Skip to Content

The Highs (and Lows) of a Remarkable Year in Business

Tariffs! Twitter Tirades! Stomach-Churning market volatility! The year in business did not lack for memorable moments (Yup, we’re looking at you, Elon musk). But amid the drama, corporate america also recorded some memorable firsts.

Here, the highs and lows of a remarkable year.

▪ FIRSTS IN CORPORATE AMERICA

Six Milestone Moments that Emerged from an Eventful Year in Business

 

Apple campus:Noah Berger—AFP/Getty Images; Peele: Mike Coppola—VF18/Getty Images; protester: Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty; Uber car: AP/REX/Shutterstock; Ford: Jenn Ackerman; [f500link]Starbucks[/f500link] worker: Joshua Trujillo—Starbucks; Cook: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple and Amazon become America’s first companies to reach $1 trillion in market cap. California passes a gender-quota law mandating female representation on public company boards. Land O’Lakes’ Beth Ford becomes the first openly gay female CEO in the Fortune 500. An Uber AV becomes the first self-driving car to be involved in a fatal crash, hitting an Arizona woman. Jordan Peele becomes the first African-American Best Screenplay Oscar winner; Get Out, which he also directed, earns more than $250 million worldwide for Universal Pictures. Starbucks opens its first U.S. “signing store,” accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing customers, in Washington, D.C.

▪ BEST ZINGER

“While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

Statement from Sanofi, maker of Ambien, in response to Roseanne Barr’s claim that she took the drug before firing off offensive tweets.

US-ENTERTAINMENT-DISNEY-TCA-PRESSTOUR
Valerie Macon—AFP/Getty Images; Trifonov_Evgeniy—Getty Images

▪ VENTURE CAPITAL

Hey, Must Be The Money!

 


Megarounds—raising $100 million or more—used to be a rarity. But in 2018 they became NBD. July saw an all-time single month record of 55 $100-million-plus venture deals, according to Crunchbase. A few that made headlines: Bulk-shopping startup Boxed raised $111 million; cars haring platform Get around raised $300 million; and Slack raised $427 million.

▪ OUT OF THIS WORLD

What Didn’t Elon Musk Do in 2018?

Be it business or pleasure, he couldn’t stay out of the news. Here, a few of his greatest hits.

 

▪ SORRY!

Apology Matrix

It may be hard to say you’re sorry, but CEOs were tripping over themselves in 2018 to apologize to customers they (or their predecessors) had wronged.
This year’s ­corporate confessions came in many forms, from 54-­character tweets to million-dollar advertising campaigns. Here are some of this year’s most memorable mea culpas.

 

bear: Adam Bettcher—Getty Images: Dorsey: Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images; Chick-fil-A: Michael Nagle—Bloomberg via Getty Images; Parker: Mike Pont—WireImage/Getty Images; Zuckerberg: Simon Dawson—Bloomberg via Getty Images

▪ IRL SHOPPING RIP

Sears, Nine West, Claire’s, Bon-Ton, The Walking Company, Mattress Firm, and Brookstone all declared bankruptcy in 2018.

 

▪ BIG MAP

Legalize It!

We all have vices. For some, it’s a nightcap; for others it’s betting on sports while puffing on a joint. In what feels like a long time coming, American states are moving toward legalizing the latter. Ten states and Washington, D.C., have sanctioned medicinal and recreational marijuana for those over age 21, and 33 more states allow medicinal use. Sports betting has been fully legalized in six states, with three more on the way, and 15 more with bills pending.

American Gaming Association; Legal Sports Report; NCSL
American Gaming Association; Legal Sports Report; NCSL

▪ UNEXPECTEDLY SUCCESSFUL ENDEAVOR

Uniqlo

Uniqlo’s rollout of vest vending machines. The company says its San Francisco airport unit racks up $10,000 a month in sales.

Kyodo News via Getty Images
Kyodo News via Getty Images

 

▪ TRUMP

The Trump Test

In Trump world, things can get personal—fast. Here are the business leaders that took on Trump—and those who had his back—in 2018.

Trump: Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images; Thiel: Alex Wong—Getty Images; Marcus: Michael Loccisano—FilmMagic/Getty Images; Liveris: Simon Dawson—Bloomberg via Getty Images; Munoz: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Dimon: Scott Olson—Getty Images; Chouinard: Brad Barket/Getty Images

▪ ODDEST ENDORSEMENT

Chicken Little

KFC promises $11,000 to the first baby born after Sept. 9 with the first name Harland, after Col. Harland Sanders.

Moses Robinson—Getty Images
Moses Robinson—Getty Images

▪ TOP SHELF

Best Reads

These standout tomes made our must-read list this year.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
BY JOHN CARREYROU

The WSJ’s Carreyrou digs deep into the Theranos backstory, weaving together a wide swath of characters and story threads to keep readers hooked.

WHITE BOOK

Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley
BY EMILY CHANG

There are two Valleys: one for men and another for women. Chang chronicles this 21st-century boys’ club—and the women trying to navigate this scene.

WHITE BOOK

Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World’s Biggest Sports Scandal
BY KEN BENSINGER

An engrossing look at how the FBI, IRS, and several international intelligence agencies brought down corruption-riddled FIFA.

WHITE BOOK

Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World
BY TOM WRIGHT AND BRADLEY HOPE

The story of 1MDB, a fraudulent web spun by a social-climbing con artist turned Wharton grad who is responsible for swindling $5 billion from Goldman Sachs.

▪ IPOS

Largest IPOs of 2018 listed on U.S. Exchanges

▪ BEST NON-FEELING

“It certainly doesn’t fee like [a monopoly] to me.”

Mark Zuckerberg, to senators asking if Facebook is a monopoly.

reactions-only_V2

▪ TOO CHEESY?

The Lady Dorito

Talk of the “Lady Dorito” on Twitter spread faster than cheesy dust shortly after PepsiCo’s then CEO Indra Nooyi commented in a January podcast that women “don’t like to crunch too loudly in public, and they don’t lick their fingers generously.” Though PepsiCo has said it’s always exploring new snacks, it confirms it already has a chip women love “called Doritos.”

▪ HYPE

Hype Index

Tide Pods: Bloomberg via Getty Images; scooters: Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images; bagel emoji: Courtesy of Apple; Melania Trump: Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images; Gritty: Len Redkoles—NHLI via Getty Images; Fortnite: Courtesy of Epic Games

▪ BEST INTERNSHIP

$1,000,000

Why ride the bench when you can be an All-Star intern?

Darius Bazley #55 a top basketball recruit from Cincinnati, OH will spend a year as a New Balance Intern rather then play in College.Tim Clayton—Corbis via Getty Images
Tim Clayton—Corbis via Getty Images

So much for making minimum wage while you fetch coffee and make copies—18-year-old Darius Bazley is the Million-Dollar Intern. After de-committing to play basketball at Syracuse in March, NBA prospect Bazley will spend the mandatory one-year wait between high school and entering the NBA as an intern with New Balance, which will pay “$1 million ‘no matter what happens’ with his NBA career—and can pay up to $14 million if he reaches all performance incentives,” according to his agent, Rich Paul.

▪ THE MARKETS

The Six Most Buoyant Stocks in the S&P 500

Investors had a wild ride in 2018, but these six stocks notched standout returns with low volatility.

▪ BEST COUNTRIES TO DO BUSINESS IN

New Zealand, Singapore, Denmark, Hong Kong, China, Korea, Rep., Georgia, Norway, United States, United Kingdom, Macedonia.

 

▪ ET TU, TINSELTOWN

Yeah That Proved Hollywood’s Conventional Wisdom Wrong

 

Black Panther: Walt [f500link]Disney[/f500link] Studios Motion Pictures/Photofest (2); Crazy Rich Asians and A Star Is Born: Warner Bros./Photofest; emojis: Courtesy of Facebook
For such a faddish industry, Hollywood has a reputation for religiously adhering to outdated guidelines set by those who once called the shots. As power dynamics shifted and new voices intensified, 2018 challenged some of the longest-standing rules in the industry.

You can’t make a hit movie with an all-Asian cast.
Outcome: Crazy Rich Asians, based on the bestselling book, grosses nearly $173 million globally.

Don’t remake a film that was well received the first time.
Outcome: A Star Is Born glitters at the box office with almost $260 million worldwide and rave reviews.

Comic book audiences don’t want to get political.
Outcome: Earning $1.3 billion worldwide, Black Panther, which tackles race head-on, is the highest-grossing solo superhero film ever.

▪ NO LIKES

Founders that fled Facebook


Amid Facebook’s challenges—­Russian interference, privacy violations, and increasing regulations, to name a few—the company has recently had to contend with departures by founders whose companies Facebook acquired.

WhatsApp: Cofounder Jan Koum leaves Facebook reportedly over data privacy issues in April.

Instagram: Founders leave Facebook “to explore our curiosity.” in September.

Oculus: CEO Brendan Iribe quits in October, following his cofounder, who left in 2017.

The Best in Business Contributers:
Carson Kessler, Michal Lev-Ram, McKenna Moore, Scott DeCarlo, Polina Marinova, and Rachel King.

A version of this article appears in the December 1, 2018 issue of Fortune with the headline “The Best In Business 2018.”