At first, the story of John Kapoor’s rise to the top of the pharmaceutical industry sounds like the American dream played out in real life. The first to attend college in his family, Kapoor graduated from Bombay University in India with a degree in pharmacy. He came to the United States after securing a fellowship at the University of Buffalo, and earned his Ph.D. in 1972. His scientific and business savvy was evident from the start – in a matter of a decade, Kapoor took over a struggling pharmaceuticals business, turned it around, and netted a personal gain of $100mm. From there Kapoor became a serial entrepreneur, with INSYS Therapeutics marking the pinnacle of his success. The company made him a billionaire, but later made him the target of a criminal racketeering investigation and the face of one of America’s darkest problems.
At 12:28pm on January 25, 2019, a thirty-story high tailings dam operated by Brazilian mining giant Vale suffered a catastrophic failure, unleashing an estimated 12 million cubic meters of mining waste on the town of Brumadinho, Brazil. The collapse killed 177 people, and 133 others are missing and presumed dead. Perhaps the most devastating part of this tragedy is the simple fact that it should have never happened.
“I sometimes wonder if we’re in the branded litter business, branded trash.” That was a presumably half-joking statement made at the World Economic Forum in Davos by Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies. What certainly was not a joke was the pressure and criticism major consumer goods companies faced in Davos from activists and groups that believe not enough is being done to cut use of plastic packaging in goods. Companies like Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble (P&G) have emerged as new targets of environmental groups, who see these companies as major contributors to polluted oceans and endangered marine life. The impact of plastic waste on the environment has also drawn the ire of millennials, to the extent that one industry analyst claims the war on plastics is part of consumer goods companies’ marketing plans. While companies may be tailoring marketing plans and making pledges to reduce the amount of plastic in their products, the 8 million tons of plastic that end up in the world’s oceans each year means these companies will continue to feel the heat from activists, millennials, and regulators.
On Christmas Day 2013, The Wolf of Wall Street debuted to rave reviews and quickly became director Martin Scorsese’s top-grossing film. Audiences loved Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Jordan Belfort, an aggressive stockbroker who rapidly rises to wealth through smooth talking and high-pressure sales tactics. The film is filled with outrageous partying, unethical Wall Street stockbrokers and bankers, and culminates in the arrest of Belfort and the downfall of his criminal enterprise. While certain scenes from the film were arguably embellished, the film is based on a true story. The more amazing true story, however, is that The Wolf of Wall Street was funded and produced through a massive fraud that makes Jordan Belfort’s escapades look miniscule. On November 1, 2018, Timothy Leissner, a Goldman Sachs partner, plead guilty to conspiring to launder money and violating foreign antibribery laws for his role in a massive scandal that involves the prime minister of Malaysia, Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds, and even Paris Hilton.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed a historic bill on September 30 that mandates every publicly held corporation whose principal offices are located in California to have a representative number of women on its board of directors. In a letter announcing Senate Bill 826, Governor Brown admits that there are serious legal concerns to the bill and that its potential flaws could “prove fatal to its ultimate implementation” but that it is time to force action regarding the lack of gender diversity on company boards.
The rise of electronic cigarettes was initially met with relaxed FDA regulation given optimism that they could help adult smokers curb use of more toxic combustible cigarettes. This optimism was in spite of e-cigarettes’ growing popularity among adolescents and young adults. On September 12, the FDA signaled a pivot from this approach when FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb described youth e-cigarette use as having reached epidemic proportions. Gottlieb announced that the FDA had issued more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to retailers caught selling e-cigarette products to minors. It also issued an order to the five major e-cigarette manufacturers (Juul, Vuse, Blu, MarkTen XL, and Logic) to each submit a plan outlining how the company will address youth access and use of their products. Failure to submit a sufficient plan could lead the FDA to revisit its earlier decision on flavored e-cigarette products, which allowed manufacturers a grace period until 2022 to receive FDA approval.