MT's Davos Blog: Day One

Kevin Kelly, CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, reports from the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Another year, another Davos. There is a worldliness, even ennui, to a great deal of the coverage and commentary this year in Davos; but for a first timer like me, there's no use faking it.

This tiny ski resort, little more than a freckle on the face of a mountain, becomes a faultline of power and influence over the next four days with a magnetism that is undeniable.

What struck me most on Day One was the undercurrent of anxiety. Fear, on three counts. Firstly the real and present danger of a terrorist attack with SWAT teams meticulously turning over each and every hotel cushion by cushion.

Second the unspoken fear about the markets (on everyone's mind) as we watch the mounting volatility.

Thirdly the subtle fear of the unknown that strikes new CEOs, like me - visiting Davos for the first time, we are the 'green run' novices.

As I have seen over my own career, working with and placing some of the most talented individuals on the planet, whatever your seniority, the fear of the unknown rarely leaves you: here in Davos, that feeling is magnified.

It doesn't matter whether you are the Chief Marketing Officer of the retail company at 45 or the Senior Chairman of the Board at 60 - for many talented executives the rise to the top is vertiginous, bringing with it a natural (some would say healthy) fear of heights.

So Alps or no Alps, Davos or no Davos; as I mingle with the great and good in Switzerland this week - despite my excitement - I for one will be keeping my feet firmly on the ground.


Yesterday was a blur of meetings and a plenary session as the forum really got under way. People were hanging around in packs. Our hotel seemed to be the centre of operations for the Government of Pakistan. I passed President Musharraf on the stairs and watched as Condoleeza Rice slipped into a meeting with him just a few feet away from where we were sitting.

This morning we hosted a breakfast with business think tank, Tomorrow's Company, where we asked our Davos delegate guests for examples of where business is being used as a force for good. The feedback was inspiring. Alcoa's Group President Helmut Wieser shared an example of success redefined: they have clocked two million hours without an accident in the course of their metals extraction business. Tomorrow's Company founder Mark Goyder summarised the event's many examples by asking the audience of business leaders, which included Bank of America, SC Johnson and KPMG, to keep the stories coming for the forthcoming website

The question here as the global economy threatens to go into freefall is whether this is a good or bad thing for the planet. Will it stop excessive consumerism, or is the danger that companies will pull back from social and environmental issues?

The world is watching, but the jury's still out.

Kevin Kelly has been CEO of executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles since September 2006. He'll be blogging all this week for MT on events at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

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