Business Advice

The best business showdowns of 2017

Lana Busby /

Richard Branson

Richard Branson threw water at fellow entrepreneur Mark Cuban after a misunderstanding.

Don’t deny it — we all secretly enjoy a public spat to break the monotony of overly scripted PR spiels.

Conflict is an inevitable part of doing business and while it is important to learn strategies for dealing with difficult people, despite best efforts, sometimes simple disagreements or misunderstandings can turn confrontational.

Here is a recap of some of 2017’s most memorable would-be tiffs in the business world.

1. Richard Branson vs Mark Cuban

In October during the filming of the US version of Shark Tank, Virgin visionary Richard Branson threw water at fellow entrepreneur Mark Cuban after a misunderstanding which reportedly prompted some tension between the pair.

Read more: Richard Branson throws water at Mark Cuban in “a moment of madness”

The perpetually cheerful Branson wrote in a blog post that he “playfully” threw the water at Cuban after he branded one of the show’s female entrepreneur guests a “gold digger”.

Branson took offense at Cuban’s jibe, interpreting the comment in line with the more widely accepted pejorative use of the term, not realising at the time the context in which “gold digger” is used on the show.

“I didn’t realise the word ‘gold digger’ was used on the show to mean someone who doesn’t need the investment money but comes on Shark Tank for the free publicity,” explained Branson.

“He (Cuban) wasn’t at all impressed with the impromptu shower, so threw some water right back at me…”

All’s well that ends well, though. Branson explained himself and apologised to Cuban backstage, whose annoyance was eased upon changing into a spare shirt.

Mike Cannon-Brookes and Elon Musk proposed a solution to SA's energy crisis.

Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar.

2. Atlassian vs the federal government

Smart50 listers, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, have come a long way since establishing tech startup Atlassian in Sydney back in 2007.

Now a major international player, Atlassian was recently ranked seventh in a survey of US tech workers as one of the best places to work in the sector, and has placed third in the annual Great Place to Work Australia survey results two years in a row.

Read more: Scott Farquhar on why Atlassian spends millions on local staff training, but still needs 457 visas

Earlier this year Cannon-Brookes actively criticised the federal government’s proposed National Energy Guarantee, which implicitly disregards the promising opportunity brokered between himself and Tesla CEO Elon Musk via a compelling Twitter negotiation in March — in response to South Australia’s energy crisis.

Cannon-Brookes pledged to seek funding and political support for Musk’s proposed SA solution, a 100 megawatt-hours battery farm which Musk claimed could resolve the energy crisis within 100 days, following the state’s unprecedented 2016 CBD blackout.

A frustrated Cannon-Brookes recently told The Australian Financial Review that the proposed federal scheme “creates more problems than it solves and is very scant on detail… it doesn’t actually do anything to solve the real problems”.

Steve Baxter (far left) ignited tension with fellow investor Naomi Simson (second from right) during a season four negotiation.

Steve Baxter (far left) ignited tension with fellow investor Naomi Simson (second from right) during a season three negotiation.

3. Shark Tank’s Naomi Simson vs Steve Baxter

Network Ten’s Shark Tank provides a fascinating fly-on-the-wall view of ambitious entrepreneurs as they attempt to deliver the perfect pitch to investors in return for capital to grow their businesses.

That said, seeing the resident sharks battle it out amongst themselves is half the fun.

Steve Baxter inflamed discussions with RedBalloon founder Naomi Simson this year during one particularly memorable incident by questioning her motives behind an offer to spice retailer Annas Ahsan.

Valuing his business at $800,000 and seeking $80,000 for a 10 per cent stake, Ahsan was turned down by four sharks. The only investor remaining, Simson offers Ahsan a significantly lower offer of $80,000 for a 50 per cent stake.

Read more: Naomi Simson on the “big no no” when pitching your idea

Baxter comments Ahsan should “run scared” from the counteroffer.

While Simson sticks to her guns after Ahsan appeals for a revised proposition, Baxter urges Ahsan to decline the “ridiculous” offer, saying “let’s face it, what you’re being offered is an opportunity to get on RedBalloon”.

After a terse exchange with Baxter, Simson fires back a final ultimatum to Ahsan.

“If you want to listen to him then go right away but the deal will be off the table… you either want it or you don’t.”

The Honey Birdette Flash Mob took to the streets in support of marriage equality

The Honey Birdette Flash Mob. Source: Supplied

4. Honey Birdette vs the advertising watchdog and general public

Founder and managing director of Honey Birdette Eloise Monaghan readily admits her business is “polarising”.

Following on from claims by former and current employees in late 2016 that the lingerie company adopts discriminatory hiring practices and failed to protect its staff from sexual harassment, 2017 has seen more drama unfold around the controversial brand.

Read more: Honey Birdette demands job hunters upload “sassy” videos, wear lipstick and stilettos to interviews

In August, a “flash mob” of 60 lingerie-clad employees and models took to the streets in Sydney’s CBD in support of same-sex marriage.

While some applauded the company for publicly supporting marriage equality, many cynical customers criticised the nature of the campaign, claiming it was nothing more than a distasteful marketing ploy.

The Advertising Standards Board has also ordered Honey Birdette to remove controversial in-store advertising on more than one occasion after ruling in favour of complaints that the imagery was “too sexually explicit” to be displayed in a family-centric shopping centre environment.

Monaghan has defended the brand’s advertising, telling SmartCompany a recent ad ban was “ridiculous” but the negative attention doesn’t faze her.

“It’s 2017, surely there’s a lot more interesting things happening than our posters.”

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Lana Busby

Lana Busby is SmartCompany's content coordinator/producer.

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