Crypto Collapses, Mone Masks, and Golden Goodbyes: Observer 2022 Corporate Awards | Business

hollywood has the Oscars, literature has the Booker award and sports have the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. But in the business world, there’s little chance of recognizing the accomplishments of its luminaries (beyond boring business awards or the occasional criminal trial). So every year the Observer’s corporate agenda column sets out to right that wrong. Here are our awards for the industry titans of 2022.

The Matt Hancock Public Service Award

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Britons expressed their gratitude to those who have gone the extra mile to serve the public. A company linked to conservative peer Michelle Mone has reportedly gone even further — 5,000 more miles to China, to be precise, to find protective gear for the NHS.

Naturally, Lady Mone’s rewards went a little beyond the weekly clap given to key workers. Documents reported by Keeper in November it showed that she and her children also received £29m from the profits of the PPE firm.

Mone has taken “leave” of the House of Lords to “clear his name” in an as-yet-unspecified way, so he’s unlikely to make it to the awards ceremony. But if she did, she would likely use her speech to thank her husband, Douglas Barrowman, who also appears to play a key role at PPE Medpro, and their lawyers, who will surely be grateful there is a permanent record of their engagement on the job on behalf of their customers.

The Bonnie and Clyde Award for Best Couple

Sam Bankman-Fried after his arrest in Nassau in December.
Sam Bankman-Fried after his arrest in Nassau in December. Photograph: Dante Carrer/Reuters

The business world has had its fair share of star-crossed lovers, but few of those romance tales have ended in what prosecutors have called “one of the largest financial frauds in U.S. history.”

Technically Sam Bankman-Fried and Caroline Ellison were reportedly no longer romantically involved when cryptocurrency exchange FTX crashed spectacularly in November. They were certainly financially involved. The close ties between Bankman-Fried’s FTX and its affiliated hedge fund Alameda Research, of which Ellison was a CEO, are now the focus of prosecutors.

Bankman-Fried was taken away in handcuffs by authorities in the Bahamas this month. Ellison agreed to plead guilty to seven felonies including wire fraud, securities fraud and money laundering (maximum combined sentence: 110 years) and is cooperating with investigators. Why was the story of more troubles ever, etc.

The Andy Warhol Prize for Politics

Kwasi Kwarteng: fast engine.
Kwasi Kwarteng: fast engine. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Forget 15 minutes of fame. During the autumn it emerged that the Conservative Party was offering anyone who wanted it 15 minutes to run the economy.

To be fair to Kwasi Kwarteng, he managed to do more than that: he was chancellor for 38 days (the shortest reign in the UK Treasury in more than a century for anyone who didn’t die in office).

Kwarteng managed to nearly cause a financial crisis in just a few weeks, so he’s a well-deserved winner. But there was another strong challenge from literally the same office – Nadhim Zahawi. He made an impressive offer for a two-day chancellorship, taking the job and then telling the man who hired him, Boris Johnson, to resign the next day. However, Johnson was sent off before he could fire Zahawi, who somehow managed to hold out for 63 days.

The Presidents Club Commemorative Award

Aviva boss Amanda Blanc: Gets some inappropriate remarks.
Aviva boss Amanda Blanc: Gets some inappropriate remarks. Photography: PA

Sexism is still a big problem in British business, but it can sometimes be difficult to get a sense of its prevalence. So congratulations to the individual shareholders at Aviva’s annual meeting for showing the world that misogyny is alive, well and as idiotic as ever. One investor, apparently a member of the Richard Keys school of women’s psychology, told the meeting that the chief executive, Amanda Blanc, should improve returns by, ahem, “wearing pants.”

Highly commended: Don’t blame all the weird individual investors. There are only nine female FTSE 100 chief executives, so clearly the boards have not yet received the memo that 2023 is soon to come.

The golden Monopoly board

This gong goes to the most impressive rent draw of the year. As always, there are extra points on offer if products are essential to human life, so in 2022, there was only one winner: the entire energy sector.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has driven prices everywhere to insane levels. Big oil, renewable energy and nuclear have done what Vladimir Putin could describe as “a murder”.

Oil and gas bosses across the industry have been richly rewarded for their good fortune, but one standout was Linda Cook, the chief executive officer of the North Sea’s largest operator, Harbor Energy. She was awarded a £4.6m ‘golden hello’ as part of her £6m salary package. Cook is an expert in this art form: In 2010 she received a “golden goodbye” worth more than $30 million in severance and pensions as a consolation prize after losing her top job at Shell.

Highly lauded: Hayden Wood, head of Bulb Energy, who continued to draw a £250,000 taxpayer-funded salary for months after the company collapsed, costing the government £6.5bn. Nice job if you can catch it.

Freedom of Speech Award

Elon Musk, regular at the Business Agenda Annual Awards Ceremony.
Elon Musk, regular at the Business Agenda Annual Awards Ceremony. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

We honor Elon Musk for his commitment to “absolutism of free speech” that lasted about as long as it took him to fire half the company’s workers.

Musk has made a big deal out of Twitter’s erratic moderation policies (some of them justified). However, that hasn’t stopped him from imposing his own inconsistency, including suspending the Twitter accounts of: a private jet tracker using public data; journalists who have posted links to other sources for that data; rival social media companies; people who have posted links to other social media companies. The public square just got even messier.

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