The global brainstorming panels at Davos are largely a sideshow. The main reason that the world’s top business leaders are here (there’s John Chambers! Michael Dell! Leo Apotheker!) is not to listen to debates about whether China is growing too quickly. It’s to conduct business. The main reason why the world’s top private equity executives are here (there’s Steve Schwarzman! Steve Pagliuca! Glenn Hutchins!) is not to solve global warming. It’s to conduct business.
A senior executive at a Fortune 500 company told me Wednesday that his boss trudges through Davos in his snow boots because he can efficiently hold meeting after meeting with his worldwide customer base. Another founder of a successful technology company with backing from some of the world’s largest banks and venture firms told me that he doesn’t go to any of the panels because he has back-to-back-to-back meetings when he’s here.
And business is why seemingly all of the world’s largest accounting and consultancies are here and such high-profile sponsors at Davos have their names plastered prominently on the walls of hotels and the conference center. Their market positions depend upon their being hired by the big-name chief executives who populate the conference.
Here’s just a sampling of the professional services firms with high-level sponsorships at Davos: Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young, McKinsey, Booz, Bain, Accenture, BCG, Agility, Manpower. A senior partner at one of the above firms who requested anonymity because he wants to come back, told me said that they had to have a “presence” at Davos because their competitors do. “We have to be here because everyone else is,” he said.
“Shared Norms for a New Reality” is the theme of this year’s World Economic Forum. But next year it might want to consider “We Have to Be Here Because Everyone Else Is.”