OK, here’s the scale of the challenge: bring a couple of dozen cabinet ministers and heads of state together in the middle of winter on the slopes of a remote Swiss mountain. Throw in around 3,000 head honchos from a hundred different countries and hold a conference that works like clockwork.
Everything in Davos is pristine. You go to breakfast at 5.30 in the morning and everything is laid out perfectly. Four hours later, hundreds of people have eaten, the restaurant is still immaculate and looks like you’re the first to arrive. I have no idea how they do it, but you have got to hand it to the Swiss, the organization is breathtaking when the circus, which is the World Economic Forum, blows into town.
One positive aspect of the forum is that it takes you away from the screens. A good thing right now. Because debate here needs to focus on the long-term trends and policies, not on the last five minutes in the financial markets. I called the office early today. Before I could stop myself, I asked about the markets. How dumb is that? It takes an act of will to concentrate your mind on the trends when the here and now is so noisy.
It’s tough at Davos this year to have a debate with a journalist about anything other than what’s gone on in the past 24 hours, and what the day ahead will bring. There’s an edginess about immediate prospects that I have never felt before at the WEF. And it’s a distraction. There’s an important difference between what happens on the screens and in the minds of the day traders, and the conduct of business and the development of policy in the world beyond financial markets.
The good folks here keep a punishing schedule. When I ventured out into the cold and dark at 5 O’clock this morning, I was far from the first out of the blocks. And Davos has introduced a new and frightening business opportunity to me. The working night cap! An idea that’s taken hold here, and means that the keenest of the keen can extend their networking into the early hours of the morning.
But I like the routine. Around half the talks here are scheduled. Around half are pure coincidence. A test of willpower is how often I am brave enough to walk away from duty meetings that I know are unproductive. My reward is to run into unexpected people and encounter unexpected ideas—which I guess is one reason why I keep on coming back.
Ben Verwaayen is CEO of BT Group Plc. He will be writing an exclusive column for Mint on the World Economic Forum that started on Wednesday in Davos. Readers can send their comments and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.