Clinton Unites PepsiCo, Coca-Cola at Davos Summit

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks during a session on the second day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2011 in Davos. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

If there’s one thing the chief executive officers of beverage makers PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. can agree on, it is the enduring appeal of former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

That is a common sentiment among business leaders in the corridors of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, which Clinton addressed yesterday just as he first did in office 11 years ago and on several occasions since departing office in 2001.

“When you sit down at the feet of Bill Clinton, he’s the one stop on all the issues,” Indra Nooyi CEO of PepsiCo, the world’s second-largest soft-drinks maker, told Bloomberg Television in Davos today. Coca-Cola counterpart, Muhtar Kent, last night praised the former president’s record on green energy and aiding Africa as he introduced him to guests at a private cocktail reception.

The 2,500 participants at Davos may not be alone in being inspired by Clinton, 64. More than 4,000 miles away in Washington, President Barack Obama has responded to the Democrats’ recent loss of the House of Representatives by hiring or promoting former Clinton aides and making calls for bipartisanship just as Clinton did after a similar defeat in 1994.

‘Strong Economic Management’

“It appears the administration is learning of the value of moving to the center,” said Charles Dallara, managing director of the Washington-based Institute of International Finance and a Davos attendee. “There is a respect and even affection for President Clinton because he’s so global in his perspective and is remembered for an era of strong economic management.”

In an hour-long discussion yesterday with WEF founder Klaus Schwab, Clinton sat in a blue suit and red tie offering up opinions on the current affairs of every continent. He called for faster rebuilding of Haiti after last year’s earthquake and said protests in North Africa reflect a desire among youth to become “part of a modern day that works.” He warned that domestic politics in Israel is interfering with its ability to make a peace deal with Palestinians and called Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis “quite serious.”

He drew laughter when he said his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wants to be a grandmother more than she ever wanted the presidency. “I would like to have a happy wife, and she won’t be unless she’s a grandmother,” he said. “It’s something she wants more than she wanted to be president.”

‘A Hero’

After the session, Carol Realini, executive chairwoman of Obopay Inc., a Redwood, California-based company that enables money transfers through mobile handsets, said she “pushed” through the crowd to introduce herself.

“There are a ton of really important people here, but Clinton is impressive,” she said. “He’s a hero.”

Clinton has rehabilitated his image following his departure from office, when his record was tarnished by impeachment and a scandal over his pardoning financier Marc Rich. He established the Clinton Global Initiative, a WEF-like effort aimed at finding solutions to global issues, in 2005 and united with President George H.W. Bush to raise funds for the victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami. He also joined President George W. Bush to help those hurt by the Haiti earthquake.

“You’ve given a new significance to the word retirement,” Schwab told Clinton in introductory remarks yesterday.

A Gallup opinion poll last July showed that 61 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of him, higher than Obama’s rating.

Complex Issues

“People admire the way he can take complex issues and break them down for a global audience,” Barclays Plc CEO Robert Diamond said in an interview today, two days after hosting a dinner for clients in Davos at which Clinton spoke. “People want to hear what he has to say.”

Obama may be listening too. This month he appointed William Daley, Clinton’s commerce secretary, his chief of staff and named Gene Sperling as the director of his National Economic Council, a position Sperling held under Clinton. Also in Obama’s economic team are Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and budget director Jack Lew, both former Clinton administration officials.

In his State of the Union address three days ago, Obama also echoed Clinton in seeking a “new era of cooperation.” And just as Clinton won plaudits for his response to the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, Obama was praised for his Jan. 12 speech at a memorial service for victims of the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

Nouriel Roubini, another former Clinton administration official and a frequent WEF participant, also drew parallels between Obama and the White House’s previous Democrat incumbent.

“He’s Clinton in 1994,” said Roubini, a professor of economics at New York University and chairman of New York-based Roubini Global Economics LLC. “Obama has taken a lesson from there.”

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