The City Spy awards 2016: Heroes and villains of the year

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The Evening Standard’s City desk proudly presents the City Spy awards for 2016.

The Victoria Wood is it on  the trolley? award for corporate espionage:  Sports Direct 

By any standards, it’s been a vintage year for Mike Ashley’s long-running sitcom-cum-retailer, which deserves a category of its own. But it capped it all in November when a tea lady apparently attempted to sneak a recording device into a roomful of MPs who’d made a surprise trip to his Shirebrook gulag. In a deft move that had MI6 recruiters scrambling for their phones, she cunningly hid the recorder under a chair while bringing in the sarnies. Sports Direct denied any knowledge, but “amateurishly carried out” was MP Iain Wright’s verdict on the snooping. Separately, Ashley pulled out a wad of fifties going through security at Shirebrook. Man of the people.  

The services to the banking industry award:  Antonio Horta-Osorio

Before Horta-Osorio conspired to get caught with his “mistress” in a Singapore hotel known to be a hang-out for paparazzi, bankers were getting a bad press. It was all about fines, scandals, PPI mis-selling and endless taxpayer bailouts. A meeting of top bankers was held and a plot hatched. The Lloyds boss was magnanimous. He would take one for the team. His ruse worked brilliantly. Stories of him taking Dr Wendy Piatt on “work trips” and to “banking conferences” caught the imagination as tales of his alleged affair kept eyes away from the Lloyds share price. That the supposed mistress looks almost exactly like his wife told you the entire scheme was a set-up. You wouldn’t bother cheating on your other half with a lookalike, would you?

The Val Kilmer prima donna award: Sir Philip Green 

In the summer, the bulbous billionaire, sweating before MPs over BHS, stopped mid-sentence to rebuke Conservative Richard Fuller: “Sir, do you mind not looking at me like that all the time, it’s really disturbing. Sorry, do you just want to stare at me, it’s making me uncomfortable that’s all.” Like the Top Gun movie star, Sir (for now) Phil doesn’t like eye contact.

The Andy Gray “Take a bow, son” float of the year award: CMC Markets 

How do you make a small fortune on the stock market? As the old joke goes, start with a large one. Investors in Peter Cruddas’ spread-betting empire will know that feeling well as the shares, which floated at 240p in February, briefly sank below a quid last week, showing a handy 55% fall on the year. The financial watchdog’s bombshell proposals on spread-betting didn’t help, but in truth the shares were heading south beforehand. Well done, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley for bringing this humdinger to the market.

The Jordan Belfort party of the year award: Brett Barna

If you’re across the pond, get yourself on hedge-funder Brett Barna’s invite list. Barna, who worked (until this party) for billionaire Louis Bacon’s $15 billion Moore Capital Management, hosted the bash at a Sag Harbor mansion hired on Airbnb to raise funds for an animal rescue charity on the Fourth of July weekend. It was helped by a liberal infusion of dwarves, booze and scantily clad guests. The house was trashed, prompting a lawsuit from the owner. Barna said it was “good clean fun” although the dwarves dressed in red-white-and-blue suits carrying champagne guns might have been taking things a bit far. “I would probably not make that decision if I had to do it over,”  he said. 

Flop of the year award: Crispin Odey

His flagship Odey European fund is one of the worst-performing hedge funds in the world this year after losing 46% in value as a result of woeful bets on Japanese bonds. At least he backed the right horse in the Brexit referendum.

Trade unionists of the year: Charles Stanley

The fund manager horse-traded with the firm’s management to bag a small stake in the wealth group in exchange for giving up a lucrative chunk of the firm’s profits. Impressive work.

Poisoned chalice award:  John Cryan

Blunt Yorkshireman Cryan went around trying to stamp out one fire after another at Deutsche Bank. Bonds slid, regulators came knocking on the door and its shares tanked. Now he’s after the bonus pot to pay for US fines. One to forget for Herr Cryan.

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December 20, 2016 |
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