Business 2001: The Good, Bad and Bankrupt

A lot of companies, business leaders and workers would like to put 2001 behind them. And that's not including the unfortunate employees possessing an Enron 401(k) plan.

On the balance, it was a year in which bad business news outweighed the good in the United States, with the economy slipping into its first recession in a decade, unemployment rising, corporate profits taking a hit and the high-tech bubble continuing to deflate.

And that was the outlook even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks led to tens of thousands more layoffs, slowed consumer spending, knocked the travel and tourism businesses for a loop, and helped feed a growing sense of uncertainty about the economy's direction.

But the year was not without its bright spots, either. Which companies, workers and CEOs fared the best in 2001? And who performed the worst? Read on for our 2001 picks and pans.

Company

Up: Microsoft

Love them or hate them, here's what Bill Gates & Co. accomplished this year: They had their court-ordered breakup overturned in June, settled the antitrust case with the Department of Justice in October (although nine states are still contesting it), and launched their new operating system later in the month. Oh, and the stock price rose from $43 to $68.

Down: Enron

Could any company possibly have had a worse year than Enron? The biggest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history was bad enough. But now begin the government investigations into dubious accounting practices, a suspect 401(k) plan and $55 million in bonuses paid to some employees right before the company cratered.

CEO

Hot: Michael Dell

Quick, name the one personal computer maker turning profits during the PC slump. It's Dell, whose vaunted production-on-demand system is made to order for tough times. Critics say Michael Dell's bare-bones approach hinders innovation, but supporters say his most important innovations lie in the way the company does business.

Not: Jacques Nasser

The Ford Motor Co. started 2001 hoping to pass General Motors in sales for the first time since the 1930s. Instead, business slumped and CEO Jacques Nasser antagonized dealers, union leaders and colleagues to the point where a Ford family member — William Clay Ford Jr. — is now in charge of the automaker for the first time since the 1970s. The Firestone tire fiasco hardly helped matters, either.

Profession

In: Public Servants

Underpaid, overworked and seemingly undervalued before Sept. 11, firefighters, policemen, nurses and other medical employees gained more respect in the public eye after the terrorist attacks. And postal workers gained a new measure of sympathy after two died from inhalation anthrax in October.

Out: Baggage Screeners

Lax airport screening was a key part of the Sept. 11 hijackings. In the weeks that followed, repeated cases of people carrying weapons past security — while others had their hat pins confiscated — only helped Congress decide to make the nation's 28,000 baggage screeners federal employees. The good news for screeners who are able to join the new government force: pay raises and benefits.

Industry

Up: Housing

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