From the head of Europe’s biggest short-haul airline to an heir to the Murdoch empire, here are 10 well-known business figures expected to hit the headlines next year, for good or ill.

Michael O’Leary

In 2011, the chief executive of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, outlined his pitch for one of the most sought-after honours in the world: “There hasn’t been a war in Europe for 50 years, because they’re all too busy flying on Ryanair. I should get the Nobel peace prize – screw Bono.”

Shamefully, the Nobel committee continues to overlook O’Leary as a potential laureate, although he is increasingly being recognised in other areas.

Having admitted that his company may not always have treated its passengers quite as they hoped, O’Leary is now contending with critics who accuse the airline of mistreating its staff. Ryanair will be investigated by two parliamentary committees after allegations about employee working conditions, including that it has been “trying to wriggle out” of paying its staff the national minimum wage, while setting tough in-flight sales targets.

The airline has said the claims about cabin crew pay and working conditions “are false”. However, O’Leary announced this month that he will begin talks to recognise pilot and cabin crew trade unions. The success of these discussions will make him a subject of even greater focus than usual next year.

Emma Walmsley

GlaxoSmithKline backed away from its oncology drugs two years ago under Walmsley’s predecessor, Sir Andrew Witty, but 2018 will represent efforts by the company to re-enter the field.

She has reinstated cancer treatments as one of the planks of her strategy to restore the company’s fortunes since taking the role last spring, after GSK lagged rivals in in producing multibillion-dollar blockbusters. It is now up to Walmsley to restore faith in the group’s research and development skills.

James Murdoch

What next for James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox and younger son of Rupert Murdoch? Well, he is expected to leave his father’s corporate orbit next year once Disney completes its $66bn (£49bn) acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets.

Disney has floated the possibility that Murdoch Jr might join the group in an executive role, and if he does the 45-year-old will be seen as a potential successor to Bob Iger, the Disney boss who looks unlikely to be wrestled out of the door until 2021. Otherwise, Murdoch is expected to strike out on his own, given that his job with Fox will no longer be there if regulators clear the deal.

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss
Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss became the first bitcoin billionaires in 2017. Photograph: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz

The Winklevoss twins

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss saw a new trend coming with the advent of social media. Unfortunately for them, their foresight did not extend to keeping a hold on the idea, so they ended up suing Mark Zuckerberg, who they claimed stole their idea for a social network and called it “the Facebook”.

Next year might give them a shot at further redemption after they became bitcoin billionaires in 2017. Having bought about 100,000 units of the cryptocurrency in 2013, when each coin was worth roughly $120, the value of each one rose to nearly $12,000 in early December and kept on soaring. Much of the financial world is waiting for what they view as a bubble to burst.

Nicky Morgan

Being one of the infamous Daily Telegraph front page “Brexit mutineers” did not faze the Conservative MP for Loughborough (she pinned a copy to her office wall), so it is hard to envisage her backing away from the limelight during 2018.

She is not backing a second referendum, but believes leaving with no deal is suicidal. “No deal I think is a critical thing. And my role is to stop that happening,” she said in December.

Morgan has a platform for her campaign too, as chair of the influential Treasury select committee, which is likely to add to her profile and possibly her impact.

Jeff Bezos

The 53-year-old creator of Amazon is the world’s richest man: his fortune increased by about $34bn in 2017 to take his net worth to $99.6bn.

Having founded Amazon in his Seattle garage in 1994, Bezos now owns 16% of the retailer, which is hardly loved but appears practically unstoppable. He also owns all of space exploration company Blue Origin and the Washington Post newspaper, which he bought for $250m in 2013. The question for 2018 is: can he get any richer?

Steve Rowe

Steve Rowe, the boss of Marks & Spencer, is a veteran employee of the high street retailer, having taken a Saturday job in the Croydon store at the age of 15.

Still, it is unlikely that even Rowe will have witnessed many years as crucial to M&S as 2018 is shaping up to be. Alongside new chairman Archie Norman, the chief executive is attempting to revitalise this British institution.

The scale of how far M&S has fallen behind, however, is betrayed by the stock market: in 2017 its market value was eclipsed by takeaway group JustEat and by fashion firm Asos. Neither of the online companies was even close to being conceived when Rowe started his M&S career.

Sir Martin Sorrell
Sir Martin Sorrell: interesting, entertaining and controversial. Photograph: Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Sir Martin Sorrell

The chief executive of the advertising firm WPP is surely someone to watch in 2018 – just ask him, he’ll tell you so. Always interesting, sometimes entertaining and occasionally controversial, Sorrell tends to make himself relevant to the news cycle if there’s ever a chance he might get overlooked.

That is doubly true in World Cup years, when ad spend tends to get a bit of a lift, plus periods where there is any turbulence in geopolitics. It is unlikely he’ll stay voluntarily quiet in 2018.

Tim Martin

Forget Al Murray, the boss of JD Wetherspoon is the real pub landlord. The Brexiter is one of the most articulate – and compelling – of the high-profile leave supporters, so is almost always worth listening to, no matter which way you voted.

He has argued that Brexit should mean lower food prices (key remainers say it will mean the opposite), but if that seems far-fetched it’s worth recalling how Martin was once derided for his views on the euro, which now look sage-like.

Still, if the economy suffers any Brexit wobbles, and his pubs get hit, it will be worth watching him trying to explain why Brexit is a smart move.


Simon Goodley

The GuardianTramp

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