Quote Unquote: The most interesting quotes of the year tell their own story of 2005

Business operators displayed the usual flamboyance this year, and for a few, plain old-fashioned crookery, says Michael Jivkov
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Whoever said that the business world is run by faceless accountants, lawyers and management consultants? To those who complain the world of enterprise has lost its pizzazz, here are the choicest quotes of 2005.

Characters such as Tiny Rowland, Jimmy Goldsmith and Robert Maxwell may not be around but today's business operators pose stiff competition when it comes to colour, flamboyance or just plain old-fashioned crookery. Talking of which, nobody does crookery better than some of our American cousins. In March, the WorldCom chief, Bernie Ebbers, faced a jury. "Money, power and pressure corrupted Bernard J Ebbers to commit fraud on a billion-dollar scale. WorldCom truly became WorldCon," according to William Johnson, one of the prosecutors.Ebbers clocked a 25-year jail sentence for his role in the largest corporate bankruptcy in US history.

Not that being incarcerated is apparently all bad. Martha Stewart said of her five-month sentence for lying about a share sale: "The experience of the last five months has been life altering and life affirming."

Whether Conrad Black, who once controlled the Telegraph Group along with 500 other newspapers via Hollinger International, would be quite so sanguine if his impending court appearance goes awry is unclear. Lord Black of Crossharbour, who is facing a number of fraud charges, has adopted a cavalier attitude, preferring instead to focus on his comeback: "I have no doubt that mothers in America use my name to frighten children into finishing their vegetables. But this is not a permanent state of affairs." His wife, the columnist Barbara Amiel, has shown a little more reticence. Speaking of her enforced exile from polite society in London, she said: "It's not pleasant to be the object of derision on three continents."

From frauds to falsehoods and it is rare to hear a Labour minister admit to lying. Stephen Byers had no choice when cornered in the High Court in July over his role in the collapse of Railtrack. When asked whether he had deliberately misled a House of Commons select committee over his plans for Railtrack, the former transport secretary said: "It was such a long time ago I cannot remember but it was not a truthful statement and I apologise for that." Asked why he gave MPs an inaccurate account, Mr Byers said only: "There could have been a number of reasons." Said an unimpressed judge: "His explanation seemed to me little above gibberish."

It was not just Mr Byers who saw his reputation wrecked in the High Court this year. Jon Wood, the head of proprietary trading at UBS, was last week described as an "unreliable witness" not always "honest in everything he says" by Mr Justice Warren who presided over the Gadget Shop case. The judge described the UBS director as a "very hard and calculating man" as he threw out the action, which claimed that Sir Tom Hunter, Scotland's richest man, had unfairly prejudiced his co-investors by not teaming up to acquire a rival retail chain, Birthdays.

The fate of Russia's two richest men provided a salutary lesson of sorts. While Roman Abramovich's wealth doubled after the sale Sibneft to the state owned Gazprom, fellow oligarch Mikhail Khordorkovsky settled into his prison cell in Siberia, where he will spend nine years for fraud and tax evasion. And by this standard Sibir Energy, the AIM-listed oil and gas group controlled by the oligarch Chalva Tchigirinski got off lightly. Sibir spent much of the year trying to recoup its £100m of oil assets it claims was taken by Red Rom's Sibneft. Henry Cameron, Sibir's chief executive, has strongly criticised Sibneft's practices.

Jumping south, in Germany Franz Muntefering, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, compared hedge funds to a "plague of locusts" that had descended on his country to strip it of cash and jobs.

The locust was something of an enduring symbol. At the end of October, the former Mirror Group boss, David Montgomery, was confronted by placards likening him to such an insect when he showed up for work at the Berliner Zeitung, the newspaper he had just acquired. Renate Gensch, head of the Berliner's works council, was not impressed. He said: "Mr Montgomery doesn't speak German. He had to talk to us using translators. We looked hard on the internet and couldn't find a single good word about this guy."

Back on these shores, April witnessed the collapse of MG Rover into administration. John Towers, who led the Phoenix consortium buyout of the carmaker in 2000, said: "I don't feel guilt about the process. Wind back the clock five years and I would have done the same." And presumably pocketed the same £40m he shared with fellow Phoenix directors.

Former UBM chief Lord Hollick was also repentant about a £250,000 special bonus from the media company for a "successful handover" to the new CEO, David Levin. Lord Hollick told the City: "You can rest assured that if I hadn't felt I'd earned it, I wouldn't have accepted it." He had a last-minute change of heart following a massive shareholder revolt.

And finally, in the airline industry, Rod Eddington said he felt the whole world was against him during his time in the British Airways' cockpit, which finished in March. "I've had a lot of luck at BA, all of it bad," he complained. During his five years as BA boss the airline was hit by the Air France Concorde crash, 9/11, the Iraq war, Sars and high fuel prices, and more. Michael O'Leary, chief executive of rival Ryanair, had only one piece of advice for Willie Walsh, the replacement: "Leave".

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