If the attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week are the story of people who lead in politics and business or aspire to, the names of those not making the trip tell a different tale.
No-shows include Google Inc. (GOOG) Chairman Eric Schmidt and Facebook Inc. (FB) Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg. Leaders at last year’s gathering, such as the former Citigroup Inc. (C) CEO Vikram Pandit and the former chairmen of Deutsche Bank AG and UBS AG, also are gone, according to an official list of participants distributed by the forum this week.
As businesses mature or shift focus and leaders fall victim to scandal or mismanagement, the cast of roughly 2,600 at the annual gathering changes as well. More than 230 people with the title of chairman or CEO who attended in 2012 are skipping 2013, according to the attendee lists. About the same number will participate this year who weren’t on the 2012 list.
“You go to Davos with an agenda, and if you feel like that agenda is not being filled, there’s little reason to go,” said John Kao, founder of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation, who has attended Davos about a dozen times at the invitation of organizers and is skipping this year. “It’s inconvenient to get to. There’s a lot of friction. It’s cold. There are a lot of people there. The logistics of just going down the street can be very daunting.”
Kao said he didn’t seek an invitation this year because he’s working on a couple of e-learning startups and is too busy. When he was first building his company, which helps countries increase innovation, Davos was a good way to meet world leaders. Now he has relationships with 46 different countries.
“A company gets to a point where they kind of go, ‘OK, am I going to get much more from where I am in my growth trajectory from Davos at this point?”’ said Alan Marcus, senior director and head of information technology and telecommunications industry for the World Economic Forum. Some companies may skip a few years and then “they are back in because they are at a different point.”
In addition to Zuckerberg, other no-shows this year include Google co-founder Larry Page and LinkedIn Corp. co-founder Reid Hoffman, who last made the trip in 2009, according to official lists of attendees. Google co-founder Sergey Brin was last at Davos in 2008. Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter Inc. (TWTR), last went in 2010.
“Google came in originally as a tech pioneer, became a global growth company and became now a big substantial economic presence on the planet,” Marcus said. “As any company does, of any size, they go through various stages of growth.”
He said Google’s shift from hosting a large, popular party at Davos to organizing private dinners is another example of the transition.
Davos gives so-called Technology Pioneers a significant discount off the normal forum membership to allow them to get a start on the world stage, Marcus said.
For two years, the pioneers pay a discounted 25,000 Swiss francs ($26,900) for an annual membership, compared with the 50,000 to 500,000 Swiss franc annual membership for larger businesses, he said. Without the discount, each attendee also has to pay 25,000 Swiss francs to attend, he said.
“It’s an awesome business opportunity,” said Ilja Laurs, founder and CEO of GetJar Inc., a San Mateo, California, company that operates an independent mobile applications store for smartphones. In his two years as a Technology Pioneer, 2011 and 2012, he was able to meet Vodafone Group Plc CEO Vittorio Colao and Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom, among others, he said. Now that he has to pay the full amount, he’s skipping.
“There are diminishing returns in terms of scale, because they tend to mostly be the same people, the chance to meet people new is less each year,” Laurs said. “I would say it’s 25 percent less valuable each year. You realize it does cost money, and you could do something else with that money.”
This year, a lot of the Technology Pioneer focus is on smaller health, security and mobile companies, Marcus said. Mc10 Inc., which makes wearable, flexible electronics for uses such as measuring the force of a blow to a hockey player’s head, and Lookout Mobile Security are among those getting the discount this year, he said.
There is perhaps “a little less of the social network now because we’ve done that the last four or five years,” he said. Now Davos is “looking at some of these other challenges and trends.”
Social media pioneers such as LinkedIn and Facebook have clearly grown. Facebook has more than 1 billion users. LinkedIn just surpassed 200 million members, and Twitter scatters its 140-character prose to 140 million globally. No one from LinkedIn or Twitter was included in this year’s list. LinkedIn said Hoffman isn’t attending because of a scheduling conflict.
Twitter, Dropbox Inc., ComScore Inc. (SCOR), Kayak Software Corp., Palantir Technologies Inc., Kaspersky Lab and Yandex NV are also among past recipients of the Technology Pioneer program, which started in 2000, Davos’s Marcus said.
Focusing on new technology will ensure the next Zuckerberg or Hoffman get a chance at Davos, said Michael Useem, director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who attended his first forum in 1996.
“Davos can be a place for companies to be more visible because it’s a pretty good place to strut your stuff and market a new company,” said Useem, who will return this year. “For companies with brands that are already globally known, there is less need for publicity.”
For larger corporations, Davos is more attractive to business-to-business companies, such as Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) or Dell Inc., than consumer-facing social media companies, he said. Dell CEO Michael Dell and Cisco CEO John Chambers are both listed as attendees this year. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates attends on behalf of his foundation.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, a co-chair of the event last year, is one of two employees of the social-networking company on this year’s list, and Google has six, including Margo Georgiadis, president of Americas operations. Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer is participating this year and attended the past three years while at Google, according to the list.
“Big, global companies, which deal with governments around the world or are concerned about issues like health care, energy and climate change, get to Davos regularly,” said William George, a professor at Harvard Business School who will attend this week.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., are both on the list this year. Harvard’s George sits on the board of both companies. The CEOs of JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. (BAC), Citigroup and Morgan Stanley (MS) are slated to attend in 2013, as in past years.
Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola Co., the world’s largest soft drink maker, is a co-chairman of the event this year. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo Inc., the rival beverage company and world’s largest snack-food maker, is listed as an attendee.
The discussions at Davos are important to “crack the algebra of growth” and help the world create sustainable business growth and sustainable job creation, Kent said at an opening press conference for the forum.
Even among established companies, fortunes and profiles at Davos will change, Marcus said. The shift in demand to mobile chips from PC chips means Intel Corp. (INTC) doesn’t send quite as large a contingent as it did in the past, while Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) has stepped up, he said.
“You have to shift with the times and recognize that while Intel is still a massively powerful company, Qualcomm has become far more interesting. We have to accommodate and recognize that, and sometimes it does mean a shift in who is there.”
Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs continues to be sought after constantly, Marcus said.
The gathering still attracts a global spotlight, with some of the largest contingents each year coming from media companies such as Thomson Reuters Corp. and Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News. Each is sending about 11 people, among the most for any organization, according to the preliminary list.
Some companies, such as Apple Inc., never send executives. And for many CEOs, it either stops making sense or never will make sense to attend, said Jeff Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management. He doesn’t attend Davos.
“Large confabs are a waste of their time because they don’t need to be seen,” he said. “A sense of self-anointed aristocracy is not what they’re looking for. They don’t need the affirmation of who else is there to feel like they’re significant players in the world.”
The “elites” at Davos need to focus more on looking forward to make the event more relevant, Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of Pacific Investment Management Co., said in a Bloomberg Radio interview Jan. 18.
“I don’t go to Davos, honestly, because I have more things to do here at Newport Beach that serves the clients,” he said. “I’d rather read about Davos than be there and run around. It’s not my type of place. I don’t do well in these sorts of places. I’d rather be behind the screen or in smaller groups where you can have more interesting discussions.”
No-shows often reflect current events, such as the reduced number of bankers in 2009 after the global financial meltdown. Individuals in the spotlight for unfavorable reasons will skip Davos, even if they had been regular attendees, said Wharton’s Useem.
One executive who wasn’t on the current official list and turned up at Davos anyway is Steven A. Cohen, who also attended in 2011 and 2012 and was seen in the past dancing at the Google party. His SAC Capital Advisors LP hedge fund is at the center of an investigation into illegal trading activity on Wall Street. Cohen hasn’t been accused by the government of any wrongdoing.
Several high-profile banking executives who lost jobs last year are understandably absent. Marcus Agius, who stepped down as chairman of Barclays Plc, and Bob Diamond, its former CEO, were among top executives who weren’t on the list to attend this year. A spokesman for Diamond didn’t respond to an e-mail or phone call seeking comment.
Clemens Boersig, the former Deutsche Bank chairman, is scheduled to miss his first Davos since at least 2007 after stepping down last year. Former Citigroup CEO Pandit, who left the job in October, is also off the list after attending in 2010, 2011 and 2012. He was a co-chairman in 2012. Kaspar Villiger, chairman of UBS, stepped down in May. He attended in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and isn’t on the 2013 list. Contact information for Agius and Villiger wasn’t available. Pandit didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Boersig stepped down as chairman of Deutsche Bank’s supervisory board at the end of May, according to a spokesman for the bank. Anshu Jain and Juergen Fitschen, the bank’s co-CEOs, and Paul Achleitner, Deutsche Bank’s supervisory board chairman, are scheduled to attend the gathering in Switzerland.
Pierre Duhaime, former CEO of Canada’s SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., attended last year and isn’t on this year’s list. He was arrested and charged in November with fraud, fraud conspiracy and forgery, Quebec police said at that time. Michel Massicotte, a Montreal lawyer representing Duhaime, didn’t immediately respond to a Jan. 23 e-mail seeking comment.
Reasons to stay home can be more benign. Francisco D’Souza, CEO of Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., is skipping for the first time in many years because of a knee injury, he said in an e-mailed response.
For some folks, it’s still an event that can’t be missed. More than 450 people were on the list of attendees for the past five years and are listed on the preliminary 2013 list, including Microsoft’s Gates, Facebook’s Sandberg, financier George Soros, Volkswagen AG (VOW) CEO Martin Winterkorn and Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. About half of the people listed appear only once as attendees.
In the end, you have to want to come to Davos because attending is anything but cushy and pampering and can be intimidating, said Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of New York public relations company Ruder Finn Inc., who has been going to the forum for the past 11 years and will attend this week.
“Davos is crowded, there are transportation hassles getting there and being there, and people who don’t go don’t like to wander through throngs and stop to talk to people they don’t know,” she said. “And you won’t be staying in a luxury hotel. It’s more like a camping experience in the mountains, which some CEOs don’t like.”
Still, the allure of Davos is strong, said Innovation’s Kao, who said he may be back again next year if he’s invited.
“Davos is a special event and sometimes it’s good to take a year off, so when you go back, your palate is cleansed and you have a sharper appreciation,” he said. “The idea of just going for the sake of going, because you can afford to pay the freight, doesn’t seem quite as attractive because we’re all very busy.”
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