The year in business had its ups and downs


Riding high

Dr. Dennis Burke. The well-known orthopedic surgeon won a $13 million settlement in November from Massachusetts General Hospital, which fired him in 2015 for allegedly violating patient confidentiality. Burke sued, saying he was dismissed for raising safety concerns about double booking, a practice in which surgeons perform two overlapping operations. A Globe Spotlight investigation into double booking prompted new guidelines by the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Anne Klibanski, chief executive of Boston-based Partners HealthCare, parent company of MGH, praised Burke. MGH president Dr. Peter Slavin said the hospital “stands by the decisions it made along the way.”

Harvard University. A federal judge ruled in October that the school’s admissions process does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants. After a trial in Boston, US District Judge Allison Burroughs said Harvard’s affirmative action policies were needed to counter “the effects of entrenched racism and unequal opportunity.” However, the case — or the broader issue of affirmative action in higher education — seems bound for the US Supreme Court, whose conservative majority may see things differently.

Organized labor. Unions flexed their muscles in 2019, with New England Stop & Shop workers, bus drivers on Martha’s Vineyard, and employees of the Battery Wharf Hotel in the North End getting new contracts after going on strike. That followed a big win in late 2018 by hotel workers at Marriott properties in Boston and across the country. Support for the labor movement is at a nearly 50-year high, with 64 percent of Americans approving of unions, according to a Gallup poll released in August.

DraftKings. The future looked uncertain for the fantasy sports startup two years ago after regulators blocked its proposed merger with rival FanDuel. But DraftKings’ cofounder and chief executive Jason Robins came out on top last month in a deal that will allow the company to go public with a market value of about $3.3 billion and $500 million in cash. DraftKings is set to merge with SBTech, a gambling technology company, keep its name and Boston headquarters, and be run by Robins.

The Boston Club. Since 2003 this organization has conducted a census of female directors and senior executives at the top publicly traded companies in Massachusetts, part of its mission to advance women into prominent leadership roles. The group reached an important milestone a few weeks ago: the last “zero-zero” — i.e., a company with no women on the board or in its executive suite — hired a female director. As reported by my colleague Shirley Leung, the news came about a month after the Boston Club released its 2019 survey showing that Steel Connect of Waltham was the lone zero-zero among the state’s top 100 public companies. There were eight zero-zeroes in 2018, and 35 in 2003.

Report for America. This initiative from the GroundTruth Project was cofounded by former Globe reporter Charlie Sennott and entrepreneur Steve Waldman with the aim of sending young journalists into local newsrooms that have been depopulated by industry cutbacks. In 2019, the organization had reporters in 50 newsrooms. Sennott and Waldman said a few weeks ago that they will place 250 reporters in 164 newsroom in 2020. This effort, along with the ProPublica Local Reporting Network and the American Journalism Project, are fighting a noble but uphill battle against the devastation caused by GateHouse Media and MediaNews Group, two giant chains that are gutting local newsrooms across the country even as they claim to be trying to save the newspaper industry.

Bottoming out

Robert Kraft. Last year was a tough one for the owner of the New England Patriots, even as his team won its sixth Super Bowl in February. Kraft was one of almost 200 men charged in a criminal investigation of Florida massage parlors that provided sexual services. He denied wrongdoing despite apologizing — for hurting and disappointing “my family, my close friends, my co-workers, our fans, and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard” — and continues to fight the two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution. He also continues to roil many Massachusetts Democrats and Jews of all parties who object to his political support of friend Donald Trump despite the president’s recirculation on Twitter of memes and posts from anti-Semitic and white supremacist groups, his xenophobic stance on immigration, and his pandering to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

MIT. The school’s reputation was dealt a painful blow in September when Joi Ito, director of the influential MIT Media Lab, resigned after The New Yorker revealed that he covered up the full extent of his ties to convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein. Worse, senior members of MIT president L. Rafael Reif’s administration knew about Epstein’s donations to the Media Lab and let Ito keep the money. Moral of the story: If you’re embarrassed to reveal a donor’s name, don’t take the money.

Massachusetts casinos. Is the region’s gambling market saturated? Seems so, given that Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park are each falling short of projected gaming revenues by tens of millions of dollars. As the Globe’s Andy Rosen reported in November, the disappointing numbers “have some wondering whether the industry didn’t fully understand how tough it would be to attract gamblers in a regional market that has become increasingly competitive.”

Small private colleges. Newbury College and College of St. Joseph were among the five schools in Massachusetts and Vermont that closed or were merged with another college last year, and Marlboro College will shut its doors and merge with Emerson College this year. Declining enrollment and rising expenses are making it tough for schools dependent on tuition to survive. In a July report, Moody’s said that one in five small private colleges nationwide is under fundamental stress, and predicted more are likely to close or merge in the coming years.

Carbonite and Both companies ended up as takeover targets after stumbling badly in 2019. Boston-based Carbonite, which makes data backup systems, agreed in November to be bought by a Canadian company for $23 a share, or $884 million ($1.42 billion including debt), as it struggled to integrate several acquisitions made under CEO Mohamad Ali, who left in July to become head of International Data Group in Framingham. The price was below Carbonite’s 2019 peak of more than $29 early in the year., which runs an online marketplace for baby-sitters and other caregivers, said Dec. 20 that it would be bought by IAC/Interactive for $15 a share, or about $500 million.’s stock was hammered in March after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Waltham company provided limited vetting of its caregivers.

Martha Coakley. The former state attorney general surprised many in Massachusetts when she took a job in the government affairs department of Juul, the largest maker of e-cigarettes. In 2013, Coakley was part of a multistate effort to urge the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on e-cigarettes, which she called highly addictive. In September, Juul CEO Kevin Burns was forced out, and the company suspended all US advertising and agreed to refrain from lobbying the Trump administration during its discussions about a pending federal crackdown on flavored e-cigs.

You can reach me at and follow me on Twitter @GlobeNewsEd.


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