There are mistakes. Then there are mistakes.
In assessing the most talked-about errors in judgment by top companies and their leadership this year, it's clear some might have been avoided with a healthy dose of common sense. The following are a few resolutions the execs might want to consider to avoid similar blunders in the New Year.
Resolution: Think before you speak
When the Deepwater Horizon blowout pumped millions of dollars of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, it was a historic setback for BP. But confidence in the company really bubbled away when CEO Tony Hayward -- now the former CEO -- opened his mouth.
The ignored warnings, safety violations and overall culture at BP were the real villains here, and perhaps Hayward was a bit of a scapegoat. Nevertheless, he was the man in charge and, as such, he oozed failure.
Among his more memorable bon mots during the crisis:
"We made a few little mistakes early on."
"There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I'd like my life back."
Further alienating those mourning the loss of loved ones who worked the rig, and the thousands whose livelihoods were affected by the spill, Hayward dashed off from a Congressional hearing during the heat of the crisis to take part in a yacht race off the Isle of Wight.
Resolution: Be less arrogant
In giving another example of bad crisis management, Steve Jobs unintentionally crafted a punchline in the tradition of "That's what she said."
"You're doing it wrong," was the Apple CEO's snippy retort to all those ungrateful fanboys who complained that their new iPhone 4s had miserable, unreliable connectivity and reception.
But "Antennagate," as the design flaw would be dubbed, would not go away, and Apple was forced to issue rubber bumper cases (albeit not a real apology) to resolve the issue.
Resolution: Pick your battles wisely
Anyone who makes a living in the media has a gut instinct to defend free speech as vociferously as possible. But Amazon's decision to not only sell but later defend an e-book called The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct strained that resolve.
In a purely philosophical sense, Amazon may have tried to do the right thing. Banning a book is serious business and a slippery slope. Caving in to the complaints of some customers would raise the question of where to draw the line. There are, of course, the wrong-headed who would demand that anything from The Quran to The Joy of Sex be censored.
But here was a book that was universally attacked and with almost no good or rational argument to defend it. Amazon could have avoided a lot of grief and a potential widespread boycott had it just decided that this one particular, self-published bit of trash wasn't worth the fight.
Resolution: If you date an employee, go Dutch
Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd was forced to resign from a post that netted him more than $24-million (U.S.) in cash and bonuses last year. A reality star was to blame.
Hurd was ousted after submitting a series of invoices, ranging from $1,000 to $20,000, as company expenses when they were actually personal in nature.
Those expenses were related to a contractor, a one-time reality TV star named Jodie Fisher, with whom he had a still murkily defined relationship. H-P's investigation eventually determined there had been no violation of the company's sexual harassment policy, and both parties have denied a physical relationship.
The repercussions of Hurd's dipping a hand into the company till are still being felt.
A lawsuit filed on behalf of shareholders by a Massachusetts pension fund is seeking unspecified damages because the controversy eroded confidence in the company, and, in the wake of the resignation, led to a loss in stock value and $9-billion in market capitalization. The ill effect on the company of Hurd's severance package, valued at nearly $35-million, is also cited.
In September, Hurd landed at Oracle, named as co-president and a member of the board. A legal battle with H-P was later settled when he gave back roughly $14-million in stock options that were part of his separation agreement.
Resolution: Look before you leap
Moving Jay Leno to a 10 p.m. weekday show on NBC must have seemed a great idea. Then again, so did New Coke, Clear Pepsi and the Osborne Family Variety Show.
The positives: The move allowed Conan O'Brien to bring his younger demographic to the Tonight Show; Leno would continue as a brand-name celebrity for the network; and it would save tons of cash from not having to pay for all those expensive dramas, such as the Law & Order franchise.
What happened was one of the biggest broadcasting blunders of all time. Leno failed and Conan floundered. NBC's subsequent attempt to hit the "undo" button led to a massive payout to O'Brien (eventually losing him to Time Warner's TNT network), a lack of replacement shows at the ready (the dismal Marriage Ref had to kill time) and weakened ratings for Leno's tarnished Tonight Show return.
If only someone had asked themselves WWCD (What Would Comcast Do).
Resolution: Check your work
It hasn't been a good year for the boys in quality control at Johnson & Johnson. The company was forced to yank products from shelves all year long because of chemical and bacteria contaminants, sickening smells and pieces of metal and wood finding their way into medicinal products.
Earlier this month, the company voluntarily recalled all lots of Rolaids Ultra Strength SoftChews following reports of foreign materials in the product, including metal and wood particles (a third-party manufacturer was blamed).
A couple of weeks earlier, an estimated 12 million bottles of Mylanta were recalled after trace amounts of alcohol were found in flavouring additives. A month before that, Tylenol 8 Hour Caplets were pulled off shelves after customers reported discoloration and a musty smell.
It was even worse earlier in the year when 43 medicines made for infants and children (among them Tylenol, Benadryl, Zyrtec and Motrin) were recalled for what was described as manufacturing problems. The list of recalled products throughout the year is even longer, but we are running out of space. Suffice it to say, it was all very hard to swallow.