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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 17:13 GMT
Davos discovers its economic roots
By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website, in Davos

Henry Kissinger
Even among the movers and shakers, Kissinger is a big draw

It's a gorgeous day in Davos, sunny, not too cold outside, lots of snow. Most people here at the World Economic Forum couldn't care less.

Instead they pack into the Congress Centre (heavy on the concrete and with a nuclear bunker underneath), and talk.

Of course, there is the draw of the big names. Henry Kissinger, Tony Blair, and an endless list of bosses from the world's largest companies. There is the actress Emma Thompson, if you prefer a bit of glamour.

Some executives have diaries brimming with business and industry meetings. Kevin Kelly, chief executive of headhunting firm Heidrick & Struggles, has scheduled a long list of meetings with key customers and business partners.

Travelport boss Jeff Clarke will spend a whole morning in a meeting of travel industry bosses. Where else but in Davos could they meet all these people with such little effort in such a short space of time?

The Davos glance

Then there is the promise of networking.

Most of it is ad-hoc, in the halls and corridors, the queues at the security check points, with the people sitting next to you as you wait for a session to start.

WEF participants in conversation
Up close and personal - the authentic Davos feeling

Some say this is the real Davos, especially in the short breaks - 15 minutes here, 30 there, between the 235 sessions crowding the agenda.

The networking is intense.

A quick hello, a brief conversation, business cards are swapped - and on to the next contact.

Some people huddle - deep in conversation - on the immaculately white leather sofas lining the walls of one of the large meeting spaces.

'Fairly intimidating'

Everybody's head is ever so slightly bowed, to do the Davos glance - this quick look at the name badge we all have to wear. The unspoken question: do I want to talk to you, do you want to talk to me?

For newcomers like Luke Alphey, co-founder and chief scientist of biotech firm Oxitec, all this is "fairly intimidating".

His company develops genetically modified insects that can be used for pest control and to fight illnesses like Malaria.

"Finding the people you want to meet, and in the right circumstances, is difficult," he says.

But he finds Davos "very stimulating", because "everybody is prepared to talk to you, there are no personal assistants that fob you off".

Economic forum

But this year's World Economic Forum has an added seriousness to its first day.

Wef participants in conversation
It's chance encounters that create Davos moments

A year ago, most of the corporate leaders and investors were confident, exuberant, even swaggering, buoyed by five years of strong global economic growth.

Now the bubble has burst, the world economy is a mess, and many of the people here in Davos have very muddy fingers.

Even bankers try to sound very humble.

When the sub-prime crisis started last July nobody - neither the regulators, central bankers nor investors - really understood that its impact would be so deep, admits Michael Klein, chief executive of markets and banking at Citigroup, the world's largest bank.

And the discussions here in Davos show that many issues are still unresolved.

Catching cold

Little wonder that, unlike previous years, every session on the economy is absolutely packed.

On Wednesday morning, dozens of people had to be turned away from the first panel on the economy.

It clearly taught the Davos crowd a lesson in punctuality. At lunchtime, well before the doors opened, long queues formed to get into a the session "If America sneezes, does the world still catch a [economic] cold?".

"The state of the economy is clearly the hot topic" this year, says Kurt Bjorklund, managing partner at Permira Advisers, a private equity firm that owns companies like the roadside service firm AA, Hugo Boss, Valentino and Gala Corel.

He just worries that too many people are calling for the regulators to act as new "economic sheriffs".

Investors failed to understand the risk of their investments, says Mr Bjorklund. The market turmoil now is "a correction to fix it, we can't just regulate it away".

Bumpy world

Not everybody expects a recession in the US, but everybody fears it, and wonders how the downturn will affect the global economy.

While solutions are still short on the ground, some clear messages emerge.

"We now live in a world where higher volatility is the norm," says Marc Benioff, chief executive of software-as-a-service firm Salesforce.com.

"We simply have to learn how to adjust to that."

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