1 In what he described at its completion as "the transaction from hell," Chicago billionaire and motorcycle fan Sam Zell (pictured right) spearheaded the $8.2 billion deal to take media giant Tribune Co. private. Skeptics questioned whether banks would commit the necessary funding, given the deteriorating revenue picture and increasing competition from the Internet. But Zell prevailed and Tribune, whose print and broadcast outlets include the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, is now employee-owned.
2 A pair of burly Chicago giants, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade (pictured above), got together in an $11.8 billion deal to create the world's largest futures trading firm. The pact brought together old-time pit traders, hustling and muscling their way to profits, in a cutthroat new world where electrons and algorithms are more important than hoarse voices or flashy trading jackets. The agreement to create the CME Group shunted aside a rival bid by the upstart Intercontinental Exchange.
3 A boom in ethanol production sent corn prices to the heights, giving a boost to such Illinois behemoths as Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Deere & Co. Farmers, too, enjoyed a bounty. But skeptics said any huge increase in ethanol production will send food prices to levels unacceptable to consumers.
4 Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Olympics took a big step forward as the City of Broad Shoulders won rights to become the U.S. bidder. The International Olympic Committee will name the winner in 2009. Headlines around the world proclaimed Chicago one of the early front-runners in a competition with Rio de Janeiro; Tokyo; Madrid; Prague, Czech Republic; Doha, Qatar; and Baku, Azerbaijan.
5 Media tycoon Conrad Black was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in federal prison, a punishment that falls heavily on the newspaper company he once headed, now known as Sun-Times Media Group. The scandal-scarred enterprise is seeking to overcome his crippling legacy at a time when media companies are struggling.
6 Troubled cell phone-maker Motorola Inc. bade farewell to Chief Executive Edward Zander as he handed off responsibility for fixing the struggling Schaumburg-based giant to his second-in-command, Greg Brown. Zander's retirement at age 60 came at the end of one of the most tumultuous periods in the firm's history. After it rode its revolutionary Razr's success to great heights, global competitors moved in. The result: a collapsing stock price and market share as Motorola keeps searching for new handset winners.
7 Despite some delays, Boeing Co. moved ahead toward the launch of its new 787 Dreamliner, a fuel-sipping aircraft based on new technology that has attracted 790 orders. Chicago-based Boeing said the revolutionary plane's electrical and computer systems are expected to be operational by the end of January, and the plane is expected to take to the skies by the end of March. The snags that have hit the Dreamliner, which is being produced with numerous global partners, are far fewer than those that have afflicted European rival Airbus SAS.
8 In what was described as history's largest buyout of a real estate company, Equity Office Properties Trust was sold for $39 billion to Blackstone Group. Equity Office, controlled by Sam Zell, was the nation's largest office landlord, with 100 million square feet of space. Blackstone moved rapidly to sell off assets. For Zell, 66, it was a company he spent 30 years building.
9 The changing landscape of Loop retailing saw an end to one of State Street's most glittering names, Carson Pirie Scott & Co. As it was shuttered, a huge new development took shape on a tract known as Block 37, across from Macy's, which still is battling to overcome the vanquished name of Marshall Field & Co. The Carsons store at State and Madison Streets, once hailed as the world's busiest corner, is being remade into smaller retail outlets and offices. The city is to provide nearly $10 million to preserve the Louis Sullivan-designed ironwork on the facade of the landmark at 1 S. State St.
10 It was a very good year for McDonald's Corp., which continued to pour on the sales growth and moved to begin pouring a wider variety of beverages. The Oak Brook-based hamburger behemoth has reported 55 consecutive months of worldwide revenue growth through November. Now it is making a direct assault on entrenched rival Starbucks by planning to move full-scale into the specialty coffee market in the U.S.
------------ William Sluis
List was selected by the Chicago Tribune Business Department.
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