Winners & Losers: Who's up, who's down

Claude Doughty, France Telecom, Zenn, David Ho and more.

? Claude Doughty

When it comes to managing money these days, most people agree that it makes sense to be highly conservative. But Claude Doughty, mayor of Huntsville, Ont., is being applauded for some risky spending he’s done on behalf of his cottage-country town, which has been selected as the site of next year’s Group of Eight summit. Doughty was so enthusiastic about hosting the gathering of world leaders, despite the logistical challenges and security issues involved, that he invested his own hard-earned cash to ensure its success. Earlier this year, he became increasingly concerned with global shortages of construction materials that have been delaying new infrastructure projects like the ones required for the summit. And so, instead of running the risk of having the VIP meeting take place without a finished headquarters, Doughty rolled the dice and placed a deposit for steel, reportedly worth tens of thousands of dollars, on his personal credit card — before the federal government’s $50-million budget for Huntsville’s G8 makeover was even guaranteed. Now, as a result of the mayor’s personal gamble, the town’s Summit Centre is roughly 30 days ahead of schedule.

? France Telecom

Unions blame France Telecom’s restructuring and work environment for 24 suicides and 13 attempted suicides during the past 18 months. While CEO Didier Lombard maintains that those numbers aren’t abnormal for a staff of 100,000, letters left behind by victims blaming work-related stress have prompted him to investigate management practices and promote “more humane” social contact.

? Dairy industry

If the oversupply and plummeting price of milk weren’t devastating enough, dairy farmers now have to manage the untimely proliferation of sexed semen technology. Introduced three years ago, sperm sexing allows farmers to artificially inseminate female cows with semen loaded with chromosome X. The result — an even bigger heifer glut. At a time when farmers are already selling milk below production cost, the U.S. National Milk Producers Federation is hard up to abate the increased influx of milk and has been paying farmers to cull their herds.

? Zenn Motor

The sputtering Canadian electric car company employed some deft defensive driving skills and stopped production on its cityZENN line of autos. The company had planned to unveil the highway-capable car later this year, with commercial availability in early 2010. Now it will focus instead on supplying its electric drive train to other auto manufacturers — that is, if secretive EEStor Inc. ever comes through with its electric battery.

? Consumer faith

Canadians know there is nothing like a little retail therapy, especially in a sluggish economy. According to the Conference Board of Canada, consumer confidence rose for the seventh consecutive month in September, the longest stretch of monthly increases since 2002. The index, which is measured out of 100, rose 2.5 points to 90.9. In comparison, the index in the U.S. fell 1.4 points to 53.1. Canadians reported greater willingness to make major purchases and a more favourable outlook on job opportunities. Only the Prairies posted a decline, dropping 1.3 points.

? Big tobacco

The tobacco industry can run, but it can’t hide. On Sept. 29, the province of Ontario filed a claim with its Superior Court of Justice asking for $50 billion to recover the damages and health-care costs it incurred due to smoking-related illnesses dating all the way back to 1955. Seemingly unfazed, tobacco companies say they won’t be settling out of court any time soon. Both British Columbia and New Brunswick have suits pending, while five other provinces are laying the legislative groundwork for similar legal action.

? Jim Balsillie

The five-month legal shootout over the Phoenix Coyotes NHL team is over. Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research In Motion, gave up his quest after an Arizona bankruptcy judge rejected the billionaire’s US$242.5-million offer for the sad-sack hockey club, and confirmed the league’s right to select owners and control where clubs play — a big win for commissioner Gary Bettman. But the league still must solve the team’s ownership question and 13 years of financial woes.

? Wine growers

It’s been a cold summer for Canadian winemakers and grape growers, who have had to cut costs and staff to weather the 40% decline in grape prices worldwide. While expensive international trophy wine appears to be on the rebound, the Grape Growers of Ontario, who represent 500 farmers, estimate that 14% of this year’s yield — the highest surplus ever — will rot on the vine as Canadians choose cheaper wines, often made from foreign grapes.

? Gary Sorenson

The RCMP arrested Gary Sorenson, the alleged mastermind of the largest Ponzi scheme in Canadian history, on Sept. 29 in Calgary. Sorenson returned voluntarily from Honduras by private jet to face charges that he and Milowe Brost, who was arrested 16 days earlier, swindled some 4,000 investors in Canada and abroad of $400 million between 1999 and 2008. The two Calgary businessmen are out on bail.

? Bombardier

Bombardier nailed down a US$4-billion agreement to provide China with 80 high-speed trains starting in 2012. Bombardier’s share of the contract is $2 billion, and the deal is the company’s latest success in China, where it also delivered an “automated people mover” to the Beijing airport for the 2008 Olympics. The contract should help to offset the decline in Bombardier’s aerospace division, where revenue is down more than 5% over last year.

? David Ho

Vancouver billionaire businessman David Ho was charged with unlawful confinement, possession of a controlled substance and various weapons charges arising from an alleged incident last year. Ho, 57, is accused of bringing a woman he met in a chat room back to his palatial home and refusing to allow her to leave. The woman called 911 and was assaulted, sustaining injuries. Ho has made no comment since his arrest. But according to the Vancouver Province, Ho has had at least two previous run-ins with police, and once told a reporter his troubles stemmed from the fact he’s “addicted to helping” the city’s prostitutes.

? Saturn

The “different kind of car company” General Motors created 24 years ago to revolutionize the North American auto industry will likely fade away in quite ordinary fashion. GM plans to kill the brand after talks with Penske Automotive Group to take over Saturn fell through. Analysts estimate Saturn lost US$20 billion over its lifetime.