CNBC's Winners & Losers of 2009  Results


Many of us are feeling much better at the end of 2009 than we were at the beginning of this year when—one way or another—we felt like losers, so we may be in the mood for some predictions about 2010.

At the same time, 2009—which defied the predictions of many--will be a year to remember for years to come and in doing so, it will conjure images of companies and public figures who personified the plight of the nation and the economy.

Predictions '10 - See Complete Coverage
Predictions '10 - See Complete Coverage

For that reason, we asked you to vote on the big winners and losers of 2009, knowing that in some cases, the difference between the two could be slight, subtle and often in the eye of the beholder—who can be a victim or a beneficiary.

The results of our poll—100,000 votes were cast—partly bear that out. There were a few close votes, some decidedly one-sided ones and a couple surprise outcomes.

There were a handful of big losers as well as big winners. Click through to see the winners and losers of 2009, some of whom will not be around to be judged in 2010.

Ben Bernanke

Ben Bernanke
Chairman, Federal Reserve Board

So much for a toss up over a hero or a goat.

Bernanke fared much better than we expected. He was voted a winner by 52 percent of the 5,400 respondents, the most votes cast for any one candidate.

Apparently, Bernanke is something of a genius, whose innovative initiatives saved the economy and the country. They also point to his self-effacing, plain-talking style (compared to Alan Greenspan) and his efforts to demystify the Fed through greater transparency.

At the same time, critics say he abused the powers of the Fed in providing liquidity to the markets and companies (AIG , Citigroup ), became overtly political in helping execute administration policies (some say partly in the hope of getting nominated for a second term) and has planted the seeds of inflation, for which we’ll pay dearly down the road.

The Fed—and Bernanke—also appear on their way to losing some regulatory authority and independence, as financial sector overhaul legislation progresses through Congress.

Too Big To Fail

Too Big To Fail
Three-decade-old government policy about intervening to save big financial firms.

Perhaps we should have included former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who was only on the job for the first three weeks of 2009, if only because he practiced the too-big-to-fail policy, which is among our big losers, and very likely, contributed to the poor showing of our current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither.

Seventy-two percent declared too big to fail a loser. Seventeen percent voted winner. (Big government fans?)

In Congress, the debate rages on, but it looks likely that legislation aimed at protecting taxpayers from the cost of saving big firms will become law.

The government rescued AIG, Citigroup and a number of other financial services companies, but critics say the concept was abused by Congress and the Bush and Obama administrations to include big industrial companies, such as General Motors.

Comptroller of the Currency (1981-1985) C.T. Conover coined this term around the time of the near-failure of Continental Illinois National Bank And Trust, then the nation's biggest bank. Nonetheless, big back then was was a lot smaller than today’s financial behemoths, such as Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase .

Size supposedly matters here because advocates say these firms are simply too big to go out of business without causing massive collateral damage to the economy (see Lehman Brothers). Preventing such damage may require government intervention, be it a multi-billion dollar bailout, an outright federal takeover (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ) or a government-sanctioned buyout by, yes, an even bigger firm (BofA-Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo -Wachovia deals.)

Timothy Geithner

Timothy Geithner,
Treasury Secretary

The hard-working Treasury Secretary prompts strong opinions from people and it seems he's become something of a lightning rod for frustration with the government's big spending ways and apparent ineffectiveness in rescuing the economy.

Geither took a tongue-lashing from one outspoken and undiplomatic member of Congress in mid-November but managed to rise above the moment.

For a top governemnt official, Geither may be man of unusually modest means, but that does not make him a man of the people with out voters.

About three times as many voters found him a loser than a winner. We expected Geither to fair better, even if it meant a higher percentage in the neither category.

Rick Wagoner

Rick Wagoner,
Ex-Chairman and CEO, General Motors

Losing your job is not normally a good thing, especially after your company has crawled into bankruptcy court. That may explain Wagoiner's 84-percent loser vote, the worst showing of any corporate boss. A remarkably tiny percentage thought he was neither a loser nor a winner (5.8 percent).

By one measure, Wagoner is a hero because he managed to secure a bailout for the automaker, despite much opposition. Bondholders and shareholders—and the American taxpayer—were the big losers and Wagoner should lose some sleep over that.

Carol Bartz

Carol Bartz,
CEO, Yahoo!

Judging by the vote, this is probably the most obvious case of too-soon-to-tell and we'll likely be revisiting the Bartz era at Yahoo! next year.

Almost a quarter voted neither. Fifty-six pecent voted her a winner.

Bartz deserves credit for dropping the fortress mentality that marred the company's image. She also demonstrated a Machavellian wisdom (Keep your enemies close...) in negotiating a search deal with Microsoft .

Finally, what's not to like about her cost cutting, some even say restructuring?

The difference—and the key to both the future of Bartz and Yahoo—is that one is a short-term exercise, the other long-term strategy. There's lots of speculation that Bartz's job is to get the company in shape for a sale. If that's true, and Bartz succeeds, it's a nice coda to her career or maybe the beginning of a new one. If she fails and/or the price ain't right, then Bartz can add pallbearer, not turnaround artist, to her resume.

Kenneth Lewis

Kenneth Lewis,
CEO, Bank of America

Some might have thought Lewis would generate a more lopsided vote, given his role as a poster boy for the financial crisis.

Only 70 percent, however, deemed him a failure. Plus 22 percent decided he was a winner.

He is neither incompetent nor flashy, like some of his peers.

It can be argued that Lewis became a case of too-big-not-to-take-the-fall, but he displayed poor judgment in getting involved in too many he-said, they-said controversies.

Lewis may be a real winner because he has taken the high road in giving up both his job and 2009 pay. He is probably all the richer by walking away from an inglorious episode in American history and enjoying the fact that Bank of america is having trouble finding a replacement for him.

The American Homeowner

The American Homeowner,
America Inc.

No surprise here, even the expansion and extension of the popular homebuyer's tax credit program isn't enough to make many of us feel better.

More than four out of five (84 percent) voted loser. Interestingly, almost as many voted winner (8.3 percent) as neither (7.3 percent.) Maybe that's the rental crowd talking.

Between depressed prices, surging foreclosures and higher property taxes, it's a house of pain one way or the other for many homeowners.


Social Networking Site

Finally, a toss up, with something of a hoo-hum factor, as well. (This entry will scored the least amount of votes.)

Forty-two percent voted winner, vs. 41 percent for loser. Seventeen percent said neither (the second highest showing of all our candidates.)

Twitter does seem to draw strong opinions from both sides; fans think it revolutionary, skeptics find it trivial. It may represent something of a generation gap.

(See Tech Check blogger Jim Goldman's prediction.)

Jamie Dimon

Jamie Dimon,
Chairman & CEO of JPMorgan Chase

Dimon did not fare as well as we would have thought, and also did not receive the highest number of winner-votes of any corporate boss, even though he strikes us as the Roger Federer of banking.

Seventy-one percent voted winner and a surprising 21 percent loser. (Envy? The wrong crowd?)

We also thought Dimon would generate more overall votes, being a New York guy and by most accounts a fairly popular one.

Dimon may get another chance next year, if there's any truth to the recurring speculation that he will be our next Treasury Secretary. (He might want to look at Geithner's showing.)

United Auto Workers

United Auto Workers Union

This is one we thought might be more of a toss up, but perhaps we were being optimistic.

Only five percent (4.7) voted neither. Seventy-eight percent voted loser. (You might want to blame Rick Wagoner for some of this.)

The UAW saved the union and the jobs of tens of thousands of auto workers by helping management get a generous government bailout, but now it has to do it all over again with the added challenge of having an ownership stake.

Alan Mulally

Alan Mulally,
CEO, Ford Motor Company

Nice guys finish first, apparently.

It's hard to imagine that a boss whose company stock is trading in the $7 range, well off its record high, might score the second-highest winner vote (89 percent) but he did.

He also earned one of the lowest neither votes (4 percent).

The mere fact that Mulally did not have to go begging for a bailout is probably enough to earn him a spot in the winner's circle, but he still has to revive Ford. Good luck with that, Alan. See you next year.


Barney Frank

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.),
Chairman, House Financial Services Comm.


Frank receved more votes than any one other candidate with the exception of Bernanke and Too Big To Fail, erasing any second thoughts we had about including him in our list.

We were neverthless surprised by the vote. Four out of five (79 percent) deemed Frank a loser, while just 16 percent found him a winner.

Frank, like Geithner, may be taking some of the heat for Democrats in general and President Obama in particular.

He certainly had a very busy year, leading the legislative charge for regulatory reform of the financial sector. Though some of that is perceived as being anti-Wall Street, Frank also played a prominent role in such investor friendly moves as re-imposing the uptick rule and a loosening of the mark-to-market accounting language.

Lloyd Blankfein

Lloyd Blankfein,
CEO, Goldman Sachs

Blankfein managed to avoid being one of Wall Street's bad guys and that's evident in our poll results. Fifty percent voted winner. Few were on the fence—only 7.5 percent.

Blankfein also appears to have escaped a potential firestorm over year-end bonuses, which at this point are being pegged close to their record level in 2007, thanks to Goldman Sachs' fabulous year.

The company's recent decision to spend $500 million dollars of its fat profits on an initiative to help small businesses appears to have backfired a bit.

There's another way to look at Blankfein and the poll results. He's of little consequence—unless you're a shareholder or investor. In that case, he—like Goldman's stock--is a clear winner.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs,
CEO, Apple

Jobs didn't get as many votes as we expected (perhaps because he was placed last in our poll), but he scored about as well as you'd expect.

Like Mulally of Ford, 89 percent of all voters deemed him a winner. A slightly large number (5.3 percent) voted neither.

Fans—or shall we say followers—of Jobs are no doubt pleased with the company's results and Jobs' successful recovery from organ-transplant surgery.

Though we share in the latter, we remain concerned by the shroud of secrecy and, some would say, deception surrounding the circumstances of his illness and absence from the company.