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

Death of the cheque, Hugh Hefner, Google's Buzz and more.

? Resurfice
Ice cleaning

When Resurfice won the contract to provide 17 ice-cleaning machines for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, it was a huge coup for the Elmira, Ont.-based company, having beat out U.S. competitor Frank J. Zamboni & Co., the official Olympic ice cleaner for the past four Winter Games. Resurfice’s battery-powered Olympia ice resurfacers were chosen as an environmentally friendly alternative to the propane-powered Zamboni – a name as synonymous with ice-cleaning as Kleenex is with nose-blowing. But when an Olympia machine suffered an “electrical malfunction,” twice spewing water onto the ice surface and delaying at least one event, Olympic officials were forced to bring in a Zamboni from Calgary – albeit with the brand name covered up – to slide along behind the Olympia and ensure the competitive quality of the ice. Resurfice was quick to point out that the machine’s troubles were related to maintenance and not faulty design, but the damage was already done. The company’s frustration was equally matched by that of the Zamboni company, which was “deeply concerned” that its trademark was used by the media to refer to the faltering Olympia.

? Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless has struck a deal with Internet phone service Skype that will allow customers to make free calls. Mobile phone companies were originally wary of Skype, relegating the app to Wi-Fi use only, but Verizon thinks the service will encourage customers to spring for data plans. Those on the Verizon network can call or message other Skype users for free, or call phone numbers outside the U.S. with paid Skype service. For domestic calls, however, they’ll have to use minutes on their Verizon plans.

? Cheques
Personal Banking

Transactions by personal cheque are on the decline – they’re expensive to use, and many chains have stopped accepting them. Now the U.K. House of Commons Treasury Committee is looking into the advantages and disadvantages of retiring the method of payment, and warns it expects to phase chequing out completely by 2018.

? Maxbong

The CJ Corp. of South Korea is enjoying a rumoured 40% increase in sales of their Maxbong mini sausages after the late-November launch of the iPhone in that country. The individually wrapped meat snack makes a perfect stylus for the gadget, allowing Korean iPhone users to text and fiddle with apps without having to remove their winter gloves.

? Hugh Hefner

Well-known for his indulgent Playboy lifestyle of girls, money and extravagance, Hugh Hefner is being reprimanded. Minority shareholders in Playboy Enterprises have filed a suit against the company founder, claiming that while shares have dropped to $10 from $30 in recent years, Hefner has continued to flaunt a life of excess, putting his personal interests ahead of the company’s.

? John Stumpf

The head of San Francisco-based bank Wells Fargo tops the list of 2009’s highest-paid American financial execs, with compensation of US$18.7 million in cash and stock, topping bigger Wall Street names from Goldman Sachs and JPMorganChase.

? Suncor Energy

Fire broke out at the energy company’s Alberta oilsands operations in February, the third blaze in five months. The fire temporarily shut down one of Suncor’s upgraders. CEO Rick George said earlier this month that a fire in December had a “big impact” on the company’s performance in the fourth quarter. George apologized, but investors would rather he just fix the problem.

? Google
Social Media

The Internet company has been doing a good job of angering users recently. First it launched a social networking feature called Buzz, which automatically decided for users which contacts they would “follow,” sparking numerous complaints that Buzz violated privacy rights. Google promised to adjust some of the features, but Canada’s privacy commissioner’s office still has questions for Google about how the service abides by privacy laws. Around the same time, Google also unexpectedly shut down a number of popular music blogs for allegedly violating copyright rules. Some of the bloggers maintain their sites were perfectly legal.

? GlaxoSmithKline
Denture adhesives

GlaxoSmithKline has voluntarily ceased to manufacture, distribute and advertise all of its zinc-containing denture adhesives after receiving more than 400 reports of its Poligrip products causing health problems – some of which resulted in lawsuits in 2009. The company released a statement saying that excessive long-term use of zinc-based Poligrip can result in numbness, tingling, weakness in the arms and legs, problems balancing and walking, and anemia. GSK shares lost more than half their value following the announcement.

? Loblaws
Olympic sponsorship

Galen Weston’s had as much Olympic screen time as any athlete. Loblaw’s ads saturate TV coverage, touting its official nutritional sponsorship of Alpine Canada through the President’s Choice Blue Menu product line, with the company chair boasting that he’ll take some credit for our skiers’ medals. But despite the advance hype, the skiers have been our highest-profile bust so far. Will Weston be the only sponsor left feeling duped by Own the Podium?

? Newfoundland

Newfoundland and Labrador recently signed an agreement to expand Hibernia, Canada’s first offshore oil project. The Hibernia South project is expected to generate $13 billion in royalty revenues for the province over the next 18 years. The deal between Newfoundland and its industry partners gives the province a 10% equity stake in exchange for $30 million. The expansion is projected to yield 170 million barrels of oil.

? Earl Jones

After being convicted of defrauding more than 158 clients out of a total $50 million, Ponzi schemer Earl Jones was sentenced to 11 years in prison. The 67-year-old – who posed as an investment adviser to friends and family as well as strangers – will be eligible for parole in less than two years. Some of his victims have applied to the court to sue RBC, alleging that it allowed Jones privileged banking status that contributed to the success of his scheme.

? G.I. Joe

The toy soldier helped boost Hasbro’s fourth-quarter sales by 12% over the same period in 2008. While sales of girls’ toys grew by just 4.2%, sales in the boys division skyrocketed 16.3%. The increased sales were largely attributed to the release of movies based on the G.I. Joe and Transformers lines. Additional films are planned for both franchises.