The winners and losers of 2012

The hack

Rebekah Brooks

The March arrest of the former Sun editor, on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, took the News Corp hacking scandal into new territory. A former show biz reporter, Brooks’s rise through the tabloid world took her to the top of News International.

Sometimes described as Rupert Murdoch’s closest “daughter”, she was accused by the mogul’s actual offspring, Elisabeth Murdoch – a former friend – of having “f**ked the company”. Brooks, who is awaiting trial, nonetheless received a £10.1m pay off.

Renowned for her schmoozing charm, her key contribution to the Leveson Inquiry was the light she shed on her relationship with the prime minister. “Brilliant speech. I cried twice,” she texted after David Cameron’s 2009 party conference speech. Cameron later described a horse he’d borrowed from her as “fast, unpredictable and hard to control”. Not unlike Brooks.

The rebel

Eric Schmidt

Of the big US companies hauled over the UK tax avoidance coals this autumn, only Google has emerged with any credibility. Far from caving in like Starbucks, or issuing botched explanations like Amazon, chairman Eric Schmidt declared he was “very proud of the structure” built to minimise Google’s tax bill. “It is called capitalism.”

Schmidt has emerged as an international powerbroker, much feted by politicians, says The Independent. A member of the “semi-mysterious Bilderberg Group”, he also advises President Obama. A seasoned computer industry executive, he arrived at Google in 2001 to “impose some conventional business wisdom” on founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

His success is evident in the ubiquity of Google’s products. Schmidt gets away with his remarks because he has made Google – for now at least – bomb-proof.

The loser

Mitt Romney

Romney should have strolled into the White House: a successful businessman versus a lame-duck incumbent. The scion of one of the US’s oldest Mormon families, Romney saw himself as “a person of destiny”, says The New Yorker, deploying skills in analysis honed at private-equity group Bain to plot his way to power.

He was a fighter too, says The Washington Post, hardened by years in France, facing “rejection” as a Mormon missionary. So what went wrong?

A bruising primary battle against a field of “outlandish” rivals cost Romney dear, says The Guardian. It wasn’t the Democrats who first depicted him as “a corporate raider”, but Newt Gingrich. But his gaffes finished him off – particularly the leaked video where he wrote off 47% of voters as non-taxpaying parasites. Others drew the cartoon of Romney as out-of-touch, but he coloured it in himself.

The hotshot

Mark Carney

The first foreigner to head the Bank of England in its 318-year history, Mark Carney, 47, spent 13 years at Goldman Sachs before joining the Bank of Canada. He earned plaudits for navigating the financial crisis, although with a housing bubble in evidence, critics say “he’s getting out just in time”.

A demon ice hockey goalie at university, he still plays tough. As chairman of the Financial Stability Board, he rowed with JP Morgan boss, Jamie Dimon, over regulation. And he’s already calling for central banks to focus more on growth than inflation. No wonder George Osborne rates him, says The Wall Street Journal.

But does Carney really want to be known as “the outstanding central banker of his generation”? The last to hold that title was ex-Fed boss Alan Greenspan, “until his reputation collapsed along with the global economy”.

The cool head

Sheryl Sandberg

When the “First Lady” of Facebook told friends she planned to join the company as chief operating officer in 2008, many were incredulous. Sandberg had built a career at Google, under mentor Eric Schmidt. Why join 23-year-old Mark Zuckerberg? It was Schmidt’s advice that stuck.

“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.” The “only grown up in the room” at Facebook, Sandberg whipped it into shape ahead of this year’s listing, proving “a smooth and perfect foil” to Zuckerberg, says The Guardian. Even when the float fell flat, she didn’t lose her head.

If anyone can get the company back on track, and figure out how to make social networking lucrative, it’s probably her. And she’s already pocketed more than $40m from the sale of her own Facebook shares.

The banker

Bob Diamond

“Diamond Bob” was the US banker the British loved to hate. Instrumental in turning Barclays from dowdy UK bank to global player, detractors argued that Diamond personified everything that had gone wrong in the City.

The son of school teachers, he started out as a business-school lecturer, then became the epitome of the fat-cat banker. When Barclays became embroiled in allegations it had manipulated Libor, Diamond refused to go quietly, issuing a “smoking gun” email that dragged the deputy Bank of England governor, Paul Tucker, into the scandal.

Tucker’s avowal that he was unaware of the shenanigans was accepted. But his governorship prospects were severely damaged. “Thanks so much Bob, you’ve been an absolute brick,” wrote Tucker in 2008. Bet he doesn’t think so now.

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