Doing Davos

Why Davos is such a big deal – and a personal perspective from Financial Times columnist and regular attendee Mrs Moneypenny
Commercial awareness

International think tank the World Economic Forum (WEF)'s invitation-only annual gathering in Davos, running this year from 22-25 January, is one of the most high-profile events on the international calendar, attracting heads of state, Nobel Prize winners, technology tycoons, social activists and pop stars.

This year, the guest list will include James Dimon, chairman and chief executive of J.P. Morgan, Marissa Meyer, chief executive of Yahoo, Prime Minister David Cameron, and action movie hero Matt Damon.

What Davos is all about

The mission statement of the event is to "examine the most pressing global issues of our time and to devise possible solutions".

Every year, the event has a more specific theme under that very broad umbrella, and this year it's the grand-sounding "The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business". This year's programme is full of talks and panel discussions with titles like "Embracing Hyperconnectivity", "Meditation: Why the Hype?" and "The Universe Unveiled".

However, despite the big words and jargon, celebrities and slightly otherworldly snow-sprinkled setting, it shouldn't be forgotten that the roots of Davos are in the practicalities of doing business.

The event, founded in 1971 by a University of Geneva business professor, was originally known as the European Management Forum and was aimed at European executives worried about American competition. Board members of prominent corporates are still the largest group of people attending.

This blend of big-picture thinking and day-to-day business issues makes the Davos programme an attractive proposition for the world's largest accounting and consulting firms, which always have a significant presence.

This year, PwC will announce the results of its annual chief executive survey at Davos, revealing the views of business leaders on questions such as how they think the global economy is doing, and what the next big thing to impact business will be, while, KPMG chairman Michael Andrew will moderate a session on gender equality.

What Davos is really all about

However, the real benefit of attending Davos for accounting firms, consulting firms and other players in the business world is arguably nothing to do with the insights to be gained or spread through the packed programme of activities.

Because of its popularity with business leaders, Davos is also an unrivalled opportunity for accounting and consulting firms to meet with a lot of clients in person in a very short space of time.

In addition, delegates also get the chance to attend a host of glamorous parties where the chance to rub shoulders with chairmen/chairwomen, presidents and film stars make them probably some of the best networking opportunities out there.

Why you (probably) won't be going

The value of the commercial opportunities Davos can offer can be ascertained by a quick look at the kind of money firms wanting a presence here pay for the privilege. Davos attendees might receive a pretty invitation to the event, but this isn't the kind of party that you can turn up to and enjoy in return for just a bottle of wine and a thank-you note afterwards.

According to a Bloomberg report earlier this month, ordinary attendees pay annual WEF dues of around $50,000 (£30,000) while premium attendees, who are granted access to the best events, can expect to pay up to $500,000 every year.

On top of that comes the cost of the actual ticket to the conference at around $20,000 per person, plus extra charges if your organisation wants to host a session.

Then there's accommodation and transport, no small matters once you've factored in business class fares, shuttles to the event's remote location, and perhaps a car and driver to circumvent the freezing temperatures and icy roads.

Firms and individuals forking out this much might console themselves with the prospect of the excellent Alpine skiing opportunities on the mountains around the city but, as it lasts for just three days, time at Davos really is money, so there's unlikely to be much scope for sloping off.

Mrs Moneypenny does Davos

The Financial Times columnist, who owns and runs an executive search business, on the pains and pleasures of attending the event

"As Klaus Schwab, who founded the WEF, said in this year's press release on the subject of the WEF Annual Meeting (the official title for Davos), 'There is no place in the world where so many stakeholders of our global future assemble.'

That's why so much business gets done - and why meeting space is at an absolute premium - in Davos.

The official delegates this year number about 2,500, including 40 heads of state, but they bring with them 7,500 'others', all their support staff, and the world's media.

With all those world leaders and captains of industry trying to grab private conversations, it's become easier to find somewhere to sleep than somewhere to meet. I used to hold my meetings in a coffee shop, for just the price of the coffee.

Disaster struck when Google grabbed the whole place, and I ended up paying SFr 2,000 (£1330) plus minimum spend to another coffee shop to keep the same table for a couple of days.

These days, even that option has gone as almost every coffee shop in town has been taken over by one company or another to provide them with meeting and working space.

As has the local furniture shop, the physiotherapy clinic and the library, to name but a few. There were always a few companies who took over commercial space for their needs, but 2014 has to go down as the nadir of the coffee shop takeover.

Someone who has been having a lot of meetings here this week has been Tony Abbot, the prime minister of Australia. Australia are chairing the G20 this year and so as well as an actual address to the members, Mr Abbot has been meeting his G20 colleagues to get the ball into play, so to speak, ahead of the G20 meeting in Brisbane in November.

Brisbane is a bit bigger (and a bit warmer) than Davos which is just as well, because according to the press there are going to be 4,000 delegates there and 2,500 members of the media. I thought 10,000 people in Davos for a meeting of 2,500 people was bad enough, but 6,500 for a meeting of 20?

At Davos I probably meet 50 people a day, every day, for four days. That is, 50 people who are business-critical to me. There's no other event at which I can have that many useful meetings in that short space; it's a really fabulous use of my time.

My favourite parts though? They're not the business meetings, great as they are. It's the dreamy view of the mountains from my apartment, and the late night dancing at the McKinsey party. These are the memories I always associate with Davos."

For more from Mrs Moneypenny, see her weekly column in the *FT Weekend Magazine, or at *ft.com/life-arts/mrs-moneypenny

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