Davos Sighting: Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger

Davos is now in full swing — the Congress Centre is heaving. One of the temptations confronted with such a crush of folk is to hang out with the people you already know … and the more you come here, the easier it is to do it. But you don’t learn as much that way. So ...

By , the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media.
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Davos is now in full swing -- the Congress Centre is heaving. One of the temptations confronted with such a crush of folk is to hang out with the people you already know ... and the more you come here, the easier it is to do it. But you don't learn as much that way. So when I remember, I try to push myself a bit.

That was the decision this morning. It's breakfast time, Harvard economic guru Ken Rogoff is sitting in the hotel cafe with his meal, and so I start walking up to say hi and coordinate a dinner we're doing together tonight. But then I notice someone who looks oddly familiar sitting by himself in the corner. Turns out to be Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger, hero pilot from the "miracle on the Hudson." Not who I expected to bump into (turns out he's doing a speech on leadership tomorrow night).

He introduced himself as Sully, and we ended up having a thoroughly lovely breakfast. Don't know exactly what his leadership speech is going to be, but a few pre-speech thoughts from the captain in a Davos context.

Davos is now in full swing — the Congress Centre is heaving. One of the temptations confronted with such a crush of folk is to hang out with the people you already know … and the more you come here, the easier it is to do it. But you don’t learn as much that way. So when I remember, I try to push myself a bit.

That was the decision this morning. It’s breakfast time, Harvard economic guru Ken Rogoff is sitting in the hotel cafe with his meal, and so I start walking up to say hi and coordinate a dinner we’re doing together tonight. But then I notice someone who looks oddly familiar sitting by himself in the corner. Turns out to be Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger, hero pilot from the "miracle on the Hudson." Not who I expected to bump into (turns out he’s doing a speech on leadership tomorrow night).

He introduced himself as Sully, and we ended up having a thoroughly lovely breakfast. Don’t know exactly what his leadership speech is going to be, but a few pre-speech thoughts from the captain in a Davos context.

1) Individuals matter. Sully understood he was in the position to have meaningful national impact after the crash, and it strikes me he’s taken his spokesman/"change agent" role as seriously as his role as a pilot on that fateful morning. In an environment where the American political system — to say nothing of the global political landscape–can seem incredibly resistant to productive change, that’s an inspirational message for the Davos attendees. 

It reminded me of Mikhail Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Union. And, more skeptically, why we’re not likely to see that kind of a move from the more consensus-oriented of China’s leadership. Committees rarely reform themselves out of power.

2) Having said that, after a couple years in the trenches, Sully’s frustrated and outspoken with entrenched business and political interests in the United States. The regulatory environment.The Supreme Court vote empowering corporations with the rights of individuals. Maybe strike some of that first point (but only a little).

3) He’s concerned about a society that increasingly doesn’t learn hard lessons, either of community after 9/11 (six months and out), or the financial crisis (more like a year). 

4) Getting the message right is a huge part of why his story’s had such a long-lasting (and global) impact. Sully’s a startlingly articulate fellow. Surely, he’s stepped it up since the fanfare. But he also joked that after the crash, his colleagues said they were "glad it was him on the plane."  I suppose there are a couple of ways you could take that. But the meaningful one is that he made the difference not just to the those folks sitting behind him…but to all of us. 

The best of luck to Sully for his plenary tomorrow night. I suspect he doesn’t need it.

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He is also the host of the television show GZERO World With Ian Bremmer. Twitter: @ianbremmer

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.