1. General Motors Company (NYSE: GM)
General Motors spent much of 2014 on the defensive, as it had to deal with a number of serious recalls. In the most serious incident, the company disclosed an ignition switch defect that could cause a vehicle’s engine to stall and its airbags to fail while it was in motion. The defect triggered the recall of 2.6 million cars and has been linked to 42 deaths. The company reported it had recalled a total of 34 million cars for a number of defects and incurred more than $2.7 billion in recall-related costs in the first nine months of 2014.
The public fallout from this recall was enormous. GM set aside $400 million to cover damage claims for victims of the faulty ignition switches, while the U.S. Department of Transportation fined the company $35 million — the most it legally could. Even worse, GM employees had known about the defect as early as 2001. Reuters uncovered last April that the company avoided fixing the problem in 2005, despite the fact that replacement switches would have cost just 90 cents each. During the fallout, CEO Mary Barra told Congress, “I never want anyone associated with GM to forget what happened. I want this terrible experience permanently etched in our collective memories. This isn’t just another business challenge.”
2. Sony Corp (NYSE: SNE)
Sony had perhaps the most difficult holiday season of any company. News broke in November that the company’s film division, Sony Pictures Entertainment, had been hacked in response to one of its upcoming films, “The Interview.” The hackers, reportedly from North Korea, were offended by the movie’s portrayal of North Korea and its dictator Kim Jong-un. Among other information, the hackers leaked unreleased Sony movies, executive salary data, and personal email correspondence between major Hollywood figures. A number of these emails revealed petty disputes and derogatory comments about race from top figures at the company.
After being hacked — and after a number of major theaters said they would not show the movie — Sony initially decided not to release the film. However, it later reversed course, prodded by criticism from, among others, President Barack Obama. In addition to the debacle surrounding “The Interview,” Sony’s PlayStation Network was also hacked during the holiday season.
Sony’s problems have not been limited to hacking attacks. Sony has regularly reported annual losses for years, and restructuring announcements have become an almost annual event. So far, however, years of expensive restructuring initiatives have been unfruitful. The company’s smartphone division has also taken a hit, with Sony’s smartphones losing market share while failing to sell profitably. Sony shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange have declined more than 30% in the past five years, even as American and Japanese stocks have rallied significantly, with the S&P 500 up approximately 80% in that time.
3. DISH Network Corp (NASDAQ: DISH)
More than 20% of respondents on the Zogby Analytics survey rated DISH Network poorly, one of the highest percentages of any company reviewed. Also, DISH Network has fared worse than most companies on the ACSI in recent years, albeit in an industry that largely received extremely low ratings.
In the wake of heated and ongoing contract negotiations between DISH Network and Fox, DISH customers can no longer watch Fox News or business channels. The blackout has likely had a negative impact on DISH’s customer satisfaction, at least among Fox News viewers who subscribe to DISH. This is hardly the first carriage dispute for DISH in recent years. Other such disputes resulted in long blackouts of AMC Networks and Turner Networks, as well as a brief outage of CBS-owned channels.
Customers are not the company’s only critics. Past and present DISH employees gave the company an average score of just 2.7 out of 5 on Glassdoor.com, with employees frequently disapproving of upper management.