Passport

Davos: Weekend in review

On Friday night, I co-keynoted the annual NYSE dinner with my friend, Morgan Stanley economist and Yale lecturer Steve Roach. It was a convivial group of about 40 CEOs, big listed companies, mostly American and European. Even against backdrop of a failing merger with deutsche bourse, the event went very well. Steve arrived, a little late, and quite shaken. He had just participated in an Open Forum event, a program that runs parallel with the WEF at Davos. He knew there might be trouble when he saw all the police outside. There were about 150 anarchists demonstrating, organized around the high school auditorium (it seats 1,000), who immediately started chanting and yelling -- and rushed the stage towards the end of the event. Security hustled him out the back, downstairs, through the kitchen, and into the dark…where he sped off. You have to give Steve credit -- he rallied pretty well within his friendlier confines of the Hotel Belvedere. But this was a Davos first.

Later that night, I went to the Google party, where all eyes were on the dance floor. Google had installed a "green dance floor" that showed how many watts were being created by the thumping Davos troops. Two points on that. 1. It's not entirely clear to me that this was a group you want to be boogieing down in front of, and 2. That has to be the most farcical pseudo green display since Vice President Gore offset the emissions from his 20-room Nashville mansion. It was a fun party though.

The party also let me spend some time with Circle of Blue co-founder and director J. Carl Ganter, who leads an organization filled with some of the smartest folks on global water scarcity/impact that you'll find. I always try to link up with them for a few moments to pick their brain on a topic that stands to take on increasing importance in the years to come. That's the great thing about Davos: It's a reasonably good bet that pretty much anybody you bump into on an abstruse topic is one of the best in their field. There was a sizable Circle of Blue cohort in attendance, wearing little silver/blue pins on their blazers (the only ones I consistently noticed doing that other than the Japanese delegation), and they always seemed to be moving together in a coordinated clump. At the Google party, though, Ganter's shirt was completely soaked. Not exactly the display I expected from the water scarcity folk.

Saturday morning, I had a host of CEO meetings lined up back-to-back, with a table reserved at the "forum lounge" for the occasion. It was a week of productivity in 2 1/2 hours -- that's the single biggest draw that Davos consistently provides and the most important reason people come. The 30 minute meeting is the standard at Davos; an hour tends to be looked at with suspicion. But for the folks with too many handlers, that can mean 15+ meetings in a day, which seems pretty inhumane.

Saturday night was the big banquet. But my annual tradition is to grab a small group of friends that look at global politics…and head up the funicular to a cozy little restaurant overlooking the village. Rule #1: Casual dress. And rule #2: If you mention a book you've written or are writing, you do a shot. I love that rule. Many fell victim before we headed back down for the after party once the banquet was winding down. And in a strange twist of fate, getting stuck on the funicular had all the elements of a horror movie -- but without the grisly finish. It was a welcome opportunity to share a last quiet conversation before the bustle of the after party and a long trip home. Davos -- exhausting yet exhilarating as always.