Profile: the biggest names of 2007

Adam Applegarth

Disaster of the year

adam applegarthHas a business model ever backfired so spectacularly? Ex-Northern Rock CEO Applegarth made it his mission to transform the bank from a staid regional building society into one of finance’s most dynamic stocks.

Why court savers when you could go straight to the money markets? Lend long, borrow short, that was the way – until the markets froze up and left the bank short of cash. Sports-mad, shaven-headed Applegarth is undoubtedly savvy: in January he cashed in shares worth £1.6m at £12 each.

But his legacy is appall­ing – the first run on a high-street bank since 1866, a bill for the taxpayer of £35bn and counting, an intractable problem for a government on the ropes, and a damning loss of reputation for Britain abroad.  

James Cayne

Survivor of the year

james cayneThe implosion of two Bear Stearns hedge funds in July sounded the trumpet for the subprime meltdown that would later claim Northern Rock.

Where was the bank’s CEO, Jimmy Cayne, 73, during the worst disaster in its 84-year history? Apparently on the golf course or playing bridge, according to press reports. Rivals Stan O’Neal at Merrill and Citi’s Chuck “I’m still dancing” Prince have long since bitten the dust, yet the Bear chief remains in place.  

Vince Cable

MP of the year

vince cableOnce seen as a capable but dull economics anorak, Cable’s stock took a massive leap in his few months as acting Lib Dem leader, revealing his beguiling combination of modesty, great wisdom and wit. Where had the idiots been hiding him?

As Simon Nixon has pointed out, he was one of the few MPs fully to understand what was at stake over Northern Rock – even succeeding in making a compelling case for nationalisation. But ultimately, he will be remembered for his dagger-sharp observation that Gordon Brown had morphed “from Stalin to Mr Bean”. It was the quote of the year – and the moment in which the PM’s hopes died. 

Natalie Massenet

Trend-setter of the year

It was a year of the e-tailers and leading the charge was Natalie Massenet. The daughter of a Chanel model and herself a former magazine editor, Massenet, 42, launched her online boutique, Net-a-Porter, in 2000, and has doubled turnover each year since – gaining considerable devotion from fashionistas for the mix of labels carried and her zippy fashion tips.

American-born, but operating out of London, Massenet now ships to 150 countries. Her secret? A genuinely new concept: “merging a magazine with a store”. 

Ros Altmann

Fighter of the year

Ros Altmann, 51, spent five years campaigning for justice, pro bono, for the victims of failed company pension schemes refused compensation by the government. A former Downing Street adviser, she became a thorn in the government’s side, mixing powerful arguments with eye-catching stunts – including the memorable “Stripped of Our Pensions” campaign, which saw robbed pensioners parading naked outside Parliament.

The battle, and attendant smear campaign, exacted a huge emotional toll. “I sometimes feel very isolated and very scared,” she said. This week, she finally triumphed: extracting the full £2.9bn owed. Bravo.   

Vijay Mallya

Entrepreneur of the year

vijay mallyaThe “Branson of Bangalore” may not have the ascetic discipline of the Mittal, Ambani and Tata clans, but he’s done more than most to imprint the power of India’s family firms on Western minds. You can’t miss him, he’s usually dripping with jewellery and has a nice line in leonine hairdos.

You could argue that Mallya is the tycoon most likely to influence those coming behind him as India’s consumer revolution takes off. “My lifestyle got intertwined with the brand personality and it’s kept on developing,” says the self-styled King of Good Times. “I live for tomorrow.”  

And the best of the rest  

While the rest of the investment world was trying to work out how much money it had lost in the subprime crisis, three young guns from Goldman Sachs – Dan Sparks, Michael Swenson, and Josh Birnbaum – hit the biggest jackpot in Wall Street history by making giant bets against the US mortgage market.

The trio battled throughout with the bank’s more cautious bosses, who feared a massive trading disaster. They could have become Nick Leesons. But, with $4bn in the bag, they ended up trouncing trading legends such as George Soros.  

Amid all the hype about “philantropreneurs” this year, Icap’s Michael Spencer – a physicist turned gambler, turned gold trader, turned moneybroker – deserves the real plaudits for persuading the notoriously stingy City that coughing up is a pleasure as well as a duty. This year, Icap’s annual Christmas charity day raised a record £9.2m. 

As well as subprime, and a whole host of unpleasant financial acronyms, 2007 introduced the world to the concept of ‘sovereign wealth funds’, and few were in the headlines more often than that of Qatar. The brains behind the fund is Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim al-Thani.

Whether wooing the Sainsburys on his yacht in Sardinia, playing white knight to the London Stock Exchange, or propping up the Candy brothers’ property empire, the Sheikh has been ubiquitous. As his cousin, the Emir, recently observed, “I may run the country, but he owns it.”