Davos Chief Heeds Trump Win With Pledge to Tackle ‘Silent Fear’by and
WEF adds Washington event to promote U.S. investment, hiring
World Economic Forum hosting annual meeting in Davos this week
The World Economic Forum is listening to Donald Trump.
The organization will convene a special meeting in Washington this year to discuss issues raised during the president-elect’s campaign and the populist wave that swept him to victory, WEF founder Klaus Schwab told Bloomberg Television on Sunday. The gathering will explore U.S. investment and job-creation opportunities for companies that participate in the forum, he said.
“It’s very natural that with the new administration we plan a major event in the U.S. to see what are the implications of the new president and how the business community could engage,” Schwab said in advance of the forum’s 47th annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. “We have to be responsive to the call.”
While the WEF has staff in the U.S., it hadn’t planned to hold a meeting there. In addition to the annual gathering in Davos, events are currently scheduled in Argentina, South Africa, Cambodia, Jordan and China.
Trump has claimed credit for persuading companies from Ford Motor Co. to Sprint Corp. to bring jobs and factories back to the U.S. from countries such as Mexico, and has demonstrated he can pressure chief executives to shift course with a single tweet. On Sunday, Trump said he’ll sanction companies with operations overseas, without specifying how.
“Car companies and others, if they want to do business in our country, have to start making things here again. WIN!” he posted on Twitter.
Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric and leadership style promise to dominate discussions at Davos, where a sense of unease has emerged following a year of political shocks. Trump’s victory, the Brexit vote in the U.K., and burgeoning populist movements across Europe have led the so-called Davos Man to wonder whether he’s part of the problem.
This year’s theme is “responsive and responsible leadership,” which the WEF says “requires recognizing that frustration and discontent are increasing in the segments of society that are not experiencing economic development and social progress.” A pre-conference article asks whether capitalism might finally be able to “benefit the many, not just the few.”
Schwab says the WEF’s annual meeting, where companies host lavish parties awash in champagne and rare vintage wines, attendees pay $50,000, and thousands of soldiers and police stand guard, remains an appropriate forum to discuss political issues like the rise of populism and to seek solutions to society’s biggest problems.
“People have become very emotionalized, this silent fear of what the new world will bring,” Schwab said in the town’s hulking conference center. “We have populists here and we want to listen. We have to respond to these individuals’ fears and to offer solutions. It’s not just enough to listen; we have to provide answers and that’s what were here for in Davos."
Business is booming for the WEF and Schwab, 78, said he has no plans to abandon or alter its annual retreat. Revenue is up 45 percent in the past five years and staff have increased by about a third -- with employees earning an average of 135,000 Swiss francs ($133,875), a figure which rises to 213,000 Swiss francs with the addition of benefits such as pensions and healthcare.
“Our salary structure is completely in line with others such as the Bretton Woods organization, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund,” Schwab said. “We also have to be competitive with organizations like Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. We are competing for the same talent.”
Despite the glitzy parties that have become the hallmark of the annual gathering, Schwab said his aim is not to celebrate the “outrageous excesses of life,” but rather to create a “global village,” where participants can mull weighty issues facing the world without the distractions of a large city. And he insists that as the power and beliefs of business and political leaders face unprecedented challenges, the meeting is needed more than ever.
“My biggest fear is that we will believe there are very simple answers to very difficult questions,” Schwab said. “The right solution will require a lot of effort and many steps in the right direction. I am optimistic that in a new multi-polar world we still have the notion of a joined and shared destiny.”
For more on Davos, see our special report on the World Economic Forum 2017.