Editor’s letter: Feeling like a winner?

Let’s face it, business is about keeping score. With that in mind, we bring you our year-end scorecard separating the victors from the vanquished.

Being labelled a loser is, admittedly, pretty harsh. Not only do you have to deal with the injury of seeing your best efforts go for naught. You also have to fend off insults being lobbed at you by legions of critics standing on the sidelines. Life ain’t fair.

But let’s face it, business is about keeping score. And with that in mind, we bring you our year-end scorecard separating the victors from the vanquished. For the past several weeks, we have been reviewing the successes, failures and revelations that defined an unforgettable year in business history. Who overcame the challenges of the Great Recession? Who went down in flames? And who is poised for a comeback? These were just some of the questions we set out to answer. But the exercise of analyzing the forces that reshaped our world in 2009 has been a useful reminder of a few important things. First and foremost: identifying winners and losers is best done with the benefit of hindsight and context. Knee-jerk reactions and first appearances will often lead you astray. Back in 2001, AOL and Time Warner looked like the champions of a new digital media age. Not anymore.

By the same token, just because someone might be a loser today doesn’t mean they won’t be a huge winner a little ways down the road. Markets have an amazing tendency to reverse course — it’s both a blessing and a curse.

Consider Michael McCain: a year ago, he was dealing with a disastrous listeria outbreak at a key meat packing plant. Investors and customers were howling with anger. Today, he is seen as an expert crisis manager, having saved Maple Leaf Foods from ruin.

Better yet, consider two contrasting stories from the world economy. Two years ago Dubai was widely regarded as one of the most dynamic growth markets on earth. Mega-construction projects stunned the world, and oil wealth was pouring into the region’s most glamorous emirate. Canada, meanwhile, was still labouring under our traditional brand identity: an overregulated pile of raw materials, blessed by our geography, but not much else.

Today, of course, Dubai is rocked by fears over its massive debt load — particularly that of Dubai World, the conglomerate behind much of the city-state’s most ostentatious vanity projects. It seems the Dubai miracle might just be a mirage. And Canada? Suddenly our huge, humble country is evoking something truly unusual: envy.

As senior writer James Cowan notes in ” Big winner: Canada,” this country is enjoying a moment of relative financial health and stability. Not many would have picked Canada to weather the global economic crisis in better shape than Dubai, but that’s exactly what has happened.

Has the world changed forever? In a world that never stops changing, it’s a useless question.

For example, luxury products and brands took a big hit in 2009. And there are many out there preaching “the new frugality” — a return to traditional values from the days before mass marketing came along. Sure enough, restaurant meals and jewelry purchases were down in 2009 as people worried about their jobs and their future. But our taste for premium brands isn’t dead; it has just gone through a natural cooling-off period.

Luxury and frugality always co-exist in a complicated seesaw battle for the hearts of consumers, and it’ll take more than 18 months of economic turbulence to ruin our appetite for the good life. The past couple of years have taught us many lessons, but the biggest of all may be this: the world will keep evolving in ways that can’t be predicted — not even by the supposed experts. Don’t plan for tomorrow based on yesterday. Winners will be humbled. Losers will be redeemed. Today’s alarmists are tomorrow’s sages.

Through it all, you can be sure of only one thing — for better or worse, this too shall pass.