The year 2019 proved a mixed bag for global business leaders. While some vacated top positions at the organisations they founded and nurtured, some others were sacked for alleged misconduct and financial wrongdoings; and there also were tycoons who continued to rake in billions for their flourishing businesses.
Business Standard lists top 10 business personalities from across the globe who made the biggest headlines in 2019:
The year 2019 was full of upheavals for the Amazon founder. Early in the year, Bezos and his wife Mackenzie announced their intent to part ways and in April they reached a $35-billion divorce settlement. Two months later, Bezos sold $1.8 billion worth of shares in Amazon, reducing the value of his stake in the e-commerce behemoth to about $110 billion.
In another setback, Bloomberg Billionaires Index showed Bezos was replaced by Microsoft founder Bill Gates as the world's richest man. Bezos stood second in individual wealth, after losing part of his fortunes to his former wife in divorce settlement.
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) created history in the stock market in 2019 by becoming the first Indian company to breach the Rs 10-trillion valuation mark. RIL also replaced Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) to emerge as the number-one Indian company in revenue terms on the Fortune 500 list for the year. RIL’s revenues for the 2018-19 financial year, at Rs 5.81 trillion, was higher than IOC’s Rs 5.36 trillion.
In August 2019, RIL entered into a joint venture with BP plc for its fuel retail business in India.
Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, saw his wealth increasing by $528 million (approximately Rs 3,800 crore), primarily on account of RIL’s partial stake sale to Saudi Aramco and British Petroleum, besides healthy growth in the group’s telecom business (Reliance Jio).
Another major breakthrough for Ambani’s RIL in 2019 came when it surpassed BP Plc to break into the elite club of energy supermajors with a valuation of $138 billion. After Ambani announced his plans to cut RIL’s net debt to zero in 18 months, the pace of rise in the company’s shares in 2019 rose to thrice as much as that of the BSE benchmark Sensex.
After a 48 per cent increase in shares of Microsoft in November 2019, co-founder Bill Gates reclaimed the spot of the world’s richest person, surpassing Amazon’s Bezos. Gates may never have lost the top rank in the first place if it were not for his philanthropy — he has donated over $35 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since 1994.
In an interview in 2019, the billionaire philanthropist admitted that ceding the mobile operating systems (OS) space to Android was his biggest mistake. He stated that it was within their skillset of being the leading player in the smartphone OS market, but the company was distracted by an ongoing anti-trust litigation. In 2019, Microsoft boosted Gates’ net worth to $107.5 billion. He also remains an aggressive stock investor, with over 60 per cent of his portfolio in equities.
Whether it was dealing with demands from governments around the world or leading a workforce that was increasingly divided about culture and policies, Indian-American Sundar Pichai gradually worked his way up the corporate ladder in 2019. Already at the helm of Google LLC since 2015, Pichai in 2019 took over the parent company Alphabet Inc as its CEO after Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page stepped down from their leadership roles. Pichai became one of the most powerful corporate leaders in the world, spearheading all functional and significant operations of Google such as web search, Chrome project, YouTube, advertising, cloud computing and more.
As the new chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc, he will receive $240 million in stock awards over the next three years if he fulfils all of his performance targets, as well as a $2 million in annual salary starting 2020.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The year 2019 proved a topsy-turvy one for billionaire American businessman Elon Musk. The founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has always been someone who attracts praise and condemnation in equally strong measures — the former for his visionary leadership, and the latter for failing to meet deadlines and engaging in public disputes.
In 2019, Musk launched an electric battery-powered commercial vehicle, Cybertruck, which looked like an armoured wagon straight out of a video game. He also unveiled Smart Summon with an autonomous ‘fetch-my-car’ parking feature, but some found this a ‘glitchy’ experiment in automation.
Musk battled in courtrooms with unhappy shareholders and won a verdict in his Twitter defamation trail case with a cave diver. But the most remarkable development during the course of the year was Tesla’s third-quarter financial performance — its huge profits sent the company’s shares soaring on stock exchanges. As of 2019, Elon Musk remains the longest-serving CEO of any automotive manufacturing company globally.
The long-time head of Nissan Motor Co, Mitsubishi Motors and Renault SA, Carlos Ghosn resigned as the chairman and CEO of Renault on January 24, 2019. He was first arrested in November 2018 following multiple charges of financial misconduct and later sacked from all his roles at the auto firms.
On April 8, 2019, Nissan shareholders voted to remove the auto titan from the company’s board and Ghosn in July took action against French mass-media for defamation charges against him. Ghosn, who ruled over Nissan for two decades, was considered one of the most powerful executives in the automobile industry.
He may go on a trial in 2020 on a number of charges of corporate corruption for which he has been in jail in Japan. But the Brazilian-born executive hopes to beat the odds and turn things around for himself.
Jack Ma, the Chinese tycoon who ushered e-commerce into China as the co-founder of the Alibaba group, stepped down as the head of the company on September 10, handing over the reins of one of the world’s largest e-retailers to his handpicked successor Daniel Zhang.
Ma, who had become synonymous with the Alibaba Group, which he helped found in his apartment over 20 years ago, had given up the CEO’s role in 2013 and used his chairman’s post to develop managerial talent. In 2019, his departure marked the end of an era for Alibaba in China.
Ma, who has been an outspoken advocate for China’s extreme work culture, also said in April that people should be able to work just 12 hours a week with the benefits of artificial intelligence. His remarks prompted a public debate over work-life balance in China and brought both condemnation and support.
After a year of intense scrutiny and industrial setbacks set off by two crashes of the 737 MAX jetliner, aircraft major Boeing fired its CEO Dennis Muilenburg in December 2019, saying a change was necessary amid attempts to restore the company’s reputation.
The sudden sacking of Muilenburg, who worked for Boeing for over three decades, seemed a desperate attempt by Boeing to win back the trust of regulators and customers. In November 2019, the former Boeing executive had been grilled by US Congress lawmakers for failing to stabilise the company after 737 Max incidents started the worst crisis in the aviation giant’s 103-year-old history.
Muilenburg was widely criticised for indecisive and defensive response to the crashes, which claimed 346 lives. The decision to remove Muilenburg reflected Boeing’s intent to start a new chapter in its commitment to accountability and safety.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is the co-founder, CEO, and majority owner of Bloomberg, is the 2020 US presidential election candidate in the Democratic Party primaries. As of November 2019, he was the ninth-richest person in the US and the 14th-richest person in the world. With an estimated net worth of $58 billion, according to Forbes, Bloomberg is using his personal fortune to spend heavily on online and TV ad campaigns for his presidential candidature.
In the latter half of 2019, he promised to commit $500 million to close the US’ remaining coal plants by 2030 and put the nation on track for a 100 per cent clean-energy economy. This marked the largest-ever philanthropic effort to tackle climate change.
In the past few years, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook had been under legal scanner for repeated privacy issues and spread of disinformation, and faced public outcry over its role in Russia's alleged influence on the 2016 US presidential election. Lawmakers have been inspecting Facebook, and asking its executives to testify in front of the US Congress to explain the impact of misinformation, hate speech and election manipulation on the platform.
In 2019, Facebook CEO Zuckerberg was accused of being aware of potentially problematic privacy practices at the company. There are also concerns that Facebook’s Libra coin might be used to evade money-laundering rules or undermine government control over the flow of money.