Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Davos came and went without me hearing anything about it. This is surprising considering the forum bills itself as one of the most important leadership conferences in the world. The World Economic Forum at Davos, an annual five day event named after the town in which it is hosted, was originally set up as a venue through which American business ideas could be conveyed to Europeans. These days, the event is a yearly pilgrimage for corporate titans, hedge fund managers, central bankers, heads of state, tech visionaries and NGO chiefs. Journalists and protesters, while less welcome, also show up. The forum’s website lists its slogan as “committed to improving the state of the world.” That goal is noble, but after reading a piece by Nick Paumgarten in the New Yorker, I wonder if the attendees are actually committed to it at all. As Paumgarten describes it, Davos is really just the mother of all social networking events. Sure, Davos hosts dozens of panels with pompous sounding names, but few people actually show up for these discussions. The sessions that are attended are used as breathers, a chance for attendants to mentally reboot and check email. Paumgarten references one meeting that was chaired by Chelsea Clinton. When he glanced around the room, everyone was either on an iPhone or a Blackberry. Hardly anyone was listening to the panelists.

The real action at Davos occurs in off the record meetings: CEOs bumping into other CEOs in hallways, prime ministers drinking espressos with philanthropists, management consultants and academics jostling for private moments with business school professors. While the forum is happening, private companies like McKinsey hold lavish parties to attract the biggest players. For a company like McKinsey that relies on information sharing and client relationships for its survival, Davos is a big deal. In case you are wondering, you have to be invited to Davos, you can’t just show up. The self-importance is not lost on the attendees. Paumgarten writes that people at the conference liked to talk about Davos being the “best dinner party in the world.”

Klaus Schwab, the man who started the conference forty-two years ago, seems to acknowledge some of the self-indulgence that takes place at the forum. He discourages private parties because they distract from the official theme of the symposium. Schwab, who earlier in his life developed the idea of corporations being beholden to communities rather than just stockholders, tries to use the global reach of the organization for good purposes. This year, the unofficial theme of the conference was the failure of capitalism and growing inequality. Indeed, some protesters from the Occupy movement were invited to the conference to speak. Without Schwab’s leadership, the whole conference might have a worse name for itself than it does.
- Read more about it here: New Yorker