2006: The Year in Business

Wal-Mart Wars

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer and the nation's largest private employer, continued to battle a constant barrage of attacks from its critics about treatment of workers and suppliers.

While the company tried to "transform" itself to attract more affluent shoppers -- embracing fashionable clothing, which bombed, and environmentalism, which received plaudits and even a visit from Mr. Green himself, Al Gore -- critics pointed to the company's salary caps, revised attendance policy, and health-care plans that left some employees out in the cold.

The company started off 2006 with high hopes for growth and ended the year with dismal holiday sales after trying to change too much, too fast.

In 2007, the question will be whether the company can find its way again or whether it will remain dead in the water.

Hedge Fund Meltdown

They're big and they're secret. Many market analysts believe they provide almost half the buying and selling volume on Wall Street every day. They're hedge funds.

This year the call for increased regulation of the quickly growing industry grew stronger when Amaranth -- a big fund based in a nondescript office building just north of New York -- imploded almost overnight.

The hedge fund's natural-gas trader made some big bets from his apartment/office in Canada and lost the fund more than $6 billion in a little more than a week.

It remains to be seen whether Washington is going to be able to find the political capital to rein in these big-money, behind-the-scenes players.

Ken Lay Is Found Guilty, Then Dies

It took years and millions of taxpayer dollars to get Enron founder Ken Lay and former CEO Jeff Skilling into a Houston federal courtroom to face charges for their roles in the Enron implosion.

A jury of their peers found the energy trading firm's former leaders guilty of fraud and conspiracy charges in late spring.

Within weeks of the verdict, Lay had died in Colorado -- apparently his heart gave out. A judge vacated his conviction and dismissed the indictment against Lay on Oct. 17, a decision based on a long legal precedent in this country.

Skilling reported to federal prison in December to begin serving his 24-year prison sentence.

Buffet Gives Away $40 Billion

With a few strokes of the pen, one of the world's most prolific investors signed away most of his $40 billion fortune in a ballroom in New York's Public Library.

Warren Buffet said he didn't want his grand fortune to become inherited wealth, and would rather it be given to the needy.

Most of his money -- made during decades of buying and selling companies and stock at his Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway -- will go to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund global health and education initiatives.

His children's charitable foundations also receive multibillion-dollar grants.

Gates Steps Down

Bill Gates, founder of software superpower Microsoft and the world's richest man, announced on June 15 that he'd be leaving the company in 2008.

Gates started Microsoft in 1975 -- a year when the concept of personal computing was not even a blip on the analog radar screen -- with his friend Paul Allen. The technology titan will be spending his "retirement" years running his $32 billion philanthropic foundation.

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