15 Fabulous Fortune Reads From 2015

December 31, 2015, 2:00 PM UTC
Photograph by Andrew Burton

Apple CEO Tim Cook shared the leadership secrets that have helped his company thrive. An investigation into the Sony Pictures hacking revealed the fascinating story of what happened before, during, and after the crippling attack. These are just two of the many compelling articles that Fortune published this year. The following is just a taste of those we’re most proud of. They’ll introduce you to top executives, expose some unflattering tech industry realities, and take you behind the scenes at an entertainment giant just before the premiere of its latest blockbuster film. Of course, you can expect many more must-read stories from Fortune in 2016.

Apple's Tim Cook Leads Different

Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs. But that's okay. In taking over the tech giant from his iconic predecessor, Cook has forged a different path. He's pushed Apple (AAPL) into new products (smartwatches and payments, for example), signed off on a big acquisition (Beats music), and championed philanthropy (Jobs deliberately steered clear). A look at Cook's style and strategy through interviews with him and his lieutenants.

The Education of Airbnb's Brian Chesky

Brian Chesky

Brian Chesky, the co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, had to learn faster than nearly anyone about how to lead a company worth billions of dollars. Through trial and error, and by seeking out expert advice from people like Warren Buffett, he has managed to turn his online apartment and home rental service into a major rival to the hotel industry. Apparently, he's a quick study.

The Myth Of The 1% And The 99%

The Occupy Wall Street movement directed its protests, in part, at the 1%, the elite who control an outsized share of the nation's wealth. That rarified club is the prime example of inequality. Or maybe not. It turns out that membership in the 1% is more fluid than generally assumed. Just because people may be among the 1% one year, doesn't mean they will in the next.

This Is The Latest Way Employers Mask Age Bias, Lawyers Say

Wunderman, a firm that is part of WPP, posted this ad seeking a "digital native." Many employers have begun using the term in their employment ads.

Employers can't legally post job ads seeking only young workers because it would be age discrimination. But are they crossing the line by posting ads seeking "digital natives?" Some employment lawyers say the term is a thinly veiled reference to younger people who grew up online. When asked about it, most companies either ducked the topic or took their "digital native" ads down.

How the Star Wars Producer Went From Secretary to Studio Boss

Kathleen Kennedy, head of Lucasfilm and producer of the upcoming Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens

The Force is with Kathleen Kennedy, president of Walt Disney's Lucasfilm (DIS). The former assistant to Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg is now one of the most powerful figures in the movie industry. She has managed to revive the once-sputtering Star Wars franchise with the recent release, The Force Awakens, and helped to justify Disney's $4 billion acquisition of George Lucas' legendary studio in 2011. Fortune profiled Kennedy a few months before the blockbuster's debut in theaters in December, when success was far from certain.

Inside The Fortune 500's Quiet Transgender Revolution

AT&T's Ginger Chien

In the absence of guidance from the U.S. government about protecting transgender employees, many of the nation's biggest companies have filled the void by creating their own guidelines. The movement at companies like AT&T and started years ago, before transgender issues became so public with Caitlyn Jenner's announcement earlier this year. By establishing policies, transgender employees can more easily navigate the complications of healthcare coverage, name changes, and which bathroom to use.

Sony Pictures: Inside the Hack of the Century

Workers remove a poster-banner for "The Interview" from a billboard in Hollywood, California, December 18, 2014 a day after Sony announced it had no choice but to cancel the movie's Christmas release and pull it from theaters due to a credible threat.

Sony Pictures (SNE) suffered one of the biggest corporate hackings ever shortly before its comedy film, The Interview, was to premiere last year in theaters. The person (or people) responsible managed to shut down the studio's computer system, steal a huge cache of sensitive information, and delay the release of the movie about an assassination plot against North Korea's leader, Kim Jon-un. Fortune reconstructed what happened before, during, and after those frantic weeks inside Sony. The findings show a company ill-prepared to defend against hackers, who managed to simultaneously delay the film and embarrass studio executives by revealing their internal emails.

Whole Foods' John Mackey: The Conscious Capitalist

Walter Robb, co-chief executive officer of Whole Foods Market Inc.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey took a big risk 35 years ago in founding a grocery store specializing in organic and natural foods. Today, the idea is mainstream, and his chain (WFM) has expanded across the country. But business is still business for Mackey, who is no idealistic hippie. He opposes labor unions and Obamacare, for example. At the same time, he's trying to overcome increasing competition and a public relations fiasco involving an investigation in New York City that found that the company overcharged customers.


The (Very Big) Fight For The Small Screen

Internet TV isn't just about cat videos. But isn't exactly prime time television either. Companies ranging from major broadcasters to online upstarts are pushing to create big businesses in digital video. To find a winning formula, they are experimenting with focus  and formats that would be foreign to traditional broadcasting. At stake is a multi-billion market that is still up for grabs.

How DuPont Went To War With Activist Investor Nelson Peltz

DuPont (DD) has had an excruciatingly busy year. Management spent most of it trying to flight off a proxy war launched by activist investor Nelson Peltz, who argued that the venerable chemical giant would be better off broken up. The expensive and highly public battle served as a microcosm of the challenges companies now face from Wall Street. This article provides a behind the scenes look at the brawl, which ended up being just the first stop in DuPont's bumpy ride to becoming the acquisition target of rival Dow Chemical (DOW).

Will America's Shale Boomtowns Bust?

A pumpjacks operates in the foreground of a crude oil drilling rig outside Williston, North Dakota, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015.

When oil prices soared, Williston, N.D. boomed from its status as America's fracking capital. Now, with prices in a long decline, it's struggling. Unbridled optimism has turned to apprehension. Meanwhile, some locals question whether giving into the fast oil money was really worth it.

The Most Exclusive Boys' Club: America's Largest Startups

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, left, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, Tinder President Sean Rad, and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick: among the many celebrated startups with no women on boards.

Silicon Valley's most valuable startups talk a lot about making the world a better place. But they are well behind when it comes to diversity. Fortune looked at the boards of many of the most high-flying tech companies like Airbnb, Pinterest, and Uber for their gender make-up. What it found was that women are entirely absent from most boards, as if operating in the clubby all male business world of the 19th Century.

Uber: An Oral History

Travis Kalanick, Uber's CEO, is a focus of protesters' anger.

In just five years, ride-hailing service Uber has managed to upend how people get around by taking on the taxi industry. The company has also become a huge business with a private valuation of $62.5 billion. Five of Uber's earliest employees talked to Fortune about that ride from startup to global powerhouse including the huge challenges the service faced, their surprise at how fast it has grown, and the serendipity in being hired.

Kohl's Grapples With Quest for New Golden Era

A Kohl's storefront in California.

Relentless expansion made Kohl's a force in retailing. But with its stores already nearly everywhere, the chain (KSS) is trying to reinvent itself to reignite growth. Staid is out. Adventurous is in (within reason). That means more e-commerce, more high-tech gadgets like fitness trackers, and more trendy clothing including the ubiquitous yoga pants. The question remains whether that will be enough.

A Biofuel Dream Gone Bad

Kior plant in Columbus, Mississippi.

Mississippi thought it had a winner in a cutting edge biofuel plant that opened in a small town in need of jobs. The state pitched in a $75 million loan to help get the project off the ground. Before long, however, the company behind the plant, KiOR, filed for bankruptcy. And the recriminations, some involving high-profile venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, started flying.

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