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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Bringing the Global Elite Together in Davos

Source: NY Times | by MICHAEL J. de la MERCED and RUSSELL GOLDMAN

How Davos Brings the Global Elite Together

JAN. 14, 2017




For two weeks each January, the population of Davos, Switzerland, swells as the global elite meet for a series of discussions. CreditFabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Heads of state, captains of industry, prominent academics, philanthropists and a retinue of journalists, celebrities and hangers-on will descend Tuesday on Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum.

For most of the year, Davos is a resort town high in the Swiss Alps with a population of just 11,000. But for two weeks each January, the town’s population swells to 30,000 as the global elite meet for a series of meetings and discussions about “entrepreneurship in the global public interest,” in what could be described as world’s most expensive networking event.

Beyond the events on the conference’s official calendar are an even more exclusive series of parties, dinners and outings.Photo



In 1971, Klaus Schwab, a German economics professor, founded the European Economic Forum, which began as a conference for European business leaders to discuss catching up with American management processes.CreditLaurent Gillieron/European Pressphoto Agency

What Is the Forum?

Founded in 1971 by Klaus Schwab, a German economics professor, the European Economic Forum began as a conference for European business leaders to discuss catching up with American management processes. Two years later, the conference had shifted its focus to global economic and social issues, and the first political leaders were invited to attend.

In 1987 the organization was renamed the World Economic Forum, and its annual conference was well enough known to be referred to simply as Davos. The conference has been the site of several historic meetings, including two in 1989: the first ministerial-level meeting between North and South Korea, and another between the leaders of East and West Germany.

As the prestige of the conference grew, more politicians, thought leaders and celebrities began attending the event.Photo



Xi Jinping, the president of China, is attending the conference for the first time this year, making him the first Chinese president to attend the event. CreditLuis Hidalgo/Associated Press

Who Atte
nds the Conference?

More than 2,500 people will attend this year’s conference from 90 different countries. Most of the participants are corporate executives, but more than two dozen heads of state and government are expected to attend.

Theresa May, the prime minister of Britain, and Xi Jinping, president of China, are attending the conference for the first time this year. Mr. Xi is the first Chinese president to attend the event.

But even world leaders are often seen craning their heads for a glimpse at the boldfaced names in attendance. The singer Shakira and the actor Forest Whitaker are to receive awards this year. Expected attendees include Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook; the actor and activist Matt Damon; the Formula One driver Nico Rosberg; and Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire and founder of Alibaba.

Though gender equality is often discussed at the forum, just 17 percent of last year’s participants were women, according to the forum.


How Are These People Kept Safe?

All of those dignitaries need security. During the conference, Davos transforms into a veritable fortress. Roadblocks restrict traffic on the city’s main streets and checkpoints spring up outside each venue. At the Congress Center, where the main panels take place, and at each hotel that hosts parties and talks, attendees pass metal detectors, armed guards and beneath the watchful eyes of sharpshooters.

In the past, the conference was targeted by protesters associated with the anticapitalist Occupy movement. In 2013, members of the Ukrainian activist group Femen were arrested after a topless demonstration.

The Swiss government estimated it will spend 8 million Swiss francs, about $8 million, on security, but said that number could increase if there were a credible threat to the conference.

“Switzerland is still not regarded as a priority target for jihadist terrorists,” the Federal Council said on its website. “On the other hand, even on Swiss soil, the interests of states participating in the military coalition against the so-called Islamic State face an increased threat.”

Is It as Elitist as It Sounds?

The annual meeting runs on a tiered system of colored badges denoting just how important one is, or is not. White badges are for attendees able to attend any official event and make full use of the forum’s facilities. Orange badges are reserved for the 500 journalists who cover the forum, but are not allowed at some parties. Other badges, like purple ones, denote technical or support staff and limit their holders to a few areas.

If that system were not complicated enough, local hotels like the Belvedere and the InterContinental often sell their own badges to the bankers and consultants who descend upon Davos — but not the forum itself — to strike deals and chat up clients. These souls camp out at the hotels, renting rooms for business meetings by day and soiree hopping at night.

What About the Parties?

Most of the events center on talking. But beyond lectures and panel discussions, the agenda also features more esoteric attractions. One notable event is a simulation of a refugee’s experience, where Davos attendees crawl on their hands and knees and pretend to flee from advancing armies.

It is one of the most popular events every year.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Responsive and Responsible Leadership.” But attendees like to play as hard as they work.

There are several official cocktail receptions, but the action really lies in a galaxy of events hosted by corporations. Some are small, intimate dinners that feature the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Bono.

Others are dazzling affairs: JPMorgan Chase, for example, has previously taken over the Kirchner Museum Davos for drinks with its chief executive, Jamie Dimon, and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister.

Google’s annual party at the InterContinental Hotel has become the hottest ticket in town. The investor Anthony Scaramucci, now an adviser to Donald J. Trump, for years has hosted a reception at the famed Hotel Europe featuring a sometimes eye-popping list of high-end Champagne and Bordeaux red wine.

A more recent up-and-comer is hosted by Salesforce.com, a business software maker, whose chief, Marc Benioff, is one of the forum’s most ardent boosters. Last year’s Salesforce party included Mr. Benioff flying in scores of fresh flower leis and a band from Hawaii, as Eric Schmidt of Google and other tech notables danced in a corner.

Several years ago, Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame, hosted an over-the-top gathering that featured stuffed animal heads shooting laser beams out of their eyes. And the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska has thrown opulent gatherings at a nearby villa where the Champagne flowed freely

For a nightcap, the Davos crowd traditionally retires to the Tonic Bar at Hotel Europe, sipping cocktails while the forum fixture Barry Colson leads the crowd in Billy Joel singalongs.

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