2016’s Business Winners and Losers

Well, 2016 was quite a tumultuous year, and not just because of Brexit and Trump.

Silicon Valley ‘startups’ are increasingly seen as the incumbents, with all the intense media glare and responsibility that comes with it; regulators and politicians have shown they are not averse to getting into the ring with big business; and of course human error (or greed) just never goes away.

As 2017 gets underway, let’s run through the companies that will look back and see 2016 as a year to savour, and those who’d rather it never happened.


So with that, let’s look at who the winners of 2016 were.


It was a verygoodyear for Microsoft who regained their momentum and little bit of swagger against their key competitors.

They had a critically acclaimed, expectation- busting launch of their latest major product, the Microsoft Surface Pro, which received favourable reviews compared to Apple’s MacBook Pro. Not only that, but they’re made a series of exciting announcements around AI and machine learning to keep them in contention with the hottest developing market (albeit with one hiccup); they surprised everyone with a bold purchase of LinkedIn; and their cloud computing division also put in a sterling performance.


It’s hard to read the tech news without coming across a Google-related story each day, and usually with a positive slant. Their PR team must be eating something different to the rest of us. Anyway, overall it’s been another strong year for them, though not without some bumps in the road, such as getting sucked into the fake news row.

First up, they launched their first phone, the Pixel, to great reviews. They also made a belated, but strong, foray into the home automation market with Google Home, giving Amazon something to think about. They’ve taken more steps to laying an ‘Android’ foundation to own AR, ditto as they move into infrastructure for the IoT market, and their insane advances in AI are starting to feed into dramatic improvements to their end-user products. Oh yeah, and they also made a boat load of money too.


Ok, so whatever they feed the PR team at Google, Elon Musk eats the XXXL version. By any standards, Tesla had a pretty awesome (if not perfect) year.

He stole a march on rivals in the autonomous car market by shipping every new Tesla with self-driving hardware pre-installed, turned a quarterly profit (again a surprise), updated the Model S and X to turn them into the world’s fastest cars (0-60 in a hair raising 2.5 seconds!) and announced the first mass-market, affordable version of Tesla.

Not content, he also sent shock waves through the renewable energy world by revealing beautiful, affordable shingles to help power homes, and completed his somewhat controversial merging of Tesla and SolarCity. And he even got invited to join Trump’s economic advisory panel, because you know, he has plenty of spare time.


While there have been plenty of negative stories linked to Snapchat over the last 12 months, this has to go down as a stellar year for the most in vogue social network right now. It’s widely been considered as the major innovator in social networking, forcing Facebook and Instagram to copy it repeatedly just to keep up.

Meanwhile its first foray into hardware was hailed as a stroke of playful genius and major success. And to top it all off, they filed for a $30 billion IPO just 5 years after it was launched. Not bad at all.


Another of the tech giants had a year to remember for a variety of reasons, reflecting its diversity of offerings beyond the online storefront for ‘everything.’

Probably the most headline grabbing innovation was the announcement of their incredible, cashless concept store, Amazon Go. Definitely one to watch in 2017.

Then there was the first delivery by drone, which snuck into their 2016 list of achievements in December.

The Echo and Alexa, their AI-powered home automation system came on leaps and bounds, resulting in over 5 million unit sales according to industry analysts.

Meanwhile its B2B division, Amazon AWS, has continued to surge and become a cash-generating behemoth in 2016, growing at a rapid rate.

Last but not least, perhaps the biggest achievement for Amazon was somehow relaunching the Top Gear trio of Clarkson, Hammond and May after several months off the air. With a massive marketing push behind it, and lots of expectation, it could have been easy for it to crash and burn like a bad stunt. But instead, it received plenty of praise, and has become Amazon Prime’s most watched show ever.


DollarShaveClub is one of the big David v Golliath success stories of 2016. They started out in 2011 as a plucky startup selling real things, with what probably seemed like an impossible task of taking on a multi-billion dollar company (Gillette), who owned 70% of the market sewn up thanks to decades of dominance and giant marketing budgets.

But thanks to that famous video, and an innovative business model that their target market loves, they made huge head roads into the market, and became a template of sorts for how to disrupt the FMCG market. And then to cap it all off, they exited for $1 billion in 2016. Now who said viral content doesn’t lead to success?


Tesco looked to be in free fall just a couple of years ago, but in 2016 new boss Dave Lewis’ plan has taken root, and their fight back is looking assured. Sales are ramping up, they’ve won back market share, the stock is ticking up, and they also had a major PR coup by standing up to Unilever against hiking prices on popular brands such as Marmite. Every little helps, so they say.


While AirBnB has clashed plenty with regulators in the past, much like Uber, but in 2016 they took a different tack, and finally started to smooth things over, making concessions and playing nice from London to New York.

They also took such a strong and proactive stance in favour of diversity and inclusiveness, which won plenty of plaudits in a year when many startups have been on the wrong side of that debate.


IKEA have had a great year. They’ve recorded record profits, been praised for investing €1bn in recycling and forests, and continue to get plenty of recognition for their excellent marketing. And I love their furniture, having built dozens of pieces of it in the last 12 months, so I wanted to give them a shout out for that too.


And now, onto the losers of 2016, those companies who’d rather forget about it and move on.


Well well well, Theranos has to top the list of biggest of losers in 2016. Their entire business was exposed as a fraud, founder and CEO Elizabeth Holme’s net worth was erased to 0 by Forbes, and now it’s being sued by former investors and business partners. 


2016 was the year Yahoo finally gave up hopes of a turnaround and accepted its fate, as it agreed a sale to AOL for just $4.8 billion, a fraction of it’s previous worth. Now even that is not certain, after confessing to being hacked for a second time, exposing over a billion user accounts. Oh yeah, and it’s believed they sided with ‘the man’ to help the US government spy on their users without consent.


Twitter just couldn’t get it right last year. Their user and revenue growth stalled, new product innovations haven’t be particularly well received, they’ve been slammed repeatedly for the toxic trolling and racist abuse that’s rampant on the platform, and because of that, they couldn’t even find a buyer.


Will 2016 be seen as a pivotal year in Apple’s fall from the top, as momentum stalled and it lost its Midas touch as an innovator? The wearables market is tanking, meaning the Apple Watch has under-performed and its future looks less than rosy, iPad sales are shrinking, and their big product release, the MacBook Pro was widely parodied and the reviews mixed, with a constant trickle of reports that the battery life is terrible.


Once a darling of the hardware startup world, GoPro ran into trouble this year. Sales stalled, they had to make layoffs, new product ranges were recalled. All in all, they’ll want to erase the footage from 2016.


It wasn’t a brilliant year for the social networking giant. They had to admit on at least 3 separate occasions that they’ve misreported key metrics about their business, they’ve resorted to being followers by consistently copying rival Snapchat, released some odd products that don’t really seem tied to their overall mission (Marketplace, Workplace), the founder of Oculus Rift was outed for funding racist trolls, and they’ve been widely blamed for helping elect Donald Trump by making it so easy to disseminate fake news. Unlike.


Uber’s year could have been much better. They had to throw in the towel to Didi Chuxing and concede China as market, and got embroiled in yet another PR disaster after it was disclosed they were tracking passengers even after dropping them off.

Then they continued to get into regulatory spats (sometimes completely unnecessarily) and losing them in other cases, with the UK ruling potentially endangering their whole business model. There was also a red face as their first stab at autonomous vehicles saw one of their cars running a red light.

Oh and at least one report suggested they’re grossly overvalued and about to run into a whole lot more existential trouble come 2017, as they try and find a way to turn their reach into profits, but that’s yet to be verified by the market (yet). 


With a slowing Apple, 2016 should have been a golden opportunity for Samsung, but alas, they fumbled the ball. Of course the headline bad news was an exploding Galaxy Note S7, which led to a massive and utterly confusing recall situation, which reportedly cost them around $3 billion. And then, just after that furore had died down, they had to recall 2.8 million potentially faulty washing machines. Some of these missteps have also led to a worsening relationship with key investors, with calls for the group the restructure growing louder by the minute.

These guys…

EpiPen maker Mylan got pilloried by the press and government for excessive corporate breed that put patient’s lives in danger, and were then slapped with a $465 million settlement bill.

Wells Fargo had to fire a whopping 5,300 employees for systemic fraud when it was found out they opened over 2 million fake accounts in order to boost their revenue numbers. It was enough to claim the scalp of their CEO, John Stumpf, and trigger $185 million in fines to regulators.

BHS, once a British high street institution, followed Woolworths into bankruptcy, putting 11,000 jobs on the line, and putting previous owner Sir Philip Green in the crosshairs of a furious media and angry MPs, who even approved a motion to strip him of his knighthood.

Sports Direct also got lambasted by MPs and the media for its ‘appalling’ working conditions, which were compared to a ‘Victorian workhouse’ in a government committee’s report on its business practices.

Last but not least, Soylent had a pretty rough second half to the year, when first their bars, and then their core product, started making people sick. Ultimately they had to halt sales and remove them from the market entirely for nearly 2 months.

However it’s always nice to finish on a positive note, and as of mid-December, their product was back on the market, hopefully setting them up for a better 2017.

Who were your winners and losers in 2016? I’d love to know who else you’d add to this list (and why).  

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