Best and Worst of 2013: The Year in Work and the Workplace

Published: Dec 19, 2013

 Finance       Workplace Issues       
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When it comes to career-related news and developments, there was a lot to celebrate in 2013. There was also a lot to condemn. And below, in no particular order, is a collection of bests and worsts from the year in work and the workplace.

Best Use of a Beastie Boys Song to Attempt to Increase the Number of Engineers Who Are Girls
Toy company GoldieBlox thought it had hit gold when its ad using the Beastie Boys’ song “Girls” received more than 8 million views. However, when Mike D and Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys saw the video, they thought it was whack, and now the ad has become the center of a battle in a court of law. GoldieBlox claims the version of the song it used is a parody and thus protected under fair use law. But the Beasties counterclaim that the video violates copyright and trademark law, not to mention is an example of false advertising, false endorsement, and unfair competition. In any case, you have to appreciate the lyrical changes that GoldieBlox made to the Beasties’ song, especially replacing “Girls, to do the dishes/Girls, to clean up my room” with “Girls, to build a spaceship/Girls, to code a new app.” 

Best Female CEO Appointment in the Largest City in the U.S. to Ever File for Bankruptcy
When General Motors named Mary Barra its new CEO, Barra became the first female to lead one of Detroit's Big 3 automakers, not to mention a role model for women across the country wishing to climb the corporate ladder. Barra first joined GM as an intern in 1980, and three decades later, after numerous positions at the firm, she became its top employee.

Best Movie About Bernie Madoff and His Ponzi Scheme That Isn’t Really About Bernie Madoff and His Ponzi Scheme
Although Woody Allen claims he didn’t have anyone in particular in mind (including members of the Madoff family) when he wrote Blue Jasmine, it’s nearly impossible to watch his latest, often-brilliant film without thinking about Bernie and Ruth and the Ponzi scheme of the century. (Side note: look for Cate Blanchett, who plays a Ruth Madoff-like tragic figure in Jasmine, to clean up come award season; also look for Andrew Dice Clay to pick up a couple accolades as well, for his moving portrayal of a blue collar worker duped by the movie’s Bernie Madoff stand-in.)

Worst Idea That a Wall Street Bank Had for a Fun Q&A on Twitter
There’s definitely someone at JPMorgan who thought #AskJPM was a stroke of genius. And it’s very likely that that someone will not be speaking up in any PR meetings in the near or distant future. The reason for that is after the bank invited Twitter users to pose career-related questions to a JPMorgan vice chairman, the Twittersphere took the opportunity to tell JPMorgan and its management team what they really thought of them. Here’s one such thought/question/tweet: “I have Mortgage Fraud, Market Manipulation, Credit Card Abuse, Libor Rigging and Predatory Lending AM I DIVERSIFIED?”

Best Internship Interview Question Involving a Living Thing Asked by a Bulge-Bracket Investment Bank
“If you could be a tree, which kind would you be and why?” Yes, this interview question was actually posed this year to a prospective summer intern by one of the largest banks in the world. Which proves that it not only takes a thorough knowledge of the financial markets to get a job on Wall Street, but also a deep knowledge of flora.

Best Book About the Failure of Wall Street, the Failure of Washington, and the Bottoming Out of the Economy
In November, New Yorker Staff Writer George Packer won a National Book Award for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. And in an interview with online magazine Guernica about The Unwinding, Packer had this to say about what’s recently been going on in Silicon Valley (where he grew up): “It’s like Wall Street and Washington: people go to cash out, divorced from their ostensible functions. Wall Street was supposed to provide credit to the economy. Washington was supposed to provide sensible legislation and representation, and Silicon Valley is supposed to create engineering products that change lives, and I don’t see that happening in a very persuasive scale anymore.”

Worst Day of the Year for Former Goldman Sachs VP Fabrice “Fab Fab” Tourre
Of the 365 days of 2013, there’s no doubt that August 1, 2013 will go down as the year’s worst for the Fabulous One. That was the day the former Goldman trader was found guilty on six counts of securities fraud stemming from the infamous subprime mortgage security deal widely known as Abacus. Upon the announcement of the verdict, Fab Fab became the most well known Wall Street executive to be found guilty of financial crisis-related wrongdoing. Meanwhile, thousands of higher-ranking Wall Street executives are still at large.

Worst Tweet Posted by Former Business Insider Chief Technology Officer Pax Dickinson Who Was Ousted From the Firm for His Offensive Tweets
There’s actually an eight-way tie for this one. And all of the worst tweets (which are racists, misogynistic, or both) were responsible for Dickinson’s dismissal from his BI post this past September. (In other tasteless tweeting news, Anthony Weiner’s bid to succeed outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was derailed when yet another woman claimed that she and Weiner had been sexting each other).

Best Quote By Billionaire Investor Warren Buffett on the U.S. Government Potentially Allowing the Country to Default on Its Debt
Speaking on CNBC in October about why lawmakers shouldn’t for one second even consider allowing the U.S. to default on its monstrous amount of debt, the Oracle of Omaha said, "Creditworthiness is like virginity. It can be preserved, but not restored very easily." (Incidentally, remember that $5 billion investment Buffett made in Goldman Sachs at the height of the financial crisis? Well, in September, Buffett cashed out of the bet, turning a $2 billion profit.)

Worst Apology by a High-Ranking Government Official for Doing Illegal Drugs in a Drunken Stupor
The Great White North took on new meaning when Toronto Mayor Rob Ford stood behind a podium and apologized for smoking crack cocaine “in a drunken stupor.” Although Ford’s behavior was bad news for the city of Toronto, it was great news for writers in New York. That is, it was great material for this very well executed SNL skit.

Best Idea for a New Fast-Food-Related Business That Will Certainly Not See the Light of Day But If It Did Would Make McMillions
Imagine a “giant McDonald's flagship store” “located in Times Square” that “serves food from all the different McDonald's menus from around the world.” It’s “like Epcot Center: there'd be a central courtyard, maybe a water feature (McOcean or something), and surrounding it would be a variety of pavilions, each replicating the McDonald's experience from a different country. Pop over to Taiwan for a McRice burger (the rice, oddly, is formed into cakes that replace the buns, not the fillings), back to Brazil for a side of nachos, and wash it all down with a frosty cane-sugar Coke from Mexico.” This is the dream of Jeb Boniakowski, who outlined his idea for “McWorld” in The Awl this past January.

Best Previous Job Held By Newly Appointed CCO (Chief Catholic Officer)
In March, the Catholic Church received a new leader, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was named the new Pope. And it didn’t take long for the new Pope, who hails from Argentina, to cause quite a stir. A few months after he started his new job, Pope Francis (he took the name of St. Francis of Assisi, “the first clue to [his] nature,” writes John Carroll in an excellent profile of the Pope in this week’s New Yorker) had this to say after a journalist asked him about the status of gay priests in the Church: “If someone is gay who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Which was a surprising yet welcoming reply to many Catholics and non-Catholics around the world. It was perhaps also surprising yet welcoming to many when, a few weeks back, the new Pope revealed that his past job experience included this: working as a bouncer in a Buenos Aires nightclub.

Worst Piece of News Involving a Summer Intern or Summer Internship
In August, a 21-year-old Bank of America intern in London named Moritz Erhardt died after reportedly working three all-nighters in a row. Although the cause of Erhardt’s death was not proven to have been linked to the 72 consecutive hours of work, this tragic story did shed new light on the heavy workloads carried by young bankers on Wall Street. It was also likely the cause for Goldman Sachs putting into place a new No-Saturdays policy for its junior bankers, as well as for JPMorgan implementing a free-weekend-once-a-month policy for its younger staff.

Best Quote About Bad Boys and What Makes or Doesn’t Make Them Sexy From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
“When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.” 

Best Piece of Art Sold by SAC Capital Founder Steven A. Cohen at Sotheby’s Within a Week of SAC Pleading Guilty to Insider Trading Charges and Cohen Agreeing to Pay $1.8 Billion in Fines
The year 2013 was not a good one for Steve Cohen, whose eponymous hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors was finally nabbed by the Feds for insider trading. However, Cohen, who is quite the art collector, was able to unload a few of his finer pieces this fall over at Sotheby’s. In November, he sold two Warhols, a Brice Marden, and this Gerard Richter beauty, which went for a pretty cool $26.4 million. In other SAC Capital/insider trading news, one of Cohen's main men, Michael S. Steinberg, an SAC portfolio manager, was found guilty yesterday of conspiracy and securities fraud. Steinberg, who is facing up to 85 years behind bars (though is likely to receive just three to four), will be sentenced on April 25, 2014.

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