Crypto collapses, Mone’s masks and golden goodbyes: the 2022 Observer business awards | Business

Hollywood has the Oscars, literature has the Booker prize and sport has the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. But in the world of business there is little chance to recognise the achievements of its luminaries (beyond boring trade awards or the occasional criminal trial). So every year the Observer business agenda column sets out to right that wrong. Here are our awards for the industry titans of 2022.

The Matt Hancock award for public service

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic millions of Britons expressed their gratitude to those who went the extra mile in their service to the public. A company linked to Conservative peer Michelle Mone reportedly went even further: an extra 5,000 miles to China, to be precise, to find protective equipment for the NHS.

Of course, Lady Mone’s rewards went a bit beyond the weekly hand clap given to key workers. Documents reported by the Guardian in November showed she and her children also happened to receive £29m from the PPE company’s profits.

Mone has taken a “leave of absence” from the House of Lords to “clear her name” in an as yet unspecified manner, so is not likely to make it to the awards ceremony. But if she did she would probably use her speech to thank her husband, Douglas Barrowman, who also appeared to play a key role in PPE Medpro, and their lawyers, who will surely be grateful that there is a permanent record of their committed work on behalf of their clients.

The Bonnie and Clyde award for best couple

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 romantic tales have ended with what prosecutors called “one of the biggest financial frauds in US history”.

Technically Sam Bankman-Fried and Caroline Ellison were reportedly no longer romantically involved by the time crypto exchange FTX collapsed spectacularly in November. They were certainly involved financially. The tight links between Bankman-Fried’s FTX and affiliated hedge fund Alameda Research, of which Ellison was chief executive, are now the focus of scrutiny by prosecutors.

Bankman-Fried was this month led away in handcuffs by Bahamanian authorities. Ellison has agreed to plead guilty to seven offences including wire fraud, securities fraud and money laundering (combined maximum sentence: 110 years) and she is cooperating with investigators. For never was a story of more woe, etc.

The Andy Warhol prize for politics

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

Forget 15 minutes of fame. During the autumn it appeared that the Conservative party was offering anyone who wanted it 15 minutes running the economy.

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

Kwarteng managed to nearly provoke a financial crisis within a few weeks, so is a deserved winner. But there was another strong challenge from literally the same office: Nadhim Zahawi. He made an impressive bid for a two-day chancellorship, accepting the job and then telling the man who hired him, Boris Johnson, to resign the next day. However, Johnson was booted out before he could sack Zahawi, who somehow managed to hang on for 63 days.

The Presidents Club memorial award

Aviva chief Amanda Blanc: on the receiving end of some inappropriate remarks.
Aviva chief Amanda Blanc: on the receiving end of some inappropriate remarks. Photograph: PA

Sexism is still a major problem in the British business world – but sometimes it can be tricky 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 just as moronic as ever. One investor, apparently a member of the Richard Keys school of female psychology, told the meeting that the chief executive, Amanda Blanc, should improve returns by, er, “wearing trousers”.

Highly commended: Don’t blame it all on individual investor weirdos. There are only nine female FTSE 100 chief executives, so boardrooms clearly still haven’t got the memo that it is soon to be 2023.

The golden Monopoly board

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

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused prices everywhere to surge to crazy levels. Big oil, renewables, and nuclear all made what Vladimir Putin might describe as “a killing”.

Oil and gas bosses across the sector have been amply rewarded for their good fortune, but one standout was Linda Cook, the chief executive of the North Sea’s largest operator, Harbour Energy. She landed a £4.6m “golden hello” as part of her £6m pay package. Cook is an expert in this art form: in 2010 she received a “golden goodbye” worth more than $30m in severance and pensions as a consolation prize after missing out on the top job at Shell.

Highly commended: Hayden Wood, boss of Bulb Energy, who continued to draw a £250,000 taxpayer-funded salary for months after the company collapsed at a cost to the government of £6.5bn. Nice work if you can get it.

Free speech award

Elon Musk, a regular feature of Business Agenda’s annual award ceremony.
Elon Musk, a regular feature at Business Agenda’s annual award ceremony. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

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

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


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