As the sun sets over the Swiss Alps on another action-packed World Economic Forum annual meeting, it’s time for the FHF Davos team to take one last look at this year’s gathering before signing off…
“The spirit of Davos has returned. After last year’s doubts over the true decision-making power of the event, 2018 seemed to put real issues top of the agenda. Yes, the meeting is all about status – who is the top draw, who wows the crowds and who has the impact – but this year, the pendulum swung away from celebrities and back to business leaders and politicians.
Some might say that the ultimate exemplification of both was Trump. On message and in demand, the great and good of the business world and global press angled to get a seat at the dinner or a space in the auditorium. For all the talk of gender equality and globalisation, doubts were left at the door as they competed for the attention of the US President.
Macron and May dominated their fair share of headlines too – but not for the same reasons. May’s half-empty briefing hall left many commenting on the fall of Britain’s stature post-Brexit, while Macron flourished, charismatically wooing the crowds with the promise of internationalism.
Generally the mood was upbeat; is this because business is back in control? The upward swing in the economies of some of the world’s dominant countries raises questions as to whether a relaxing of the regulatory environment endorsed by more populist policies has allowed for business leaders to walk with a more confident swagger.
Only the coming 11 months will tell us if this year’s Davos will truly be able to repair some of the damage done in recent years, and whether we’re paving the way for the ‘shared future’ that the WEF organisers had set out to achieve at the start of this year’s Forum.”
Stephanie Bailey, MD of Corporate
Trump towers over the final day
Perhaps a little more subdued than expected, President Trump had the final words at Davos during his keynote speech on Friday:
- In a radical departure from his fiery campaign rhetoric, Trump’s speech was widely considered as a large sales pitch to European business – “there has never been a better time to invest in America”, he said. “America is open for business”. This line was a clear courtship to corporate leaders and a softening to the ‘America First’ line that drove him to the Whitehouse. It was clearly a message that, while America’s interests are first in his mind, this policy shouldn’t mean America is alone – it still needs trade and investment.
- POTUS even said he’d consider re-joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a deal which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced as “signed” earlier in the week. What a difference three days make, eh!
- After his opening remarks, Trump then issued a strong warning on the perils of unbalanced international trade. “Free trade needs to be fair”, he said, outlining that countries should not be exploiting the system at the expense of others. He quipped that “unelected bureaucrats” should not be able to impose anti-business, or anti-worker regulations.
- Yet despite sticking to his script and softened line, Trump didn’t win over the whole audience – boos and hisses broke out in the auditorium during the more silent moments, and there was a sense that his speech was ultimately dismissed as a well-scripted piece of salesmanship.
Corporates called on to stop modern day slavery
- Corporates against slavery: Business leaders at Davos this year were told by Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, that they are a crucial element in the fight to stop modern slavery. Without the serious risk of reputational damage, increased regulatory pressures and continued media attention, there’s a danger that some businesses will continue to turn their cheek the other way. Whether action will be taken on the issue in the coming months remains to be seen…
- Pound up, Dollar down: US Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin’s comments yesterday that a weak Dollar was good for the US economy sent the Pound sterling on a rise in this morning’s trading. Sterling was above the $1.43 Dollar mark for the first time since the Brexit vote. Hold your horses before making any rash bets, though – Donald Trump has subsequently contradicted his Treasury Secretary, saying he expects the Dollar to rise in due course.
Digital & Tech
- Technology will revolutionise healthcare: Healthcare tech was back on the agenda again as Frans van Houten, CEO of Philips (FH client), discussed the ways that AI and big data can make healthcare seamless, by improving precision diagnosis and enabling doctors to work with patients remotely. Although we face challenges in the form of cybersecurity threats, if we embed security in all our devices and protocols, the benefits will far outweigh the risks, he said.
- Are you ready for the job of the future?: “Computers will always be smarter than you. Forget trying to run faster than a car, don’t think you can fly like a plane.” According to Alibaba CEO Jack Ma in today’s Q&A, we need to develop our ‘soft’ skills to remain relevant in a world where AI and automation pose huge opportunities and risks to the job world. He added that we must use AI and other digital technologies to enable new skills, rather than disable what we have already.
- Social media makes us unhappy: According to Dan Buettner, author at The New York Times, spending up to an hour a day on social media can contribute to our sense of happiness. However he warned that spending more than two hours a day on this platforms can decrease a user’s happiness. The secret to a happy life? “Eat without gluttony, and love without jealousy”. That’s something that we can get behind here at FHF. What a nice note to end on….
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