BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Business
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Market Data 
Economy 
Companies 
E-Commerce 
Your Money 
Business Basics 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 16:37 GMT
On the slopes with Davos man

By BBC World's Nik Gowing

With a mix of respect and perhaps jealousy, the 2,000 global movers and shakers who manage to secure an invitation to the annual Davos World Economic Forum were once labelled 'Davos Man'.

Those privileged enough to be included annually on the invitation list certainly feel themselves to be part of something unique.

However, to give them tribal status is pushing business anthropology a bit far.

Shmoozing

President Clinton's helicopter practices test landing
President Clinton's helicopter practices test landing
So what is the attraction? The cynics - and those not here - will say: "to schmooze".

Davos people say it is to brainstorm, freewheel, and try to chart the increasingly tempestuous waters ahead - if that is possible.

The participants know that it is about being a member of a large, amorphous global network.


Where else could you bump into the hedge fund investor George Soros on a bus

The lucky ones have navigated unidentifiable barriers and qualification thresholds set by the Forum organisers to be allowed into the high security sanctum of a rather ugly underground congress centre.

The less fortunate - who believe themselves to be qualified - spend much of the year trying to use every ruse possible to secure the most sought-after white cards.

The regulars identify themselves by sight. They know the perils of sheet ice and the insanity of wearing the best leather-soled shoes in one of Switzerland's premier ski resorts.

Even the good and the great can fail to defy gravity. A few years ago, Adair Turner, the former Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, and a young journalist from the Financial Times ended up with fractured limbs. This can happen merely by crossing an icy sidewalk to do business at Davos, not by skiing.

Dress code

Regulars wear walking or snow boots under their pin stripes or tuxedos. They know the value of dressing down informally as the atmosphere slackens.

They also know that even the smartest BMW or Mercedes becomes a redundant liability when a metre of snow falls in 36 hours and shuts the roads up from Zurich. Because of avalanche dangers in 1999, the American First Lady, Hilary Clinton, had to jettison a score of Secret Service cars to take the narrow gauge railway up the mountain

Always have that topic of conversation ready for the big name suddenly standing at your shoulders.

Many corporate men and women representing trillions of dollars of business wealth expect to be here as 'Davos tribesmen' almost as of right. However, some decline or refuse, readily dismissing the gathering in a Swiss ski resort as an eclectic assembly of disconnected loyalists and corporate players who they would prefer to avoid anyway.

At the centre of power

Jealousy is never part of the argument - at least officially. It is this eclectic, high-powered mix which remains Davos' enduring attraction.

Power meetings are more relaxed. Where else could you bump into the hedge fund investor George Soros on a bus hanging by the strapontins? Where else could you end up sitting next to a foreign minister or a corporate chairman worth billions wearing their fleeces and eating mozzarella in a crowded pizza parlour?
High concentration of mobile telephones in Davos
Mobile phones: Essential for the Davos participant
One basic rule: always have that instant question or topic of conversation ready for the big name suddenly standing at your shoulders.

For six days, Davos is transformed into a paradise for-name droppers and networkers. That is nothing to be ashamed of. The founder of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab, envisaged an environment where corporate bosses, political leaders, trade unionists, as well as authors could mix comfortably.

He also wanted Europe to counter the growing threat of US power.

This event goes from strength to strength with major corporations willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to ensure that they play a part at the centre of global and corporate challenges. However, Davos organisers deny that anyone buys influence or access.

Something for everyone

Participation is the key at 320 sessions.

"We are not a conference" the organisers emphasise. "There is no preaching from the platform". There are no "delegates" or "attendees". We are all "participants".

On the eve of the forum, all the session moderators attend what the organisers alarmingly call a 'Boot Camp' to be drilled in non-US marine style about how sessions work and why others fail.

There must be the most intensive concentration usage of mobile phones anywhere in the world. Swiss Telecom upgraded their system this year because of the overload last year.

Even in Davos some of the most celebrated and powerful figures in business or government have been shown to be inept chairpersons.

Large delegations are definitely out - even for Presidents and Prime Ministers. Space is at a premium to house the executives never mind an enormous retinue of officials and security men.

Those who challenge or do not comply with the organisers' strict limitations are denied an invitation - or never receive another one.

Though nestled in the Swiss Alps, Davos is no longer isolated. Here there must be the most intensive concentration usage of mobile phones anywhere in the world. Swiss Telecom upgraded their system this year because of the overload last year.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Business stories are at the foot of the page.