Category Archives: Davos

Posts made either in Davos or about the Davos Annual Meeting

Davos Newbies Home

It’s little more than a week since Davos 2000 ended, and it is already clear that there were at least two important issues we didn’t discuss.

First, the rise of far-right parties in European democracies. The Jörg Haider crisis in the European Union has truly serious implications. The phenomenon is not confined to Austria: Switzerland, Italy and Flanders also have growing, powerful ultra-reactionary parties. I think this was an omission on the scale of the 1999 Davos not mentioning Kosovo.

Second, the potential for large-scale disruption of the Internet. In all the e-uphoria in Davos, no one discussed the vulnerability of sites. I don’t think the Yahoo!, Ebay, E-trade, etc sabotage of the past few days will derail the expansion of e-commerce or other Internet-related activities. But it does add another element of uncertainty — and another need for infrastructural development and planning — to the scenarios of businesses that are moving into the Internet economy.

Davos Newbies Home

Back in Geneva, it’s interesting to gather the insiders’ views of Davos 2000 and how we can improve for next year.

We tried where possible to add “spice” and do the unexpected. This came off wonderfully well with the Tony Blair/Michael Dell duet on Friday. But too many sessions for my liking where still populated by the usual suspects. On the programme team we’ve concluded that we should start our work by concentrating on the spice, rather than adding it in the closing months (we may need to find a new metaphor as well).

The standard of moderation of sessions was again considered to have improved, but we need to move still further. This is particularly true in plenary sessions, where a good moderator actually can create interaction and debate. The less skilled moderators seem to freeze up in the plenary hall and let panelists have the run of the session with their all-too-preprogrammed statements.

Polarity might become our watchword for 2001. There’s been a lot written about Davos Man (and less about the under-represented Davos Woman). We need to work very hard to ensure that sessions don’t become a parade of Davos consensus. If there aren’t disagreements on topics, why should we give them time on the programme?

Davos Newbies Home

***Too good to keep to myself

There are some sessions that look so good, that I don’t want to keep them under wraps. Saturday morning in Davos, at 9am, we have a session entitled “What is the value of history and tradition?” On the programme team we struggle to cast people against type: putting public figures in unexpected places, getting CEOs to talk about personal issues, placing an artist in a geopolitical discussion.

Usually, the demanding people who come to Davos say no — they don’t want to be exposed on an issue off their usual turf. But our history session has Umberto Eco, Francis Fukuyama, Timothy Garton Ash and Josef Joffe as a lineup, which would be wonderful by anyone’s criteria. What should make it sing, however, is that Howard Davies, chairman of the UK’s Financial Services Authority (like the SEC and more in one body) is chairing it. It turns out Howard did history at Oxford and it’s one of his passions (supporting the usually hopeless Manchester City Football Club is another). Expect the participants to come out of this session buzzing.

***Back to practicalities

Some people are wondering what there is to do in Davos outside the Congress Centre. Even the most intent Annual Meeting participant needs the occasional break, if only to let ideas and experiences settle before charging off to the next event on the programme.

Davos is, of course, one of the major ski resorts in Europe. For downhillers, if you have the time to take the Parsennbahn to the top of the Parsenn (entrance near the Hotel Seehof), there is an extraordinary run around the back of the mountain all the way down to Klosters. The second picture on the Davos webcam shows you conditions on this run right now. You can then either take the cable car back up and ski down to Davos or, if you are exhausted, take the train back to Davos.

For crosscountry skiers, there are three primary directions to head, all with good restaurants to refuel at on the way. For beginners, there is a loipe to Glaris that follows the river, so it’s flat. For the more advanced, you can head up the valleys to either Flüelapass or to Sertig.

Davos also has the largest outdoor ice rink in Switzerland. For the less energetic, Audi runs an advanced driving course, where you get to practice skids on the ice, and there are horse-drawn carriage rides up to some of the same places that the crosscountry skiers have to sweat to reach.

And then there are restaurants and konditorei, but that’s another story.

Davos Newbies Home

***Breaking news on the programme

As Dave Winer would say, I am so psyched. We have been angling for months to get a session where Tony Blair and Michael Dell would speak together about whether there is a new style of leadership in politics and business. Lots of people who “know about these things” told me that it would never happen — politicians tend to stick with other politicians in public. But 10 Downing Street agreed the plan today! A real signal that there is a new style of leadership, to my mind.

***Resuming regular service

I admire the self-discipline of people that have regular weblogs. On a day like today, it’s hard to tear away from immediate problems. But as Klaus Schwab, president of the World Economic Forum, says, “Don’t let the urgent tasks overwhelm the important ones.”

As many people know, president Clinton is confirmed for Davos on Saturday 29 January. So we are engaged in the “Clinton shuffle”. Eleven sessions that were scheduled at the time now reserved for the president have had to move or be deleted. The space constraints in Davos are already severe, so this is not a simple task. We can’t create rooms that don’t exist.

What makes Saturday so inflexible is that we have the soirée on Saturday night, so the plenary hall (which is being decked out for the party) is unavailable all Saturday afternoon. The soirée is part of what makes Davos special. Each year, different countries or regions handle parts of the gala. So, for example, there will be a Chicago blues room (I had to convince people here that Chicago was the city of the blues, not of jazz).

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Plenary hall entertainment at the 1999 soirée

The most popular part of the soirée is whatever is happening around the swimming pool (the town swimming pool of Davos is next door to the Congress Centre, and is dragooned into service for the soirée). A few years ago, at the height of the Russian oligarchs’ power, they hosted the swimming pool area. Suffice to say, there was no end to the flow of caviar.

This year, the Mexicans have grabbed the swimming pool. I know they are flying in a mariachi band. We’ll have to see what else is planned on the night.

Incidentally, the dress code for the soirée is black tie or national dress for men, evening wear for women. A lot of people do dress formally, but many people come in business attire (but don’t tell anyone I told you that).

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As much as we try, many of the panelists in Davos ignore our injunction against preparing speeches. There are a few speeches at the Annual Meeting: this year, Blair, Clinton, Summers, Albright and the King of Jordan will have a chance to make a “special message”.

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Only a few get speeches in Davos.
Mandela was one.

For everyone else, we are seeking initial comments of between three and six minutes (depending on the session), followed by interactive discussion. Prepare by thinking, by making some brief notes, by contacting other people in the session to compare approaches. Don’t write a speech.

Sessions that don’t work in Davos (and there are always a few) are characterised by panelists going on for too long, leaving little or no time for questions. With our demanding participants, that creates high levels of dissatisfaction.

To this end, in Davos 1999 we instituted a “moderators’ bootcamp” on the Wednesday just before Davos officially kicks off. The goal is to convince our moderators that they need to be — and can be — tough with our panelists, no matter how eminent. It seems to have worked: all of the feedback from the 1999 Annual Meeting indicated that the overall quality of sessions improved. We’re planning on another step change upward in quality — and toughness of moderators — this year.

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How do I get to Davos?

One of the reasons Davos works is its isolation. It’s not one of those places where people dash out to a taxi because they have other business commitments in town. If you’re there, you’re there for the Annual Meeting (or you are a slightly bewildered German family in Davos for a skiing holiday, wondering what the fuss is about).

Most people fly into Zurich, but then there are a variety of choices. If you are a plutocrat, Helilink provides one of the most spectacular helicopter rides of your life. It takes about 45 minutes from Zurich airport to a helipad overlooking the Davoser See, the lake in Davos.

Less expensive (but only slightly) is the limousine service from Zurich to Davos. That takes two and a bit hours. A similar length trip is on the buses which the Forum organises for participants. One of the good things about the buses is that you meet lots of other participants on the way.

Finally, there is the train. Logistically, the train is the least satisfactory way to Davos. You need to change twice (at Zurich Hauptbahnhof and Landquart) and it takes three hours. But there’s no doubt that the train is the most beautiful and restful way to go. I always find it a way to decompress on the way to Davos. And there will certainly be a lot of other participants on the train.

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Announcing the arrival of the train

All of the above presupposes that the weather cooperates. Last year, Davos was hit on Wednesday evening by a blizzard that didn’t stop until late Saturday. As a result, Sunday skiing was magnificent. But helicopters didn’t fly and roads were a mess. Even in the worst weather, however, the trains get through.

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The World Economic Forum may seem rather pernickity about its vocabulary. Davos (and the other meetings of the Forum) are never, never referred to as conferences. That’s because the standard image of a conference is something where delegates or attendees listen respectfully to speeches on the platform. The spirit of Davos is truly that everyone — whether a head of state, a CEO, an editor or a professor — is a participant. And when things really sing in Davos, that’s the way it feels.

For the same reason, the Forum has successfully resisted video links to speakers who can’t come to Davos. There are certainly logistical nightmares in getting Clinton, for example, to a mountain resort in Switzerland, but seeing him via videoconference link in the White House wouldn’t be the same.

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And you thought security was tight last year?

There was a wonderful Davos moment a few years ago when Michael Dertouzos, head of computer science at MIT, responded to a question about whether we would all attend Davos virtually in 10 years time. Michael grabbed Bill Gates, who was sitting next to him, around by the shoulders to emphasise the importance of physical connection. I doubt whether Gates has ever blanched so visibly in public.

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I asked some of my London World Link colleagues for top tips for Davos first-timers. Here are the results.

Relax and enjoy it. Davos can be pretty hectic, so make sure you leave time for chance encounters and serendipity. Some people even carve out time for skiing — there’s great Alpine and cross-country skiing in Davos. About five years ago, I took advantage of Sunday morning “sports day” to go skiing and got caught in a blizzard. I spent the whole morning sharing hot chocolates and some strudel in a snowed-in mountaintop restaurant with John Sculley and his brother Arthur. A not atypical Davos moment.

Spend some time on arrival figuring out the layout of the Congress Centre and the town (note to Dave Winer: I’ll try on Monday to find some better maps to post on the site). The Congress Centre works quite well, but it is a maze since they plugged a new building onto an old one when Davos started to outgrow its origins. All of the lunch and dinner sessions are in hotels, so it helps to know which direction to head for those sessions.

Finally, Olga had the simplest suggestion. “Just be there.”

And where is there? I had to include this:

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How long should I spend in Davos?

Some misguided people think Davos “peaks” on Sunday. If you really want the Davos experience, however, staying through Tuesday can be very valuable (I would say that, wouldn’t I). Here’s why. Most of the politicians do leave on Sunday because of domestic commitments. So Monday and Tuesday are less hectic and more business focused. If you want to hear Bill Gates, Noboyuki Idei, Masayoshi Son, John Chambers, Tim Koogle, Durk Jager, Carly Fiorina, Phil Knight, Bill Joy, Michael Dell, etc, Monday and Tuesday are the days. Here are Idei and Koogle enjoying a Davos moment last year.

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There’s a second, in some ways more important reason. For all of our efforts to encourage an informal atmosphere in Davos, it takes time for people to decompress from their normal existence. After a few days in Davos, most people begin to loosen up, wear more informal clothes and generally smile a lot more than they usually do. So the informal encounters that are the best of Davos often happen in the latter days of the meeting, rather than the earlier ones.

The pinnacle of this atmosphere, if it’s a nice day, is the Tuesday Schatzalp lunch. This is an extraordinary buffet, outside in the snow, on the terrace of the Schatzalp Hotel, which was in the 19th century the sanitorium where The Magic Mountain is set. It’s perched high above Davos, reached either by a hike up the mountain or an old mountain funicular. Just make sure you get back to the Congress Centre for the plenary I’m moderating on “The shock of the new”!

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What can be exhilarating about Davos is the variety of people and ideas. Take advantage of the differences: if you spend your life in the Internet world, don’t just hang out with other Internet people and go to Internet sessions. You can do that anywhere. Only in Davos will you be able to chat with Umberto Eco, Elie Wiesel, Shimon Peres, a South African labour leader, a Filipino indigenous peoples’ activist and more CEOs than you could shake all the trees in Davos at.

In short, be open to serendipity. The best sessions are often the most unexpected, especially when they are opening up new horizons for you. Klaus Schwab, the president and founder of the World Economic Forum, has a good definition for an individual’s success in Davos. It’s a good Davos if you come away with at least one truly new idea, make one new friend and conclude one new contract.