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EDITIONS
 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 10:49 GMT
Cross-Atlantic 'edginess' at Davos
Bill Gates speaks, right, at a meeting on Science of Global Foods
Debates have exposed widely opposed world views
Vernon Ellis, the international chairman of management consultancy Accenture, describes the atmosphere at Davos as political and business issues affect sentiment.

An interesting first four days at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2003 in Davos, Switzerland.

The town is as hospitable as ever but the security much tighter, as was to be expected.

One might even conclude that our values are quite different on both sides of the Atlantic

Vernon Ellis

This year the Congress Centre is less of a scrum, allowing one to easily see more of the people one knows and engage in worthwhile conversations.

But the atmosphere is quite serious, sombre really, reflecting the fact that we are facing many problems - both geo-political issues, with Iraq and terrorism, and economic and business problems as recent scandals erode trust and confidence in what were viewed, until now, as strong institutions and the primary drivers of growth.

On top of this, many delegates have commented on a distinct cross-Atlantic edginess.

Atlantic divide

This has emerged most obviously in debates on foreign policy, particularly Iraq, but also when the subjects include international trade or corporate governance.

Differences in tone and over tactics must not get in the way of doing the right thing, both in geopolitics and in business

Vernon Ellis

One might even conclude that our values are quite different on both sides of the Atlantic.

Over the past two evenings I have been at private dinners where this issue has been tackled head-on.

Two conclusions emerged: One, that this frisson is at best unhelpful, at worst, very dangerous. Two, that our values were in fact not fundamentally different at all.

But differences in tone and over tactics must not get in the way of doing the right thing, both in geopolitics and in business.

'Good business'

In a way, this is my conclusion too at the end of much debate about how to keep focus on the long-term health of business in the face of intense short-term pressures and how far to engage in activities that help improve the world in which business is a citizen.

The scale of the problems the world faces, in particular in developing countries, requires commitment and resolve and must be addressed by a partnership between corporations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and governments.

I sense a strong desire here to move forward, from theoretical discussions to concrete implementation and action

But many pressure groups would have companies do much more.

The answer must lie not in detailed codes and rules, but in companies themselves thinking through what is the right thing to do.

"Good Business" is good for business and for society in the long-term.

Walking the walk

In the face of so much uncertainty and so many pressures, it is more important than ever to hold fast to our long-term focus, to our values and to a commitment to engage and connect with the outside world.

As the young people say today, 'we must walk the walk' - from good governance in the board room, through to the development and recognition of hard-working employees at all levels.

A more extensive and deeper connection to the rest of society is needed and relationships beyond customers, suppliers and employees must be maintained if we are to sustain current business and develop new markets.

The question is how to do that.

Moving forward

I sense a strong desire here to move forward, from theoretical discussions to concrete implementation and action.

This will certainly be a theme of the discussions this evening and tomorrow on bridging the Digital Divide.

It is certainly at the core of the desire of most business executives to tackle the implementation of the Doha trade round.

And it is certainly at the heart of a strong desire by business executives to reinvigorate innovation and growth.

This is the only way I know not only to develop a healthy business but also a better society in which we all live.



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