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Worst Business Scandals of the 2010s

Updated: Mar 19

The following is an article “Worst Business Scandals of the 2010s” by Marc Primo.


Throughout the last decade, the business world has experienced a number of leadership fails that piqued our interests but we all want to avoid. Scandals brought down empires, prominent personalities fell down, and we all have watched the most compelling real life dramas unfold. The catharsis we take from all the wreckage, however, are big lessons that can steer us away from similar quagmires in the future.


In this list, we compile the worst scandals to rock the global business industry and hogged headlines for weeks and months, in no particular order.


Pharmaceutical Fraud. Turing Pharmaceuticals founder and former CEO Martin Shkreli drew some major flak in 2015 when he inflated drug prices by 5000%. A lot of people in the industry dug up Shkreli’s hedge fund files and brought him to court which resulted in multiple counts of fraud. Similarly, two other pharma bigwigs did the same villainous act as Shkreli, including Valeant’s CEO Michael Peason and Mylan CEO Heather Bresch who both jacked up prices for their products. However, the most scandalous of all in terms of pharmaceutical fraud are the Sackler family of Purdue Pharma who was said were responsible for triggering the opioid crisis by putting OxyContin into the market by duping regulators of its nature just to pull in billions since 2008.


Sexual Harassment Scandals. While the birth of the #MeToo Movement was seen in 2017, the coined term was first used in 2006 via MySpace by sexual harassment survivor Tarana Burke. Comedian Bill Cosby perhaps was one of the two biggest newsmakers of all after having been recently sentenced to three to ten years in prison for three counts of aggravated indecent assault charges.


Then after scores of women (more than 90 women spanning decades) blew the whistle on embattled movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, complemented by the hard-hitting story written by Rowan Farrow in the New Yorker, the movement went viral through the use of hashtags on social media and drew more big names into the fray.


Among these prominent personalities are CBS CEO Les Moonves pointed out by 12 women for sexual harassment and assault charges, longtime Today Show anchor Matt Lauer with three accusations from his NBC co-workers, acclaimed director Bryan Singer who was called out for sexual misconduct involving minors, and famous architect Richard Meier after five women accused him similarly.


To date, the long list of male personalities in the business, sports, and entertainment industries continue to pile up with more accusations coming out of the woodwork.


Transportation Breakdowns. In 2015, German automobile empire Volkswagen experienced its biggest crisis to date with how it allegedly used illegal defeat devices to tweak results for its diesel emission and pass the standards. CEO Martin Winterkorn was eventually charged for the ruse in both the U.S. and in Germany as the company was forced to shell out $33 billion in fines and settlements.


More recently, largest aerospace company Boeing halted productions for its 737 Max after two crash incidents that claimed the lives of 346 people, and continues to affect the company’s business, suppliers, and even the U.S. economy.


Work Culture Fails. While there are many workplace scandals that emerged during the last decade, two rose out as among the most talked about in the global business circle.


American commercial real estate company WeWork revealed blatant leadership and financial dilemmas headlined by former CEO and founder Adam Neumann. Employees were said to have been rendered powerless to challenge Neumann’s leadership which were made worse by accusations of discrimination and harassment. Neumann eventually stepped down in September 2019.


Earlier, multinational transportation company Uber also came into the scandal scene with sexual allegations from its employees, unethical culture, running around laws, and minimizing pay for drivers to achieve further growth. With pressure mounting from all sectors, former CEO Travis Kalanick relinquished his position in 2017.

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