Historic Mistakes That Cost These Big Brands ZillionsBy Anglina Roberts
In the world of business, companies make silly errors all the time. But beyond the norm, some just belong in the hall of fame of fools. It’s time to take a look at some of the worst deals in history, and all that was lost!
By a Few Inches, NASA Loses a Real Satellite
NASA was pretty upset when the Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in 1999. They had invested $125 million into the machine, and that was gone. Worse, there was an obvious reason for the disaster!
It was all in the numbers: One team used the Metric System. The other used the American system. All put together, nothing added up! The Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lockheed Martin just weren’t communicating in this basic way. It sure cost a lot to find out in hard, earthly currency!
Next: See the worst financial fumbles that cost companies everything!
One Size Fits None
Mistake: Trains Too Big for the Station
Company: RFF gave the wrong specs to SNCF
Estimated Damage: $68 million
Cities with a working Metro are common in Europe. France is no exception, and companies coordinated to execute a huge new plan there. For this transport project, train operator SNCF invested in 2,000 new models. But when they received the size measurements from the rail folks, they got a partial picture. Some tracks were much older and had different sizes that were not included in the memo. In the end, many were way too wide to ride!
Missing the Telephone, Somehow
Mistake: Investors Pass Up the Telphone Patent
Company: Western Union
Estimated Damage: Billions, surely
Way back in the 1800’s, a young inventor named Alexander Graham Bell had a great idea. It is known today as the telephone, and most people can’t picture life without it. But not everyone saw it that way at the time! Mega company Western Union really believed in their technology, the telegraph. It worked well enough, didn’t it? They couldn’t picture the phone replacing it, and declined to invest. Instead, Bell Telephone Company was founded, which eventually became AT&T. Sorry Western Union!
Peanut Butter for the Win
Mistake: M&M’s Passing Up Product Placement in E.T.
Company: Mars, Incorporated
Estimated Damage: $15-20 million
In the 1980s, perhaps no director promoted candy better than Steven Spielberg. That’s because he decided to make chocolate a key part of the plot in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. People promptly went out and bought Hershey’s Reese’s Pieces. The alien loved them, and so did the public! Many may not know that the Mars company got first dibs for a $1 million promotion for M&Ms, but declined. Rival Reese’s Pieces got a 65% profit jump only 2 weeks after the premiere!
Rig Goes Boom Boom
Mistake: Deepwater Horizon
Estimated Damage: $65 billion
In 2010, a disaster hit like no other: The explosion of oil rig Deepwater Horizon. It was the biggest oil spill ever, at that point – and the inferno lasted for days. 94 workers had to be rescued, too! A few days later, the tanker sank. But the oil continued to spread and damage the environment in the Gulf of Mexico. Company BP had to pay up, as a result. They faced a $1.4 billion fine for violating the Clean Water Act, and drained immense oil profits into the sea: 4.9 million barrels were lost, all at once!
Old Fashioned to the End
Mistake: Missing the Chance to Merge With Netflix
Estimated Damage: Total Bankruptcy
Blockbuster is no more, as everyone knows by now. But there were many hints along the way that the end was coming, despite the denial. CEO Jim Keyes reflected in 2008: “Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition…It’s more Wal-Mart and Apple.” But he was wrong, so wrong! And as it turns out, there was an offer in the year 2000 for Netflix to handle their new online component. Allegedly, they laughed Netflix out of their office!
When it All Falls Down
Mistake: Collapse of the Lotus Riverside Apartment Complex
Company: Shanghai Meidu Real Estate Development
Estimated Damage: $2,000 per square meter
Giant buildings can make some people queasy: They’re so tall, won’t they fall? Most of the time, that’s a crazy thought. But in the case of the Lotus Riverside Apartment Complex, that’s exactly what occurred. Sadly, developers often take shortcuts in modern China. In 2009, an entire block fell. Incredibly, it was almost completely intact! 13 stories built on a shoddy parking garage foundation were a very expensive gamble. The company lost quite a bit, to say the least!
Lucasfilm Bungles Billions
Mistake: Signing away Star Wars merch rights forever
Estimated Damage: $3 billion
George Lucas had gained the respect of the world with his genius in the Star Wars universe. Surely, he was just as imaginative behind the scenes. Right? Surprisingly, the director was a little short-sighted in the real world. When he sold his franchise to Disney, he gave them all the merch rights — here on earth, and all over the galaxy. Right away, they made $3 billion in toys and tees. May the force be with George a little more, next time!
A Mistake of Titanic Proportions
Mistake: The Sinking of the Titanic
Company: White Star Line
Estimated Damage: $7.5 million ($400 million today)
It was the wildest shipwreck and an even wilder pricetag. Everyone has at least seen the movie, about this one. When the Titanic hit an iceberg, all hell broke loose. No one would have thought the luxurious super boat was a one-way trip, but maybe they should have. Cost-saving measures were taken during its construction: From budget rivets to minimal lifeboats, the company made poor choices for the treacherous journey ahead. In the end, they lost it all!
Mistake: Man Loses $7.5 Million in Bitcoins
Company: Private Investor James Howells
Estimated Damage: $85 million
The world of Bitcoin is a new frontier for financial geeks, but much of the public remains confused about it all. Is it money, or what? For now, it seems to be. And when UK investor James Howells purchased 7,500 bitcoins at the beginning, it turned out to be a very valuable buy. When the price went up, his virtual pile was worth $85 million! Sadly, this was trapped in his old laptop he had already disassembled, sold for parts on eBay, and thrown away. Drat!
Forgetting That Giant Tunnel
Mistake: Neighborhood Accidentally Built on an Abandoned Mine
Company: Dakota Plaster Company
Estimated Damage: $10-15 million
One South Dakota neighborhood got the surprise of their lives with a secret below the ground. And it wasn’t included in any realtor papers, before they moved in! When a local was mowing his lawn one day, a sinkhole appeared. Investigators were called in, and made a shocking discovery: A 600 feet long mine was directly underneath everyone’s homes! Back in the day, this had been a site to mine gypsum. Evacuations were immediate and permanent!
These Golden Years
Mistake: Russia Sells Alaska to the USA
Company: Russian Imperial Government
Estimated Damage: Priceless
Sometimes, governments are the ones in error. In 1867, the United States made an amazing deal. Russia was an established power, and it had a lot of land at the time. Perhaps it had more than what it knew to do with! As a result, they decided to sell useless Alaska to America. And for pennies on the dollar! For just over seven million bucks, the Czar got rid of that chunk of property. Little did he know that soon after, gold would found. And then, even worse, oil!
Mistake: Digital Photography Written Off
Estimated Damage: Bankruptcy Spiral
Kodak was certainly ahead of the curve for many years in the photography business. It was a revolution for people to be able to capture moments in their lives on film and preserve them forever. Maybe the company felt it had a winning product. No need to innovate, they concluded. Kodak passed up early digital photography, even when they had a patent in the company for a digital camera. They just sat on it, allowing competitors to pass them up, one by one. Canon, Fuji, and Sony went sky high, and Kodak faced bankruptcy problems, for years!
That Time Someone Missed Google
Mistake: Passing Up a Bargain Google Buy
Estimated Damage: $130 billion
Excite is a search engine few people even talk about now. But back in the late 90s, it was all the rage. In fact, it was the number two search engine in the world, and the company probably felt they were going up, up, up. Evidently, they never saw competitor Google coming. Not even when they knocked right on the door! In the early days, Larry Page offered to sell his site to Excite for just $750,000, but they said no way. Now the biggest name in the biz, it might have been a mistake!
To Infinity, and Beyond
Mistake: British Airways Window Incident
Company: British Airways
Estimated Damage: $2.8 million
In 1990, the craziest commercial air incident of all time occurred. And it was captured on tape, too! British Airways Flight 5390 was 4 miles over UK airspace when the pressure inside the cockpit suddenly changed. The drastic pressure caused a window to burst, and it sucked a pilot right out! Miraculously, his legs held to equipment while other staff grabbed him. He survived with broken bones and nightmares of the incident. The company ended up paying millions, obviously!
A Bump in the Night
Mistake: Noaa-N Prime Satellite Drop
Company: Lockheed Martin Space Systems
Estimated Damage: $135 million
Satellites are unsung heroes, helping humanity in the digital age in so many ways. The tech is pretty expensive, of course. Most of the time, they are floating around the planet. But on the ground in 2003, Lockheed Martin Space Systems had a pretty costly incident on their hands. When workers tried to move one, it fell on the floor and resulted in $135 million in damages. Apparently, no one secured the 24 bolts on its base! Hopefully, lesson learned?
Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions
Mistake: A Misparked F-16 Jet
Company: Belgian Air Force
Estimated Damage: $15-$18 million
Jet maintenance is a highly skilled job, but it’s not supposed to be super dangerous. Over in Belgium, there was an outrageous incident that made the news. At the Florennes Air Force Base in 2018, a worker accidentally fired off one of its missiles at another F-16. It exploded, in a big way! Two workers were injured in the process, which was a miracle in itself. It could have downright deadly, observers agreed. An estimated $15 to $18 million was lost, too!
Slip n’ Slide Ride
Mistake: Emergency Slide Unleashed Inside a Plane
Company: United Airlines
Estimated Damage: $20,000
On a flight from Chicago to Orange County in 2014, everything seemed pretty normal. Passengers were relaxing and enjoying a movie, sipping hot drinks, and trying to enjoy the ride. Suddenly, there was a malfunction: The emergency slide to escape the plane opened up inside the cabin! As it got bigger and bigger, it hissed and terrified everyone on board. An emergency landing was promoted for real, over Kansas. The cost was around $20,000 for this mess!
Modern Art Accident
Mistake: Priceless Elias Martinez Painting Destroyed
Company: Amateur Cecilia Gimenez
Estimated Damage: Priceless
Ancient, unique art is literally priceless. In the case of “Ecce Homo” by Elias Garcia Martinez, that is certainly true. An elderly Spanish woman secretly decided to help out the fading masterpiece. The painting of Christ in the Santuario de Misericordia was forever altered before staff could see what was going on. Critics declared the update to be monkey-like, and many were devasted by the impromptu restoration. No good deed goes unpunished, so they say!
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Mistake: Submarine Can’t Resurface
Estimated Damage: $2.2 billion
Subs seem to have a few basic functions. They need to be able to sneak around underwater. But they can’t just stay down there forever. Sooner or later, the people inside will need to come up for air. It cost billions to invest in the super modern Isaac Peral Submarine in 2013. But for whatever reason, it was engineered to be really heavy. So heavy, in fact, that it couldn’t submerge once it went into the sea! The second model fixed this problem, but was larger and wouldn’t fit into any port to dock. Yikes, and yikes!
You Are My Sunshiene
Mistake: Weird, Car-Melting Skyscraper
Company: Land Securities and Canary Wharf Group
Estimated Damage: Thousands in car and window damage / Undisclosed rennovaton cost
Skyscrapers have never been compared to microwaves. Until now that is! The “Walkie Talkie” building in London apparently came with some incredible powers. So shiny and mirrored, it reflected sunlight right into a Jaguar across the street. Shockingly, this melted pieces on the exterior of the Jag. Nearby, businesses nearby suffered cracked windows from its incredible heat projection. It’s a crazy story, indeed. Since then, the building has purchased a super, giant sunshade!
Shaving Cream Dream
Mistake: Plane’s Premature Fire Foam Release
Company: Delta Air Lines
Estimated Damage: $100,000
Storing airplanes is no easy task. They’re pretty big, and they certainly don’t belong in a parking lot. For that reason, companies invest a lot in the proper place and space for off duty craft. Delta Air Lines tried to do things the right way, but found themselves in a costly mess back in 2013. Photos appeared of a plane that had released its fire-foam for no reason while parked. In case of flames, the foam could have saved lives. But in this case, it simply cost money — 100 grand, to be exact!
Stuck in the Middle with You
Mistake: Yellow Digger Totally Stuck at the Shore
Company: Little Shoal Bay Boating Club
Estimated Damage: $50,000
In construction, the classic yellow digger is key to accomplishing many tasks. Sometimes, the terrain is a little unpredictable. But when a 4×4 tried to do some work on a New Zealand beach, it really, really didn’t work out. The expensive machine was immobile: Whether it was sandy mud or muddy sand, this lasted for 3 days. In the end, the damage and rescue cost the Little Shoal Bay Boating Club a lot more than the project was worth!
Computers Just Sound Boring
Mistake: Computer Company Nixes PC Idea
Year: 1970’s era
Estimated Damage: Precious Billions
Back in the 1970s, a lot of things were going on in the tech world. Americans just didn’t know it yet! Before the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, there was a basic model. The PC, people! At the very beginning, Steve Wozniak was employed by Hewlett-Packard. He tried to entice them into an investment: He was building a personal computer, unlike anything on the market at the time. Sadly, they said no. Soon after, he met up with Steve Jobs to do the job right. The Apple 1 was born!
Aye Aye, Captain
Mistake: Nourah of Riyad Yacht Capsized
Estimated Damage: $30 million
Owning a boat for relaxation is a dream for many people. But a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean? Well, that’s just not going to happen for everyone. In the case of the 70-meter Nourah, the Saudi Prince Turki al Saud did enjoy it for a little while. But unexpectedly, it completely toppled over when maintenance was being done in Greece. The damage was serious, and it went into repair right away. Estimated at $30 million, it was no cheap clean-up job!
Til the Landslide Brought Them Down
Mistake: Asian Highway Landslide
Company: Maintained by Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau
Estimated Damage: $20 million
Taiwan is a little island nation off the coast of mainland China. They don’t get as much press as other places in the region. But when a highway was covered by a freak landslide in 2010, it certainly made the news! There was debris, all right: 210,000 cubic meters of it. With 100 trucks trying to remove the mess, it still took more than a month to clear off the road. This incident cost the taxpayers there around $20 million!
Mistake: Rena Monrovia Cargo Spill
Company: Daina Shipping, a subsidiary of Costamare
Estimated Damage: $108 million
Sometimes, structural damage is the reason for a big mess. In the case of the Rena Monrovia container ship, it was something else entirely. On a voyage near New Zeland, the giant vessel hit the Astrolabe Reef. Because it was traveling at high speed at the time and no one was looking, the ship was completely ruined. It eventually rusted, broke in two, and sank into the ocean. But in the meantime, it cost Daina Shipping more than $100 million!
They Have a Bridge to Sell You
Mistake: Bay Area Overpass Collapse
Estimated Damage: $5.2 million
Commuters are stressed enough, just trying to make it to work on time, each and every day. In California, the legendary traffic jams don’t make that task any easier. In 2007, it got worse: A tanker truck got into a freeway accident that actually caused the total collapse of the overpass. When it hit a rail, flames shot into the sky hundreds of feet high! Miracuasly, the driver survived. But the California Department of Transportation got a bill for more than 5 million bucks!
A Very Oily Surprise
Mistake: The Piper Alpha Explosion
Company: Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Ltd.
Estimated Damage: $1.7 billion
Working in the oil business is highly specialized stuff. Modern companies are super safe, and people flock to the high paying jobs. But like all industries, accidents happen — and sometimes, things go very wrong. In 1988, a platform on the Piper Alpha exploded after a component on the structure leaked. Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Limited filed more than a billion in insurance claims to cover the damage. The Piper Alpha is still one of the worst cases in history!
Antique Infrastructure for the Win
Mistake: The Caprigliola Bridge Collapse
Company: Ing. Nino Ferrari Impresa Costruzioni Generali Srl, ANAS
Estimated Damage: TBD
In Italy, there are gorgeous ancient structures. But the modern ones often come with problems, like this bridge. In 2020, The Caprigliola Bridge collapsed. Thankfully, there were no fatalities in the incident. The investigation has begun, and some theories are already floating around. Clearly, there were problems in the construction, long ago. Observers say the company, Ing. Nino Ferrari Impresa Costruzioni Generali Srl, ANAS — a mouthful to pronounce — is going to be on the hook for more than a few euros!