I’m off to Davos tomorrow with the usual mixture of anticipation and dread. It is a fantastic five days of intellectual stimulation, but it is exhausting. The boss and I will be presenting this year’s Trust Study on Wednesday and the rest of the time will be spent dashing from meeting to conference to interview to reception to round table to forums to TV studios. It is a marathon and it is no coincidence that I usually get sick the week after.
Already the speculation about the main topic of conversation (as opposed to the official theme which is Rethink; Re-design; Re-build) is mounting. The current favourite seems to be that the bankers will be putting their case, but in four years of going to Davos I know now that ‘events’ seem to take over. A couple of years ago the Soc Gen trading fraud crisis hit for example and the meeting then became very much about the healthiness of the financial system (quite rightly as it turned out), but which had little to do with the official theme.
I am regularly asked why companies go; it is very expensive both in terms of cash and time. I usually give three reasons: Content, connections and profile.
For any business leader wanting to get current on the latest thinking on subjects as diverse as the global water issue, the future of financial regulations or ethics in business, Davos provides a sort of compressed MBA. Some of the best minds in the world are brought together in remarkable combinations to discuss and debate in open forums. The content is fantastic and I for one take pages and pages of notes I use throughout the next year.
Connections. With 2,500 business leaders, NGOs and labour representatives in one place, it is a remarkably efficient venue to schedule business meetings. If they secure 10 meetings with partners and potential partners set, then I bet the average CEO is saving weeks of gruelling travel. The hotels and conference centre rooms are packed with these meetings (oddly called bi-laterals in Davos speak). Another big benefit are the accidental connections. Walking the corridors and party circuit requires boxes of business cards and stamina, but some of my most valuable and interesting business relationships have been driven by Davos serendipity.
Profile. There are almost as many journalists camped in and around the mountain as businessmen and so, in theory it’s a good place to achieve some media profile. In practice it is harder because everyone is there and the event drives the business news agenda in it’s own right. But if CEOs can speak to Davos issues and are prepared to drop things and front up to cameras and microphones, the impact and credibility is pretty high.
I will be posting daily and twittering constantly for those that care.