The best & the worst of 2010

The best & the worst of 2010It has been a long and exhausting year for Australia’s entrepreneurs, who have had to deal with everything from rising interest rates to state and federal elections and a string of high-profiled company collapses.

With this in mind, let’s review the best and worst of 2010, and extract the lessons for business owners.

Most-hyped product of the year

Okay, okay, we will admit it – when the iPad was launched in May some of us were a little sceptical. It looked great, it was made by Apple, but it was difficult to see where it fitted between a smartphone and a laptop. Clearly, we were wrong. The portability of the device, its intuitive design and of course the App Store have made the iPad a winner. Apple’s success has spawned a flood of imitators, but with iPad 2.0 rumoured to be heading our way the chasing pack has some ground to make up.

Marketing blunder of the year award

We love Grill’d entrepreneur Simon Crowe and the way he’s built his business, but he had a shocker in March over a coupon campaign aimed at students. A print-only coupon went viral when it was scanned and emailed around student communities. The demand was so great Crowe stopped honouring the coupons, sparking a burger-fuelled outrage. He later apologised and offered to redeem the coupons, but the damage was done – cheeky marketing experts at Nando’s swooped in and offered to honour the coupons instead.

Government stuff-up of the year

There were a lot of nominations for this award. The Government’s insulation bugles were high up on the list, the Green Loans scheme was another nominee and pretty much anything the NSW Government did earned an honourable mention. But the award must be shared between state and federal governments, who oversaw mass confusion among employers, employees and the general public over the way public holidays around Anzac Day and Christmas were organised. We’re not a big country – surely we can organise for public holidays to be run on a national basis!

Leader of the year

It’s got to be our new Prime Minster, Julia Gillard. After staging a bloody coup in June, Gillard quickly went to the polls, hoping a strong honeymoon period would lead to an early election win. But after a disastrous first week on the election campaign, Gillard was first to famously declare she would unveil the “real Julia” in a bid to arrest her slide. It just went on from there – a hung Parliament, fraught negotiations to form Government, and on-going speculation about dissent in the party room. But Gillard has hung tough, and will be looking to prove her reform credentials in 2011.

Fight of the year

There were two clear contenders for this title. On the undercard was the pitched battle between the board of Country Road and its former chief executive John Cheston, who left the company after just 10 weeks in the top chair, citing irreconcilable differences with the directors. He has since launched legal action, which Country Road is vigorously defending. But the main bout was the stoush between retail veteran Gerry Harvey and online upstart Ruslan Kogan, who spent most of the year attacking each other’s business models. While it all got a bit nasty at one stage, we’re pretty sure these boys are actually having a bit of fun.

Loser of the year

The fall of grace of former David Jones chief Mark McInnes was spectacular. In mid-June, McInnes resigned after admitting to instances of “inappropriate behaviour” with DJ’s PR executive Kristy Fraser-Kirk, who promptly sued for $37 million in punitive damages. What followed was a battle fought as much in the media as it was in the courts – both sides employed PR agents to provide their side of the story, with more and more salacious claims about McInnes emerging by the week. But whether you thought McInnes’ treatment at the hands of the rumour mill was fair or not, his conduct at a company staffed mainly by women, and aimed at female consumers, was nothing short of disgraceful.

Entrance of the year

The entrance of US retailer Gap sparked much excitement among shoppers, who packed the first store in Melbourne when it opened in August and pined for a second store. In reality though, Gap is only part of the overseas retail rush, which will get even bigger next year when fashion chain Zara hits our shores.

Collapse of the year

At one stage it looked like Austexx, owner of the troubled DFO chain, would win this title, much to the chagrin of shareholders David Goldberger, David Wieland and Graeme Samuel. But a late rescue deal pulled the company out of the gallows, which means the award must be given to whitegoods retailer Clive Peeters. While the company was clearly taken down by a mixture of competitive pressures, discounting and soft consumer spending, it’s fair to say Clive Peeters never quite recovered from revelations a payroll staffer had misappropriated more than $20 million from its accounts. A sorry end to a sorry tale.

Bubble of the year

Not since the dotcom days have we seen so many companies rush into one market so quickly. Since April, more than 12 group buying sites have been launched in Australia, all modelled to various degrees on US pioneer Groupon. While there are big questions about whether everyone can survive in a market as crowded as this, some big investors – including Nine Entertainment Company (formally PBL), Ten Network and venture capital veteran Roger Allen – have piled in. And maybe they have backed the right horse – after all, Google was rumoured to have offered $6 billion to buy Groupon in December.

Letdown of the year

It took 18 months, millions of dollars and produced a staggering 138 recommendations, yet the Henry Tax Review was considered the biggest political waste of time of 2010. While treasury secretary Ken Henry clearly conducted one of the most comprehensive reviews of the tax system in decades, and came up with the really constructive recommendations, the Government picked up just two of his ideas. However, Henry might yet have his day – as part of its wrangling to win Government, Labor was forced to promise to release more details of the review and conduct a tax summit in 2011.

Worst company of the year

The collapse of Allied Brands was one of the sorriest tales to come out of the franchising sector in years. This was a company that had it all – poor management, lax financial discipline, an uncanny ability to over-promise and under-deliver and even an immigration rort. While the company finally went into administration in late October, the jig was really up in late September, when the company’s Cookie Man chain was placed into liquidation by the NSW Supreme Court. Incredibly, Allied Brands claimed it didn’t even know about the liquidation until after it happened, and so wasn’t in court for the hearing.

Wait of the year

If you thought the hung Parliament wrangling was drawn out, then is was nothing compared to the interminable wait for independent MP Rob Oakeshott to say whether he would help Labor or the Coalition form government. After a rambling 17 minute speech that (incorrectly) quoted from the 1980s movie The Highlander, Oakeshott backed Labor. A new paradigm was apparently born.

Tragedy of the year

Time for a slightly serious award now. While 2010 has unfortunately been a big year for corporate collapses, there have also been some shocking personal tragedies. In March, many Australian politicians and business leaders expressed disappointment at the sentence handed down to Australia mining executive Stern Hu, who was jailed for 10 years for bribery by a Chinese court. But the most tragic story was that of Melbourne executive Herman Rockefeller, who was murdered after becoming embroiled in the seedy swingers’ circuit.

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