UPDATE: The polls have closed. Congrats to Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan, winner of this year’s Businessperson of the Year, reader’s choice — Wall Street edition. Thanks for voting!
Every year, Fortune selects its Businessperson of the Year, a performer whose vision and leadership puts them heads and shoulders above the rest. Before we reveal this year’s winner on November 13, Fortune would like you, our readers, to pick an all-star from industries like retail, autos, and tech. In today’s installment, Fortune senior editor Stephen Gandel rounds up the top finance execs of 2014. Cast your vote below.
Bill Ackman—CEO, Pershing Square Capital
If the award was titled “Businessperson who had the Biggest Comeback of the Year”—and it really should be—then it would have to go to Ackman. A year ago, Ackman’s highly public bet against health supplements company Herbalife was looking like a disaster. And it wasn’t Ackman’s only mess up of the year. A few months earlier, he had resigned from the board of JC Penney, essentially admitting defeat, after his handpicked CEO Ron Johnson was booted from the company. But this year, Ackman was back. In early 2014, Herbalife disclosed that it was under investigation by the FTC—Ackman has long called the company’s business model a pyramid scheme—and its shares have since slumped 40%. His decision to team up with Valeant to buy rival pharmaceutical company Allergan looks like it will pay off as well. In all, Pershing is up 32% this year, at a time when many other hedge funds are just struggling to stay above water. And Ackman’s empire keeps growing. In October, Ackman raised another $3 billion by selling a stake of one of his funds in an IPO in Amsterdam.
Janet Yellen—Chair, Federal Reserve
Many predicted the Federal Reserve’s exit from its bond buying stimulus program, of which Yellen was a chief architect, would spell doom. It hasn’t. Interest rates have fallen, credit continues to loosen, and the recovery has continued on a slow but steady course. That is in large part because of the brilliant way Yellen, now head of the Fed, has engineered the exit. As she eased back on bond buying, Yellen assured the market that it would still be a long while before the Fed shifted to actively raise interest rates. That, of course, has created more build up and potential problems for the economy when the Fed does raise interest rates, but hey, that’s a 2015 problem, and that’s not what we are voting on here. And while Yellen is not technically a businessperson, it’s hard to find someone whose success in 2014 has mattered more to the business community than hers.
Brian Moynihan—Chairman and CEO, Bank of America
Moynihan appears to have finally steered his bank out of the shadows of the financial crisis. In August, Moynihan struck a $16.7 billion deal to settle the remaining claims that Bank of America (BAC) sold government entities and investors faulty mortgages. Agreeing to pay the government the largest penalty ever levied on a single company doesn’t seem like something to be rewarded for, but Moynihan was. Given how many subprime mortgages the bank sold in the run up to the financial crisis that went bad, the consensus was that Moynihan had negotiated a good deal. In early October, BofA’s board of directors named Moynihan chairman as well as CEO. Shareholders had pushed to split the top titles at the bank back in 2009, when the bank was stumbling. But over five years later, investors didn’t seem to care. There have been bumps in 2014, like the time the bank had to admit it made a math error on its Fed stress test, and on Thursday, when it said it was taking a $400 million charge for some other legal issues. But generally, Moynihan has stuck to a plan that entails cutting costs, leveraging bank branches to cross-sell mortgages to depositors and investment banking services to corporate borrowers, and making the whole bank much more profitable. He’s not accomplished all of that yet. But in 2014, it seemed Moynihan was able to convince a lot of people that he will. BofA’s shares are up by 12% this year, making it one of the best performing big bank stocks of the year.
Paul Taubman—CEO, PJT Partners
In 2014, Paul Taubman won a victory for anyone who has been pushed out of job and swore they’d “show them.” In 2012, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman chose Colm Kelleher over Taubman to be the bank’s head of investment banking. That put Taubman out of a job. But in 2014, Taubman showed his former Morgan Stanley colleagues what they lost. Taubman nabbed a lead investment banking role on one of the year’s biggest deals, Comcast’s $45 billion planned purchase of Time Warner Cable, winning the assignment away from the big banks, including his former employer, with their legions of bankers and deep pockets, virtually on his own. Since then, he has recruited a handful of top Morgan Stanley bankers to join him. Last month, Blackstone, the private equity behemoth, said it planned to spin off its M&A advisory business and named Taubman the chairman and chief executive officer of the newly formed, not yet named, firm, giving Taubman even more firepower to remind his former rivals at Morgan Stanley just what they gave up.
Paul Singer—CEO, Elliot Management
Buying the debt of countries is generally considered one of Wall Street’s lower risk investments. Except for what is a generally accepted risk: If a country decides it doesn’t want to pay its bills, it won’t. Countries make their own laws, generally in their own favor. There is no hard and fast way to make a sovereign nation pay back money it doesn’t want to. None of that accepted wisdom stopped Paul Singer, though. In 2014, Singer won a key court decision in a decade-long battle to force Argentina to pay him and other investors $1.5 billion on a soured debt deal. It’s unclear how much Singer could make, but it’s likely a lot. The original value of the debt was $170 million, but Singer probably picked up his distressed portion for a fraction of that. While Argentina has yet to pay, and has vowed it won’t (it calls Singer a vulture and says he is entitled to no more than the reduced amount it paid other bondholders in the deal a decade ago) the summer court ruling makes it likely Singer will get something close to what he is asking for. Singer has already forced Argentina to default on two other bonds offerings in order to avoid paying him. Argentina may still have a trick up its sleeve (the country says a debt provision expires in December that will make it easier to negotiate with Singer) but it’s looking close to saying mercy, logging another surprising win—in a career filled with a string of them—for the billionaire hedge fund manager.