With Facebook and Google vying to be the champion of social networking, you'd think there'd be scant room for a competitive product. But you'd think wrong. By remaining focused purely on business folk, LinkedIn established itself as the go-to site for recruiting, job-hunting, and developing sales contacts. The strategy paid off in 2011 with IPO that rivaled dot-com debuts of yore.

Companies whose equipment cause ecological disasters seldom emerge unscathed from the experience. (If you don't believe me, just ask a BP executive about oil spills.) Even so, General Electric managed to fend off criticism that the reactors it designed for the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant contributed to its massive meltdown. A year of solid earnings buried the story for good.

Herman Cain's presidential campaign may have self destructed, but it was unclear from the start whether it was entirely serious from the start. Whatever the case, Herman Cain emerged from the process as the world's most famous motivational speaker and, with a little contrition and

    mea culpa

to grease the wheels, should command as much as $50,000 for a simple luncheon speech.

 

Verizon entered 2011 crippled by its lack of an Apple offering. The Verizon-compatible iPhone and iPad 2 not only increased the company's market share, but forced smaller providers AT&T and T-Mobile to attempt a defensive merger. When the government blocked the merger as anti-competitive, AT&T eventually withdrew, leaving Verizon as the dominant market player.

In the spring of 2011, Berkshire Hathaway was embroiled in a trading scandal involving Warren Buffett's former top lieutenant David Sokol, and became the subject of an acrimonious shareholder lawsuit. All that receded in the background, though, when Buffett publicly, and graciously, pointed out that billionaires like him were getting a free ride from the tax code.

With the iPad 2 coming out in March and Apple surpassing Exxon Mobil as the world's most profitable company in August, Jobs was already the superhero of CEO world, even before his untimely death. It's a tragedy he died, no doubt, but as far as a personal brand goes, there's something to say for exiting the scene when you're at the top of your game.

This was the year that e-books finally came into their own. While there are plenty of e-readers on the market, it's been Amazon's Kindle Fire that's caught the imagination of the gadget-ocracy. While there have been complaints about its usability (and complaints from publishers and libraries about Amazon's pricing and policies), it's clear that Amazon is positioned to dominate a world where paper books are a bit of an oddity.