By the time this profile has found a place on this page and into your hands, either in traditional print or in an electronic form, the forum in Davos will be over for another year.
Every year, in this third week of January, the world’s elite in the fields of business, politics, financing are joined by the occasional celebrity who has risen to at least being heard in his or her own words and not just those recited as lines in a screen project, and gather in the Swiss mountain resort town of Davos. The first conclave took place in 1971 under the name of ‘European Management Forum’. The name was changed to World Economic Forum in 1987.
This year, some 60 heads of state — including United States President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jingping — were there. Add in Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, and it shows you the A-listers on board. Not that Christine Lagarde, the President of the International Money Fund, and some 400 other heads of state, institutions and corporations aren’t A-listers in their own rights, but the people and nations that gathered in Davos represent more than 70 per cent of the wealth and influence on this blue planet that we all share on its trips around the sun.
So what’s discussed at the 400 seminars, debates and panels at Davos is pretty important in how you, me, and everyone else will be affected in the coming year.
It must take a pretty hefty little black book of contacts to be able to convince the world’s movers and shakers that they need to come to a small, overpriced and overcrowded ski resort in Switzerland in the middle of cold and dark winter days and nights for a good old-fashioned chinwag. And that’s where Professor Klaus Schwab comes in. His wife Hilde helps too — and together they make up the perfect power couple that make the World Economic Forum a success each year.
There’s a story told that Professor Klaus was sitting behind his desk in his office one day back in the 1970s and called at his secretary to get him Giscard d’Estaing on the line. Oliver Giscard d’Estaing was the man at the head of Insead Business School. Last year, it was rated the top in the world for an MBA by the Financial Times. Back in the 1970s, it was laying the groundwork for its present-day iconic status. Professor Schwab waits a few minutes before the call is connected, and he’s then put through to Valery Giscard d’Estaing instead. Oops, wrong number. Who else in the world but Professor Schwab is in a position to be able to hang up on the then President of France, who took the call in the Elysee Palace in Paris? And that was more than 40 years ago.
The above anecdote says as much for Schwab as do his impressive list of honorary degrees that make up the world’s top universities and seats of learning. Mind you, his own academic achievements aren’t all that shabby either: 1957 Graduated from the Humanistisches Gymnasium in Ravensburg, Germany; 1962 Dipl. Ing., Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland; 1963 Lic.es.sc.econ. et soc. (summa cum laude) University of Fribourg, Switzerland; 1966 Doctorate in Engineering (Dr Sc Tech), Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland; 1967 Doctorate in Economics (Dr rer pol), University of Fribourg, Switzerland; 1967 Master of Public Administration, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, US.
My head hurts just thinking about all of that, never mind the student loans or his poor parents’ worry that their little Klaus might not get a job at the end of all his studies. But he did, and his official CV describes his early career as: “1958-1962 Experience on the shop floor of several companies; 1963-1966 Assistant to the Director-General of the German Machine-building Association (VDMA), Frankfurt; 1967-1970 Member, Managing Board, Sulzer Escher Wyss AG, Zurich, a manufacturing company with activities in several countries and over 10,000 employees.”
Personally speaking, I think that’s pretty impressive, up to 1970, but it’s after that that his profile really took off — and has been stratospheric ever since.
This from his official biography, or in words approved by him, no doubt: “He founded the Forum in 1971, the same year in which he published Moderne Unternehmensfuhrung im Maschinenbau (Modern Enterprise Management in Mechanical Engineering). In that book, he argued that the management of a modern enterprise must serve not only shareholders, but all stakeholders (die Interessenten), to achieve long-term growth and prosperity. Schwab has championed the multi-stakeholder concept since the Forum’s inception, and it has become the world’s foremost platform for public and private cooperation. Under his leadership, the Forum has been a driver for reconciliation efforts in different parts of the world, acting as a catalyst of numerous collaborations and international initiatives.”
That’s heady stuff, but his missus must have had a part to play in the whole Schwab success story. And no sooner do I write that then I read this: “In 1998, with his wife Hilde, he created the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, which seeks to identify, recognise and disseminate initiatives in social entrepreneurship that have significantly improved people’s lives and have the potential to be replicated on a global scale. The Foundation supports a network of over 350 social entrepreneurs around the world.”
See! Behind every successful man is a successful woman. Wait, but there’s more ...
“In 2004, with the financial contribution received as part of the Dan David Prize, he established a new foundation: the Forum of Young Global Leaders (for leaders under 40). Seven years later, in 2011, he created the Global Shapers Community (for potential leaders between the ages of 20 and 30). The purpose of the two foundations is to integrate young people as a strong voice for the future into global decision-making processes and to encourage their engagement in concrete projects that address social problems.”
And just when you think he’d be happy with that level of sway, along comes this gem: “Schwab has encouraged the establishment of communities providing global expertise and knowledge for problem-solving. Among them is the Network of Global Future Councils, the world’s foremost interdisciplinary knowledge network dedicated to promoting innovative thinking on the future.”
Aha! That’s what it’s all about. Some days I just feel like an under-achiever. I knew I should have stuck with the books back in university. Ah well ... Onwards and upwards.
Davos is pretty nice in summer too, I hear.