Joe Cahill On Business

Which companies deserve a lump of coal?

It's that time of year, when notably nice or naughty players in Chicago business get the recognition they deserve.

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It's that time of year, when notably nice or naughty players in Chicago business get the recognition they deserve.

NAUGHTY

Boeing. Easily the biggest local business story of the year, two crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets claimed 346 lives and exposed a litany of failures at the aerospace manufacturer. Investigations revealed that Boeing engaged in a pattern of corner-cutting and incomplete disclosures related to a new flight control system that sent the planes into fatal nosedives. Afterward, Boeing blamed pilots and angered FAA officials evaluating proposed fixes to the system. The result: hundreds of deaths, millions in losses for airlines, shattered public trust and continuing uncertainty about when Boeing's best-selling plane will fly again.

Mondelez International directors. Mondelez disclosed in April that it would take no substantive action in response to an overwhelming shareholder vote last year against a 2017 executive pay program that bestowed $42.4 million on CEO Dirk Van de Put. The inaction shows how much directors care about their bosses' views on executive pay.

Walgreens. 79彩票注册网址There's hypocrisy, and then there's Walgreens' efforts to portray its drugstores as "health centers" while peddling cigarettes. The Deerfield chain took shamelessness to new heights this year, announcing a program under which sales clerks will help cancer patients find products that help ameliorate symptoms of a deadly disease caused by other products for sale at Walgreens.

Exelon. 79彩票注册网址Federal investigations of Exelon lobbying in Springfield highlighted the central role of political clout in the electric company's strategy and business model. Senior executives already have been forced to step down in a scandal that shows no sign of slowing down. That may be the least of Exelon's problems if a crackdown on pay-to-play politics neutralizes the clout it depends on to run its business.

Tribune Publishing directors. The newspaper company capitulated to Alden Global Capital's demand for two director seats79彩票注册网址, helping facilitate the rapacious hedge fund's purchase of a 25 percent stake from Michael Ferro. Indefensible as a matter of corporate governance, the concession will make it easier for Alden to gut Tribune papers, as it has done to others it owns.

NICE

601W. In downtown Chicago's feel-good story of the year, the New York developer turned the Old Post Office straddling the Eisenhower into a hot new business address79彩票注册网址. Big-name tenants including PepsiCo, Uber, Walgreens and the Chicago Board Options Exchange flocked to the renovated building, transforming a long-vacant eyesore into a welcoming gateway.

United Airlines. Kudos to Chicago's hometown airline for laying out a smooth CEO transition plan. Oscar Munoz will in May to top lieutenant Scott Kirby, United's president. Kirby had been seen as Munoz's likely successor since joining United three years ago. He was the main author of a growth strategy that has lifted United's revenue and share price. Elevating him to the top job provides continuity while reaffirming United's commitment to growth.

Illinois legislators. State lawmakers get plenty of richly deserved criticism, but let's give credit where it's due. The Illinois House struck a blow for basic fairness when it passed a bill allowing college athletes to profit from sales of their images. The bill—which still needs state Senate approval—would open the door to endorsement deals that have long been off-limits for college athletes under NCAA rules. It's only fair to permit athletes to profit from their talents, as other students can.

Kraft Heinz. 79彩票注册网址The Chicago-based food company took painful medicine when it wrote off $15 billion in value from flagship brands Kraft and Oscar Mayer. But it was a necessary first step away from the ruinous strategy imposed by controlling shareholder 3G Capital. The Brazilian buyout firm's scorched-earth cost-cutting deprived Kraft Heinz brands of resources needed to thrive in intensely competitive markets. The company has finally started investing in its products again and named a CEO with marketing expertise.

McDonald's. Burger giant McDonald's also had to swallow hard when directors learned that CEO Steve Easterbrook, architect of a recent turnaround, violated company policy by getting involved with a subordinate. By letting him go, McDonald's directors confirmed that the rules apply to everyone, bolstering management credibility and employee morale, two keys to a company's success.

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