Space Cadets Branson and Bezos Win 2021 Prudent Prize | Richard branson

Every Christmas, Observer Business Agenda takes a look at the past year, seeking to shine a light on the luminaries of the business world whose actions might otherwise have gone unnoticed. At first glance, 2021 looked horribly like 2020 – a pandemic, various lockdowns and a new wave of infections to top it all off – but it soon became clear that there were still candidates worthy of special recognition.

Sir Richard Branson Award for Self-Promotion

And the winner is… Sir Richard Branson. The eponymous winner took his ego to the last place he had not yet colonized: space. We’re of course used to the billionaire bidding, but where yachts were the go-to toy now is rockets.

After years of broken Branson promises that a launch was imminent, it was vital that his company, Virgin Galactic, got to space (or near, by some disputed definitions of Atmosphere End) before his rivals. So he waited diligently for Bezos to set a launch date for his eerily “anthropomorphic” spacecraft in July – then jumped with his nine days earlier.

Jeff Bezos left his staff in no doubt about his gratitude for the hard work that funded a trip to space. Photography: Alain Jocard / AFP / Getty Images

Sports Direct award for exceptional economic contribution to the boss

Still, Bezos certainly can’t be feeling too harsh about this year’s awards. After all, he’s already pitched our next gong: to the Amazon workers for funding his own Beyond the Atmosphere getaway.

“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you paid for all of this,” the Stetsoned billionaire exclaimed in July after returning to Earth. Workers campaigning for union recognition in the company’s reputedly intense warehouses will of course accept his gratitude and never talk about it in wage negotiations.

Ben van Beurden of Shell
Shell’s Ben van Beurden and other bosses have shown a remarkable talent for burying the head. Photography: Benoît Tessier / Reuters

Alok Sharma Prize for Climate Action

While it was his failure to phase out coal that made the UK president of the COP26 climate talks cry, this year’s honor once again goes to the oil industry. British supermajors, led by Ben van Beurden at Shell and the impossible Bernard Looney at BP, as well as ExxonMobil and Chevron in the United States, have all managed to sink their heads even deeper in the sand. This despite a series of shareholder rebellions, led by the small campaign group Follow This, who suggested they might just think about reducing their carbon footprint. Instead, the oil companies decided to kick the box by pledging to cut emissions while drilling for more oil. Well done.

Mark Zuckerberg with his avatar
Mark Zuckerberg with his avatar as Facebook changed his name to Meta. Photograph: Reuters

Samuel Johnson Prize for Patriotism

The Trump family came in second in the race for “the villain’s last refuge,” after Donald and Ivanka Trump described the rioters storming the United States Capitol as “patriots.” But neither managed to get a dramatic misunderstanding of love for the country while riding an electric surfboard and waving the star-spangled banner. Come on, Mark Zuckerberg! The Facebook boss posted a minute-long video to Instagram of himself on U.S. Independence Day riding over water on an electronic windsurf board (around $ 10,000 pop. ) with support from John Denver’s Country Roads.

It wasn’t the only time Zuckerberg lived up to his public image as a billionaire nerd with questionable effect in 2021: A joke about his robotic behavior fell flat during a video announcing the rebranding of Facebook as a Meta. Meta wants to host the next generation of the internet (and that also gives it a convenient excuse to distance itself from controversies over its money-spinning social network).

George Osborne Award for Being Absolutely Everywhere

The former UK Chancellor was relatively young when he was kicked out of his post, so he quickly dedicated himself to filling his time with as many other concerts as he could. (His last this year: a job at an investment bank – in recognition, we suppose, of his astute financial management record.)

This year, the gong in his honor goes to the entire private equity industry, which has successfully grown from being a niche on financial pages to owning what appears to be the bulk of the industry. British. Supermarkets (Morrisons), pubs (Punch), aerospace (Cobham), nuclear submarines (Ultra Electronics) … had a say.

Elon musk
Elon Musk, who boldly requisitioned the SEC’s own acronym. Photograph: Mike Blake / Reuters

Wisconsin Tourism Federation Award for Worst Acronym

A dishonorable mention for this award must first go to the man who became the richest in the world earlier this year, Elon Musk. In retaliation for being punished for stock manipulation, Musk misused the Securities Exchange Commission abbreviation, Tweeter: “SEC, acronym of three letters, the middle word is that of Elon.”

But the winners of the Least Loved Initialism Award of the Year are NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which became mainstream in 2021. Essentially take Wikipedia’s utopian ideal of infinitely shareable digital information (say a work of art or a music video), and find a way to make it rare and exclusive like in the physical world so that it can be sold for a big profit. The tech might have some use, but 2021 hasn’t delivered it.



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