Egalitarian of the Year

In a widely contested field, it’s difficult to look past Teodorin Obiang, the son of the leader (others call him a dictator) of Equatorial Guinea. Despite having a relatively high level of GDP per capita, more than 70% of Equatorial Guinea citizens live in poverty (surviving on less than $2 per day). Despite the widespread suffering, Obiang has managed to acquire mansion in Malibu (worth $US35 million), a private jet ($US33 million jet) and a fleet of luxury cars. An especially impressive feat given that Obiang received a salary of US$6799 per month while serving as the national agriculture minister.

Corporate Citizen of the Year

To Anglo-American oil giant, British Petroleum. To ensure safety for employees and assets, BP created strict guidelines which barred employees from ever carrying a cup of coffee which didn’t have a lid. Sadly, BP’s adherence to safety wasn’t universal, due to cost considerations, the oil company did not create any standard procedures for how to conduct a “negative-pressure test”. Failure to conduct the inexpensive test led to the 2010 explosion at its Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and resulted in 11 deaths, 4.9 billion barrels of oil spilling and a total cost of more than $20 billion.

Backflip of the Year

To BRW Rich List member, and the former CEO of Toll Holdings, Paul Little. Little told a conference earlier this year “private equity tends to financially engineer outcomes and I would have to say that in transport and logistics I really don’t believe they have succeeded”. While Little may very well be correct regarding his views, he appears to have a short memory — in 1986, Little engineered the private equity buyout of Toll which formed the foundation of his $500 million wealth.

Premature Compliment of the Year

To Ausdrill chairman Terry O’Connor, who may have been a little early in praising the appointment of new director, Wal King (the former CEO of Leighton Holdings). O’Connor boasted to Austrill shareholders that the appointment of King “is a most significant step for Ausdrill to secure the services of a person who is widely acknowledged as one of Australia’s finest business leaders”. A few months later, King’s legacy lay in tatters as Leighton’s announced a string of losses. The construction company was even forced into an emergency capital raising after announcing a shock loss of almost $500 million ($1 billion less than what King had claimed would occur). The losses were on projects all commenced under King’s reign. In his last few years as head of Leighton and since, King oversaw a share price drop of almost 70%.

Saint Mary McKillop Award for Care of the Underprivileged

To Heritage Victoria, which in its wisdom, allowed the development of a grand 1930s house in Melbourne’s famous, heritage listed St Vincent’s Place in Albert Park. In announcing its reasoning, Heritage Victoria claimed that it allowed a permit for the black, three story mansion because if it didn’t issue the permit, it would cause ‘undue financial hardship’ to the owner. Apparently, that hardship involved the owner only receiving $3 million for the property, rather than $4.4 million (which the property was offered for sale soon after).

Secured Creditor of the Year

To the very generous Pacific Equity Partners, the wealthy private equity firm who owned Borders and Angus and Robertson — Australia’s oldest book chain. PEP invested $225 million in the bookstores in back in 2004, and proceeded to run them so poorly that in early 2011, they called in the corporate undertakers from Ferrier Hodgson. Somewhat fortunately for PEP, a couple of months before the collapse, it bought out some New Zealand-based noteholders in exchange for registering a $170 million charge over the company’s assets, giving it priority over other creditors (like employees or voucher holders). The shrewd move appeared to contradict PEP’s website which proudly boasts that the firm’s approach to business is “built on partnership and trust”.

Prediction of the Year

To recently appointed Australian Cricket captain, Michael Clarke, who boasted in November that his Australian team would “have the edge” against their South African opponents and were “100% prepared” and were enjoying a “winning feeling”. Three days later, Clarke led the Australian team to a humiliating defeat, with the team recording their lowest score since 1902.

Sponsorship Deal of the Year

To Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino from the cult MTV reality show Jersey Shore. Sorrentino who earned US$10 million in 2010, managed to obtain a “substantial sum” from fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch in exchange for not wearing Abercrombie & Fitch in public. In the first recorded instance of a celebrity being paid to refrain from doing something, an Abercrombie spokesperson noted: “Mr Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image.”

Protest of the Year

In a year which saw the Arab Spring uprising, London Looting and “Occupy” protests across the globe, one of the world’s most violent demonstrations occurred not against an autocratic dictatorship, but rather, the sacking of a football coach. After Penn State University fired its 84-year-old football coach, Joe Parerno (for covering up a s-x scandal involving an assistant coach and eight young boys), students rioted, destroying vehicles, throwing rocks at reporters and attempted to set the campus on fire. The uprising was eventually quelled by riot police.

The John Edwards Award for not Practicing what one Preaches

To former IBM executive, Glenn Boreham, who headed the federal government’s Convergence Report. After coming up with a finding that mainstream media was losing all relevance and content restrictions should be eased, Boreham proceeded to leak the contents of that same report to those very media outlets which were apparently no longer relevant. Boreham then proceeded to claim he was a free markeeter, while at the same time, recommending foreign owned companies like Google and Facebook be forced to fund Australian content, which presumably, isn’t able to be produced by the free market which Boreham loves.

Massage of the Year

To “Tiffanie”, the former prostitute who provided a remedial massage to disgraced former NSW Energy Minister, Ian McDonald. The massage sadly didn’t assist McDonald’s sore neck as he fell asleep soon after. In any other western jurisdiction, the notion of a murder suspect paying for a prostitute to perform services for a sworn government minister in order to allegedly get favorable commercial treatment would be considered scandalous. In New South Wales, it is fairly normal business practice.

Peter Fray

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