very light" private jet, which heralds a new era in aviation. Too tame? Climb on the Honda (HMC) 2006 Gold Wing, the first motorcycle with an air bag. Other stars include the first cancer vaccine, a deluxe watch for lefties, and Cisco's (CSCO) spectacular new teleconferencing system.

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Finally, we scope out the Ideas that blossomed to change the business world in 2006. The most striking, perhaps: getting customers to do your work for you. In the Ideas We Wish They'd Never Had Dept.: backdating options, pretexting, and the O.J. Simpson book.

This year we also add a new feature, dubbed "The Jury Is Out," covering Leaders, Products, and Ideas whose fates aren't yet clear. Will Zune give the iPod a run for its music? Can Rick Wagoner fix GM (GM) drive train? Investors, place your bets.

By Harry Maurer


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