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2011's Most Shocking Business News!AOL Buys Huffington Post!Banker Convicted of Fraud!Mile High Club Exposed!The Big Three Recover!Big Firms Pay No Taxes!U.S. Slips to Fifth Place!VW Curbs Off-Hour Email!CEOs Play Musical Chairs!World's Greatest Innovator Dies!U.S. Credit Rating Slammed!Executive Pay Explodes!Wall Street Occupied!Job Cuts on Wall Street!
The year 2011 definitely had its share of big-time surprises. Here are the news stories that surprised and astonished most of the business world.
The story: Political junkies and media executives alike were astounded when American Online bellied up a hefty $315 million to buy the Huffington Post, a blogger site that was worth less than $1 in 2005.
Why it was shocking: America Online still exists! Who knew?
The story: A federal jury found Lee Farkas--the former chairman of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker--guilty on 14 counts of securities, bank and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud in a $2.9 billion plot led to the 2009 collapse of Colonial Bank.
Why it was shocking: What? A banker found guilty? That never happens!
The story: Cathay Pacific scuttled a global ad campaign when nude photos of a pilot and a stewardess cavorting together surfaced in the Hong Kong media.
Why it was shocking: The ad campaign tag line: "Meet the team that goes the extra mile!"
The story: Just three years ago, it looked as if Ford, GM and Chrysler would go the way of the dinosaurs when the economy collapsed. Now all three are profitable--and even paying bonuses and dividends!
Why it was shocking: Surprise! Government bailouts sometimes work!
The story: A comprehensive report on corporate taxes found that, despite a high corporate tax rate in the United States, many large firms paid little or no taxes as the result of special breaks, exceptions and obscure accounting rules.
Why it was shocking: Some huge firms actually paid taxes! Who did they forget to bribe?
The story: The United States slipped from No. 1 (2008) to No. 5 (2011), according to the World Economic Forum's annual study of the earth's most competitive economies.
Why it was shocking: Considering our dysfunctional Congress, we still made No. 5! ("We're No. 5! We're No. 5!")
The story: Executives at Volkswagen, citing morale drops due to 24/7 access to email, decided to disable email during employees' off hours.
Why it was shocking: With social networking and SMS, who'll notice?
The story: Former SAP CEO Léo Apotheker, who replaced former CEO Mark Hurd, was himself replaced by former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, less than a year into his tenure.
Why it was shocking: People still believe that a CEO runs HP, rather than the other way around.
Jack Goldman, the man whose team at Xerox PARC invented the personal computer, the mouse, graphical user interfaces, laser printers, and host of other technologies, died at the age of 90.
Why it was shocking: All the eulogies went to Steve Jobs, who mostly stole Jack's work.
The story: The once-stellar credit rating of the United States was downgraded by Standard & Poor's after a squabbling Congress proves unable to decide how to deal with the deficit.
Why it was shocking: After a stock market lurch, investors shrugged and kept buying U.S. debt anyway.
The story: After shrinking a bit during the 2008 and 2009 recession, executive pay not only recovered but grew far faster than worker wages, which remained stagnant.
Why it was shocking: Even severance pay for failed CEOs went through the roof.
The story: Bands of protesters gathered in New York (and other cities) to protest the unequal distribution of wealth to the richest 1 percent of people.
Why it was shocking: Amazingly, some people actually thought the protests would change something.
The story: With earnings in the financial sector slightly down, securities firms were looking to eliminate some positions, many of which commanded an average wage of $360,000.
Why it was shocking: Maybe there IS some justice in the world.
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