Can Claudia Schiffer save the world?
Fortune's Nelson Schwartz writes:
It was a classic Davos moment - a mix of awesome financial and CEO power, celebrities, and just enough has-beens and hangers-on to remind you who the real power players are. The place was the Belvedere hotel Wednesday night, and the setting a party for Germany's Focus magazine.
In one corner stood JP Morgan Chase's Jamie Dimon chatting with his lieutenants. In another corner of the room, there was Michael Dell and Blackstone's Steve Schwarzman. Lakshmi Mittal wasn't far away. Meanwhile, supermodel Claudia Schiffer stood on a small podium like the Queen receiving visitors, who did everything but curtsy. Last but not least, onetime AOL cofounder Steve Case wandered around the room, looking slightly lost.
Schiffer was trailed by a team of photographers and aides, while even jaded reporters from the world biggest media outlets scrambled to grab shots of themselves and her on their cell phones. Acting nonchalant, I asked her where she was living these days, and she told me Notting Hill in London. I told her I lived in London, in Hampstead, and that we should hang out. She didn't take me up on the offer, but she did say that she would be at the nightcap Thursday night for Young Global Leaders and asked if I would be there. You bet I will.
Energy a big risk next year
In a video on our Web site, Samuel DiPiazza, the global CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers, talks from Davos about some of the issues facing CEOs in the global economy. He mentions regulation and retention of key talent, but says that rising energy and commodity prices are a new addition to the list of things that CEOs say could "limit their potential in the next year or two."
You can see the video here.
Let it snow
Fortune's Nelson Schwartz writes:
The Swiss may be known for their precision and efficiency, but not their high spirits.
But in the ski shops and stores of Davos this morning, the natives were as close as they come to ecstatic. Not because of the beginning WEF conference and its hordes (although they're always good for business), but because it finally snowed last night, blanketing the streets and surrounding mountains, and making the place look like Switzerland instead of Wales.
And Davos without skiing would be like Hawaii without sun. One WEF organizer told me she was bummed by the snow because she feared it would take away a bit of the urgency of the climate change discussion that's at the center of this year's agenda, but everyone else is ready to finally hit the slopes.
The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!
Fortune's Nelson Schwartz writes:
Although it hasn't quite reached the proportions of last year's India Everywhere PR campaign (free iPods pre-loaded with Bollywood music), the Russians this year are bulking up their once-limited profile in Davos this time around, with both top biznessmen (i.e. oligarchs) and goverment leaders represented.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy prime minister, is representing the Kremlin, while tycoons like Oleg Deripaska of aluminum giant Rusal and oil oligarch and Faberge egg collector Victor Vekselberg are making the rounds. "The Russian presence has increased dramatically," says William Browder, manager of Russia-focused Hermitage Capital. Browder made headlines last year after the Russian government refused him entry following a routine trip from his then home in Moscow, a likely result of his shareholder activism.
But Browder and anyone else interested in schmoozing the Russians will have plenty of opportunities at a party tomorrow night where the vodka will flow, as well as a big dinner on Friday night. What makes the Russian tycoons different is how powerful they are back home, yet not very well known outside. I ran into the potash king of Russia last night, Dmitry Rybolovev. In classic oligarch style, he lives in Geneva, has his company hq in Moscow, and mines the potash in the Urals. Sure enough, it's his first time in Davos. Maybe this year's conference will make the likes of Rybolovev more prominent.
Climate change and hot air
Fortune's Robert Friedman writes:
At 8:15 this morning I was standing on a heated platform outside the Congress Centre in Davos, Switzerland, being interviewed by CNN International's Richard Quest about climate change, when the lights went out.
It was an omen of sorts for the first day of a conference where environmental issues have risen to the top of the agenda, and where the 2,400 participants are all looking over their shoulders at their carbon footprints in the freshly fallen snow. It took a lot of fossil fuel to get these captains of industry, government, and media up the mountain by car, bus, train, and helicopter. The World Economic Forum is doing its best to run a carbon-neutral conference by offsetting the damage through environmentally friendly projects, but it sure takes a lot of carbon to hold a forum in which enough hot air will be emitted to melt what little snow Davos has seen this winter.
When the TV lights went out - a pulled plug, not a power failure, it turned out - I was talking about President Bush's State of the Union address, in which, after six years of doing nothing about the problem, he was finally talking about reducing America's gasoline consumption. A good goal, sure, but the hard part is figuring out how to get there, and the Bush administration hasn't shown any vision. Indeed it has opposed regulations and taxes that might change consumer behavior or corporate practices. And all the while the country's CO2 emissions have climbed steadily higher.
In his speech last night, Bush talked about market solutions as the way forward. That's like relying on the military alone to get us out of the quagmire Bush created in Iraq. Several speakers at a session this morning titled "Making Green Pay," including Yale professor Daniel Esty, made the point that climate change was the result of market failure and that regulation was required to turn things around. A vote on the question showed that the audience, lots of them businessmen, overwhelmingly agreed, 71% to 29%. Just how much pain the Davos crowd is willing to endure to bring about meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases remains to be seen. That question will surely stay in the air here -- at least until the lights are turned out in the Congress Centre a few days from now.
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