Postcard from Davos: World Economic Forum is heady stuff
January 31, 2008
By Chase Untermeyer

I just spent an amazing week with the Mighty and the Mighty Rich at the 38th annual conclave of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Held in the postcard-perfect Swiss town of Davos, just a schuss away from St. Moritz and Klosters on the Austrian border, the World Economic Forum is often just called "Davos".

The World Economic Forum was founded in 1971 by a visionary "social entrepreneur" and professor of business named Klaus Schwab. Since then, the forum has expanded beyond the Alps to become a global brand. Over the course of this year, for example, there will be a mini-Davoes in Mexico, Egypt, Russia, Malaysia, China, Turkey and India. But Davos, both the place and the event, begins the year and crowns it.

After years in the White House, Pentagon, and State Department, I considered myself safely celebrity-immune. But Davos commands a parade of notables so long and so dazzling that even the most jaded attendee can feel like a movie fan on the edge of the red carpet on Oscars night. Coming up the mountain this year were Condoleezza Rice, Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Shimon Peres, Bono, Al Gore, Queen Rania of Jordan, Pervez Musharraf, and the Google guys. There were CEOs who are well-known and CEOs who aren't but are billionaires anyway. There were the presidents of Nigeria, Ukraine, Colombia and the Philippines, and the prime ministers of the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Singapore and Qatar. There were also business-oriented royals, like Britain's Prince Andrew, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Prince Jamie of Bourbon-Parma and several members of the House an Saud.

Even though networking and negotiating is what truly draws people to Davos, there is a public side of the World Economics Forum that could absorb every minute of an attendee's time. In any given hour are a dozen or so seminars on economic, political, cultural and even psychological questions with panels of experts. Paralleling these are luncheons and dinners geared to specific topics. These meals allow ordinary VIPs to meet and talk with headliners.

A final observation about the WOrld Economic Forum: There is a large number of young people in attendance. Some are there because they are high-tech entrepreneurs or hedge fund managers, but others are among the 250 or so "young global leaders," all under 40, identified by Professor Schwab and his colleagues. Whether or not they have chosen correctly, Schwab & Co., have done a far better job than most elite organizations in thinking about and acting on the forum's future. The chances are good that among these youngsters are at least a few who will be in the center of a cluster of minions surging through the crowd at the Davos of 2028.

Untermeyer, a Houstonian and former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, is a member of the Advisory Board of the World Air League

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