Year in Review 2016: The biggest business blunders of the year

Has 2016 been the worst year ever? With all of the deaths of much-loved celebrities, horrible news stories and ill-predicted elections, many would say yes. The companies on this list would likely agree.

Whether its an accidentally racist AI bot, lying about your cars’ emissions, or making light of the 9/11 attacks, the people behind these massive mistakes would prefer it if 2016 was the year the world forgot.

So without further ado, here are the biggest business blunders of 2016:

6. Earls’ beefgate

Back in April, restaurant chain Earls said it would no longer be serving Alberta beef on its menus, instead opting for hormone-free meat sourced from the U.S. The backlash, as one can imagine, was swift and harsh.

After a couple weeks of online lashings, the company suddenly realized it was all a big mistake and made things right again with Albertans:

5. Microsoft’s misogynist, racist Twitter bot

Back in March, Microsoft launched Tay. Tay was supposed to be a fun bot on Twitter that would chat with users on the micro-blogging social network. According to the bot’s bio, Tay is “Microsoft’s A.I. fam from the internet that’s got zero chill! The more you talk the smarter Tay gets.” Zero chill indeed.

Turns out that users figured out how to game Tay’s programming almost as soon as it was launched, tricking the bot into saying things like this:

[Not cool, Tay.]

Another now-deleted tweet read, “Bush did 9/11 and Hitler would have done a better job than the monkey we have now. Donald Trump is the only hope we’ve got.” Um…

So, as it stands now, Tay’s tweets are protected, which is probably for the best. Only time will tell if Tay will ever be unleashed on the masses again.

4. Phoenix fizzles

Phoenix pay system
[Deputy Minister of Public Works and Government Services Marie Lemay (right) and and associate assistant deputy minister Rosanna Di Paola speak to reporters during a technical briefing on the Phoenix pay system on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016 in Ottawa/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang]

Companies aren’t the only ones that commit financial boo-boos; governments can get in on the action too. Case in point: the debacle the Canadian government found itself in over the summer regarding its new Phoenix pay system for federal employees.

When the feds replaced a decades-old, paper-heavy system with the Phoenix online tool, it was supposed to make life easier for tens of thousands of workers. Instead, it had the exact opposite effect when those workers were unable to collect their proper pay due to bugs in the system.

Said deputy public services minister Marie Lemay, “I think we could have done additional measures (to smooth the transition process).” Yup, sounds about right considering around 80,000 workers were either underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all.

Thankfully the problems were identified and fixes are in place, but the incident was certainly a black eye for the young Trudeau government.

3. Mitsubishi Motors’ 25-year-long cheating scandal

[Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s Chairman and CEO Osamu Masuko (R) and President Tetsuro Aikawa bow during a news conference at the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry in Tokyo, Japan, May 18, 2016/REUTERS/Thomas Peter]

Remember last year’s Volkswagen emissions scandal? Well this one may top that. In May it came to light that Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors had been cheating on fuel economy tests for 25 years. Let that sink in for a second.

OK, ready? Here’s what happened, according to Consumer Reports:

The revelation came after the company announced in late April that it falsified test data for 625,000 Japan-market micro-cars since 2013, in order to perform better in fuel economy ratings. That announcement led the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ask Mitsubishi for information on U.S.-market vehicles.

Once that request was made, it was pretty much impossible for the company to hide its bad deeds any longer. The fallout was swift and merciless. Mitsubishi Motors shares tanked, it had to sell a 34 per cent stake in itself to Nissan, and its president was forced to resign.

2. Wells Fargo’s phony accounts

Wells Fargo is one of the oldest and most prestigious banks in the U.S. But that doesn’t mean it’s immune to making seriously large missteps. Like, monumentally large. Like, so large that a U.S. senator’s dressing down of the company CEO is so epic that it goes viral:

Here’s a bit of background on what led to that confrontation: In September, it was discovered that the bank had been opening accounts in customers’ names without the customers’ permission or knowledge. Employees would then transfer money into these accounts to generate millions of dollars in fees and overdraft penalties’ in the customers’ names.

Customers were also unknowingly signed up for credit cards and other banking services, and that generated even more fees for the banks.

Once the scheme was discovered, the bank was fined a total of $185 million in fines by the U.S. government, and its executives were hauled before Congress for the dressing down you saw above.

It wasn’t pretty and left a big stain on the bank’s reputation. Time will tell if they’re able to recover.

1. Samsung’s exploding phones

Samsung Galaxy Note7
[A post-explosion Samsung Galaxy Note7]

What would a story about corporate screw-ups be without the unfortunate tale of of the Samsung Galaxy Note7? In a nutshell, they blowed up real good. Caused by unexplained overheating issues, the ensuing recall of over 2.5 million devices ended up costing the company at least $5.3 billion.

And unfortunately for Samsung, anyone who flies on a plane in many parts of the world is reminded of the debacle, as airlines now tell passengers that the device is banned on all flights.

(Dis)Honourable Mention: Mattress store mocks 9/11 and you can pretty much guess what happened next

The final blunder on our list has got to be the most purely bonehead move of the year. It’s not part of the overall rankings because it’s a one-off store in the U.S., but still part of the list simply because the story became a global viral hit.

Yes, what you just watched was an actual commercial produced by an actual store. Specifically, Miracle Mattress in San Antonio, Texas. Pro tip: when posing the question, “What better way to remember 9/11?” the answer should always be “in a sombre and respectful manner.” Unfortunately, this store didn’t follow that logic.

The reaction to this commercial was unrelenting, resulting in the store closing for months. Even now, the store’s Facebook page is pretty much a message board for angry members of the public.

A sampling of the comments left on the YouTube page of the now-deleted video:

“And that ladies and gentlemen is how you ruin your business in under 30 seconds.”

“It will be ‘miracle’ if they stay in business for another week.”

And those are some of the nicer ones.

The store owner did apologize and Miracle Mattress is still in business, but they’ll always be associated with this whopper of a mistake.