The Call

Davos wrap-up and awards

Davos wrap-up and awards

Davos 2012 — jam-packed, exciting. A bargain? Not quite. But did the rewards outweigh the costs for attendees? Given the extraordinary time commitment and expense folks go through to attend, is Davos worthwhile?

In my opinion — definitely yes. Here’s why.

1. Davos gives me the chance to meet with pre-vetted folks in fields I don’t know particularly well…but need to. Anyone looking for insight on these subjects would otherwise have to invest too much time to figure out who the true experts are, and how to reach out to them. I know who I really rate in thinking about global politics, and when I have questions or want to bounce an idea off a few people, there’s no problem. But what about subjects that aren’t my forte? What about food scarcity? Or climate change? Urbanization? Microfinance? Gender inequality? If you’re interested in pattern recognition, systems thinking, and getting out of your box, Davos is a virtually unparalleled opportunity. Anyone with a global element to their work can benefit immensely from this type of exposure.

2. Davos is not just about finding experts in fields that aren’t your specialty. You’re also with top folks in your own field, and the audience is global and experienced. So you need to bring your A-game. Last year, Niall Ferguson, Ken Rogoff and I squared off at dinner in front of 50 CEOs on global rebalancing. This year it was global security, and I spoke alongside Richard Haass, John Chipman and Yan Xuetong. The audience has heard the top voices before, and they’re a decidedly skeptical bunch; there’s not much scope for misstep. Needless to say, it’s an exciting opportunity that Davos provides.

3. If you’re in a global field, you can pack six weeks’ worth of meetings into five days. Just the breadth of people in attendance from governments, corporations and NGOs across the world — I’m not somebody who likes to live out of a suitcase and spend my life on an airplane. That means picking and choosing your trips. Davos allows me to consolidate, and skip those extra couple visits to the major financial and industrial capitals and instead spend an extra week on the ground in China, or a frontier market I’ve been meaning to visit.

Bottom line: this little snowy town is as alluring as the incredible people who make the trek to get out there. It’s a real chicken-or-the-egg affair, where people go because…people go.

On to my Davos 2012 awards.

Best speech:

Boris Johnson. On Thursday, the mayor of London gave a fantastic address on behalf of the London 2012 Olympic Games. One of the highlights: Johnson quipped that London’s murder rate is one-quarter of New York’s. It was perhaps the most well received Davos speech I have ever attended.

Best new theme:

While it is not exactly new, state capitalism seemed to finally catch fire in the Davos debate this year. In light of developed economies’ woes and emerging markets’ resilience to the financial crisis, state capitalism is receiving a serious look (even though it is by no means a viable alternative to free market capitalism). At Davos, David Cameron addressed state capitalism directly, explaining how Western leaders need to actively combat it and stand up for what he has been calling ‘popular capitalism’ in his recent speeches. And it didn’t hurt that The Economist topic du jour was state capitalism going into last week too.

Best party:

I have to admit it — the Google party really did steal the show. The ‘green’ dance floor that measured the watts exerted by those brave enough to dance was a highlight. Every year at Davos, Googlers really seem to make up for lost time spent in the library throughout their youth.

Best meeting:

Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Chambliss is completely old school, and he understands the polls and the pols alike — when I chatted with him, it was plain to see why he’s so popular in Georgia. More on our meeting in my previous post.

Best gift:

Thank you, Azeri government. Awfully kind. See my earlier post.

Davos outperformer (country):

Brazil took the cake. They were taking the lead sponsorship for the first time at Davos and nailed it. Between World Cup and Olympics chatter on top of promising fundamentals when it comes to infrastructure build-up and stable governance, the Brazilians were the delegation to beat. Honorable mentions: Indonesia and Turkey. Both delegations had a strong technocratic presence in Davos and focused on attracting investment.

Davos outperformer (company):

McKinsey was the best represented company in Davos — they are consistently the best attended, and Rik Kirkland had thought leaders streaming into the Seehof Hotel for intelligent conversations on key global issues in droves. It was so busy that there was even a camera set up in…a shower. (Gotta scrub those videos. Or perhaps Rik is moonlighting…)

Davos underperformer (country):

Russia. They did their best to dodge questions and kept the heavy hitters away. If Putin’s too busy for debates, he’s clearly too busy to attend Davos. Nouriel Roubini and I both used the conference to announce Russia shouldn’t be a BRIC — the response was very positive.

Davos underperformer (person):

Mick Jagger. Lots of folks were star struck, but he looked out of his element. 

Best entrance:

The best entrance probably belongs to Bill Gates, for its understated quality. He enters softly, softly, and suddenly he’s there and his presence speaks for itself. He would probably be the last person in the conference to showboat, despite probably mattering more than anyone else there.

Best exit:

Steve Roach, definitely, as he escaped Davos protestors at an Open Davos event. More on that in an earlier piece of mine.