1. Best Comeback
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, stock markets plummeted around the globe. After waves of layoffs were announced and consumer confidence ebbed, it seemed the bad news just wouldn't stop. But as the year ended, the major stock indexes the Dow Jones Industrial Average, London's FTSE 100 and Tokyo's Nikkei had all rebounded above Sept. 10 levels.
2. Best Dotcom Survivor
With the simplest of business models matching buyers to sellers and taking a percentage of each completed sale the online auction powerhouse eBay rode out the wave of antitech sentiment that drowned many other former stars. The company has grabbed about 90% of the online consumer auction market. Almost 38 million registered users can't be wrong.
3. Best Climbdown
Under pressure to help countries ravaged by AIDS, pharmaceutical companies reversed their insistence that patented drugs be protected and paid for and agreed to supply cut-rate antiretroviral medicines in Africa. Poor nations in the region had long said the high cost of the drugs was taking a toll in human lives. Their case was later bolstered when the U.S. and Canada, fearing terrorist anthrax attacks, pressured German giant Bayer to sell Cipro, its anti-anthrax drug, at a steep discount.
4. Best Reform
Credit Russia for its ongoing overhaul of the country's taxation system. This year Moscow introduced a flat personal income tax rate of 13%, a move designed to encourage citizens to pay the excise rather than opt for often expensive avoidance schemes. Reports suggest personal income tax receipts have risen 70% as a result.
5. Best Legal Chutzpah
To settle private antitrust claims that it overcharged for its Windows operating software, in which it has a monopoly, Microsoft said it would donate more than $1 billion in software and training to the poorest schools in the U.S. Not everybody is happy. A U.S. federal judge is considering whether to make the company donate cash instead of its products, lest Microsoft gain dominance in the education market too.
1. The Absolute Worst
Enron, the U.S. energy giant that brought the trading of electricity, oil and natural gas to the Internet, was once considered among the most innovative of companies. Then a combination of slumping energy prices, dubious accounting and trading practices, management hubris and a pile of debt brought the firm to its knees. Though 4,000 employees lost their jobs, the now bankrupt company did manage one last spending surge: it paid $55 million to 500 of its "critical" executives to persuade them to stay.
2. Worst Job
Almost 5,000 Chinese miners have died in accidents this year, a statistic that appears to contradict official claims that safety has improved. Beijing says it has shut 12,000 potentially dangerous mines. But 23,000 remain open.
3. Worst Gamble
Europe's big telecom operators are ultimately expected to lay out at least $230 billion upgrading their wireless networks for the latest 3G or third generation technology. Trouble is, they don't have that kind of cash on hand, so France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom and others have piled up billions in debt in the teeth of a recession. And, oh yes, nobody's sure when 3G, which is supposed to allow true Internet access via your handset, is really going to work.
4. Worst Move
Indonesian soldiers, paid by oil giant ExxonMobil to protect its facility in Aceh from the local rebel army, stand accused of torturing and killing villagers, hundreds of whom have filed complaints with human rights groups. The response from ExxonMobil execs about the behavior of the troops on their payroll? Nothing we can do about it. Whatever happened to spin control?'
5. Worst Crisis
After three years of grinding recession, Argentina is on the brink of devaluing the peso and defaulting on its $132 billion debt. A recent run on the banks forced the government to limit cash withdrawals to $250 a week. Could Argentina set off a crisis in emerging markets, like the one that began in Asia in 1997? Maybe not. Its economy has been in so much trouble this year that a collapse would be almost anticlimactic.