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15 fabulous Fortune reads from 2014

Every year, Fortune publishes hundreds of magazine stories and thousands more online. Winnowing down the best is impossible and, for that matter, totally subjective. But we’ve tried to pick out a few from among the most compelling. They take you from the Vatican bank to a “Club Fed” prison, and from inside the struggling McDonald’s fast-food empire to the chaos at Sony Pictures after hackers breached its computer systems. It is just a sampling of what Fortune’s team does everyday. Stay tuned for much more in 2015.

The CEO whisperer

Robbins walks on water—or at least seems to—in his infinity pool at his home in Palm Beach.

Once known as an infomercial pitchman, Tony Robbins has quietly morphed into a C-suite coach. Captains of industry and finance pay him millions of dollars for his wisdom. In this profile, he talks about his rise, his business philosophy, and the executives who seek his advice. (Oct. 30)

This pope means business

Pope Francis isn’t just looking out for his flock of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. He’s also in charge of a massive bureaucracy and banking system that has, by many accounts been in disarray for quite some time. Reforming the Vatican’s troubled financial operations is near the top of his to-do list. Here’s a look at how the people’s pontiff has fared and what still needs to be done. (Aug. 14)

The abrasiveness trap: High-achieving men and women are described differently in reviews

In reviewing employee performance, managers fall into a curious pattern. They give male workers a lot of constructive suggestions. Women, meanwhile, get a lot of negative feedback – and are told to pipe down. The difference, highlighted in this story, shows the extra burden on female employees in rising to the top. (Aug. 26)

 

Lessons from the world’s most successful people

After interviewing top business executives for 30 years, Fortune’s Patricia Sellers has gleaned a thing or two about how to succeed. In this post, adapted from a talk she gave to students at her high school alma mater, Sellers lays out the 10 things you should keep in mind while striving toward your goal. (May 29)

Life Behind Bars: Matthew Kluger reveals all

Matthew Kluger, a former attorney with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, arrives at federal court in Newark, N.J. on June 4, 2012, for sentencing.

If you ever wondered what it’s like to serve time in “Club Fed” for insider trading, here’s your chance. A former Wall Street lawyer convicted of passing information about planned mergers to friend talked to Fortune about working in the prison kitchen, lining up to use a computers and avoiding the gym. Of course, fellow inmates bombard him with legal questions. (July 7)

 

Peter Thiel disagrees with you

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and tech financier, is Silicon Valley’s contrarian-in-chief. His ideas turn off a lot of people, as this deep dive into mind showed. But there’s no arguing with his achievements. That’s why the tech industry listens carefully to what he says – even if it’s sometime a little odd. (Sept. 4)

Fallen Arches: Can McDonald’s get its mojo back?

Things aren’t going so well for McDonald’s, that world’s largest restaurant company and the quintessential fast-food chain. Market share and sales are declining because of growing competition and increasingly picky customers. The pressure is on CEO Don Thompson to turn around the Golden Arches. But as this story shows, a shake up is easier said than done in a company that, for decades, has depended on Big Macs and fries. (Nov. 12)

At financial news sites, stock promoters make inroads

Beware of writers saying nice things about individual stocks on some top financial website. Some guest contributors – including Forbes.com and Seeking Alpha – were allegedly paid to promote them, raising serious ethical concerns. Some of their handiwork appears to have helped to lift share prices. A scary report about the problem and the scrambling by the websites to clean up the mess. (March 20)

Inside Elon Musk’s $1.4 billion score

Elon Musk

In the annals of wheeling and dealing, Tesla’s push for government handouts to build a massive battery plant almost certainly ranks near the top. The electric car maker’s CEO, Elon Musk, managed to squeeze $1.4 billion in incentives from Nevada using a mix of cajoling, bluffing and prodding. This story shows in amazing detail just how he won. (Dec. 1)

This CEO is out for blood

Founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes undergoing the blood test she invented at Theranos’s headquarters in Palo Alto.

Elizabeth Holmes founded her revolutionary blood diagnostics company, Theranos, when she was a 19-year old Stanford undergrad. A decade later, it’s now worth more than $9 billion, and shaking up the health care industry. Read how she managed to do it despite an early fear of blood. (June 12)

Tech industry job ads: Older workers need not apply

Youth rules in Silicon Valley, where anyone with grey hair is an anomaly. One reason for the extreme age imbalance? Job ads that are exclusively for new or recent college graduates, a pool of candidates that is overwhelmingly in its early twenties. The trouble is that government regulators say such ad may illegally discriminate against older applicants. Fortune investigates. (June 19)

Is T.J. Maxx the best retail store in the land?

While off-price chain stores suffer, TJ Maxx’s parent, TJX, is thriving. What’s the secret? Fortune lays them out: How to treat suppliers, tempt customers to buy and turn over inventory. It’s the playbook anyone in retail can learn from. (July 24)

I work at Sony Pictures. This is what it was like after we got hacked.

Sony Pictures Entertainment studios in Culver City, Calif. in Dec. 2014.

A Sony Pictures employee showed up for work one day in November and saw a skeleton on her computer screen. What happened next shook the company to its core and left employees terrified about their personal information being leaked online. She gives a peek at what it was like from the inside and at how the movie studio left workers largely in the dark. (Dec. 20)

Is Tony Fadell the next Steve Jobs or … the next Larry Page?

Tony Fadell’s track record in tech is impressive. He was the godfather of Apple’s iPod. Then he went on to found Nest, a maker of smart appliances, which he sold to Google for $3.2 billion. But he’s not kicking his feet up yet, as this Fortune profile makes clear. He’s still leading Nest, and hopes to put his connected thermostats, smoke alarms and anything else he can come up with into your home. (June 12)

 

Positively un-American tax dodges

Big U.S. companies are moving their “headquarters” overseas to dodge billions in taxes. Who ends up paying their share? The rest of us. A fascinating look into the world of “inversions” and how companies you know are leaving the country – albeit, only nominally – for more profitable homes elsewhere. (July 7)