15 FEBRUARY 2012


Professor Klaus Schwab is an unassuming genius. The key to his most profitable survival is precisely his unassuming yet confident approach. Building other egos without erasing his own.

Otherwise, why would over 3,000 brilliant, intelligent, accomplished men and women -- including 40 heads of state and 1,600 businessmen -- brave inclement weather and complicated transport to spend a freezing long weekend in a snowed-in Swiss valley village, rushing from one fireplace to another in the hopes of getting something to write home about.

Admittedly, this year wasn't that striking. The main first speaker was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose distinguished career does not extend to the realm of personal charisma. Even our forever puzzled friend George Soros could draw a better crowd. At least he would hint to where to avoid hedging your bets. The first main debate on 24 January was as outdated as the Time Magazine that proposed it: "Is 20th Century Capitalism failing 21st Century Society?" That question is ten years late. What was somewhat amusing was to watch all those capitalist stalwarts aping Marxist rhetoric! Even the pensive Professor Schwab could not help but chime in: "Capitalism in its current form no longer fits the world society." Millionaires, including a billionaire or two, nodded their heads in farcical approval.

Do participants make Davos what it has become or does Davos help make the participants?

To be sure, Profession Klaus allows for a gimmick or two at every gathering, including a special blend of seemingly odd -- yet attractive -- characters. While Sharon Stone, Angelina Jolie, Claudia Schiffer may have been required at earlier striving times, recent meetings have witnessed enthusiastic talk about the malaria net (to eradicate the malady!), the $100 computer (to erase illiteracy!), and varied electronic toys confirming that tomorrow is, in fact, yesterday.

Although all Davos' gimmicks were imported, this year's most talked about one was home-grown: the staff-less hotel. You know about automatic bank tellers, automatic flight engines, computerized search engines, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Well, the cradle of hotel staff management, Switzerland, was just able to produce a hotel in Davos perfectly managed, conveniently located, and comfortably furnished, with no one to talk to at arrival or departure. "Fiftyone" would open its door electronically as you first enter your confirmation number, then your password. You pay by inserting your credit card (with appropriately checked credit, of course). In case of any problem, you could easily cross the street to Post Hotel or Schweizerhof -- both are owned by the family of Fiftyone; the proprietor is Tino Morosani. Also, if you looked very closely, or hung around long enough, you could spot room service sneaking in and out very discreetly and -- of course -- very quietly. The going daily rate was $300.00 a night, a fair price considering the event, location, and the ability to avoid undesirable business card pushers. Yet that gimmick may not last the next season after its novelty fades away. After all, people pay for Davos to connect, not disconnect, and to rub shoulders with political opportunities rather than spend morning hours negotiating an unresponsive snack machine.

Then, in essence, Davos was not really about gimmicks, though they tend to help amuse, entertain and startle. It is actually about relevance. It's staying of current interest in touch with current decision makers, mobilizing formidable media promoters to reach out practically to key stakeholders in today's world society. This is where Klaus Schwab has excelled. To have some refreshing fantasy style entertainment certainly helps.