At first glance, 2016 was all about the return of the cocky, ruthless, nakedly ambitious businessman. Donald Trump bragged about dodging income taxes in his bid for the White House; his supporter Peter Thiel used Hulk Hogan to wage a proxy war that brought down Gawker Media. (Note to future generations: Yes, it was a very strange year.) But any notion that the business community as a whole is returning to the Gordon Gekko ideal of the greed-is-good ’80s was refuted by the public’s near-unanimous disgust with Martin Shkreli.
In case you got through the year without encountering Shkreli’s perennial smirk, he is a pharmaceutical executive who, in late 2015, bought the rights to the anti-parasite drug Daraprim and jacked the price from US$14 to US$750 per pill. That act alone made him “the most hated man in America,” as the BBC put it. But that was just the warm-up. He’s since been indicted for securities fraud, publicly called members of the U.S. House of Representatives “imbeciles,” picked a fight with rap group Wu-Tang Clan (by buying and then partially leaking the band’s single-copy Once Upon a Time in Shaolin double album) and Twitter-trolled comedian Patton Oswalt at length (during which he referenced, among other things, the entertainer’s recently deceased wife).
All this added up to a display of extreme narcissism and greed, and reminded everyone of the exact kind of business person the world doesn’t much care for anymore. As for Daraprim? In December, some Australian high school students recreated the off-patent drug for $2 per tablet and encouraged others to follow their lead. Shkreli’s bombast got headlines, but those working for actual good won out in the end.