06.21.10

History's 13 Most Hated Companies

Think BP is universally loathed? The oil giant has nothing on United Fruit, Union Carbide, and other corporate rogues. The Daily Beast surveys top historians to determine the all-time worst.

The last week in February 1990, Time magazine was covered with Mike Milken’s eyes. Crushed by the headline, “Predator’s Fall,” his smile was pushed out of the frame and the caption described him as a “deposed dealmaker.” He had officially become a poster boy for the excesses of his era—and his firm, Drexel Burnham, was not long for this earth.

Of course, the despised company du jour is BP. As the leak still leaks, BP’s CEO continues to incite rage for shocking missteps (the latest: attendance at a yacht race), and the public becomes increasingly impatient with the cleanup efforts, it’s unclear if BP’s reputation will ever recover.

VIEW OUR RANKINGS OF THE MOST REVILED COMPANIES OF ALL-TIME

But compared to businesses marred by previous corporate scandals and disasters, how does the oil company stack up? The Daily Beast decided to try to see where BP fit—if at all—in the pantheon of companies reviled in their time. We pulled together a blue-chip panel of financial historians who nominated and ranked their choices. They were:

Full coverage of the oil spill • Marcelo Bucheli, assistant professor of business administration, College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
• Noel Maurer, associate professor of business administration, Harvard Business School
• John Tang, adjunct professor of economics, University of Maryland
• Robert Lenzner, national editor, Forbes magazine
• Geoffrey Jones, Isidor Straus Professor of Business History and Director of Research, Harvard Business School
• Morgen Witzel, freelance historian and financial writer; senior consultant for Winthrop Group of business historians
• Stephen Shepard, founding dean, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism; former editor in chief of BusinessWeek
• Thomas McCraw, Isidor Straus Professor of Business History Emeritus, Harvard Business School
• Jerry Davis, professor of management, University of Michigan School of Business; Author, Managed by the Market: How Finance Re-Shaped America
• Joe Martin, director of business history, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

More than 60 companies received votes, but 13 broke away from the pack. How did BP fare? And who is the rogue among rogues? Click here.

Clark Merrefield and Lauren Streib reported these rankings.