The social activities at Davos are typical of business conferences: sponsoring organizations hold cocktail parties and dinners for guests.The hosts range from corporations and non-governmental organizations to colleges and universities. Typically held in the evening, the events start immediately after the major sessions end each day, when the streets have a feeling of Mardi Gras, with lots of people, snow-covered streets and cheery conversations.
If the activities are typical of business events, the people you meet are not. I attended events sponsored by Harvard University, the World Food Programme, the University of Chicago and Citi. At each event, I had the opportunity to interact with the organization’s CEO/President and also meet other attendees. The business cards continued to flow throughout the evening, as did the food, wine, beer and other spirits.
The Harvard event was attended by over 100 people. In addition to President Faust, school officials included the deans of the Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School. Other prominent attendees included Larry Summers, former Harvard president and former Secretary of the Treasury; David Gergen, former presidential advisor; Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, and Jamie Diamond, CEO of JPMorgan Chase. Sabeti Pardis, Associate Professor of Systems Biology, gave an overview on her research on the Ebola crisis in Africa, which was moderated by David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group. Professor Pardis is young and very talented (undergrad MIT, PhD and Rhodes Scholar Oxford, and top graduate in her class from the Harvard Medical School). Did I mention that she also has her own rock band? I want her to treat my next common cold! I was able to learn, make new connections and renew old friendships during this event.
I also attended the World Food Programme Annual World Leaders Dinner for 70 people as the guest of Ertharin Cousin, the WFP Executive Director. This organization is based in Rome, and its mission is to eradicate hunger and poverty in the world. The United States is its major sponsor, contributing 40 percent of the organization’s $5.5 billion annual operating budget. The Executive Director is nominated by the U.S. government and appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations. The official host of the dinner was United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General, also attended.
The 2015 Hunger Hero Award was presented to HRH Princess Haya Al Hussein, the daughter of King Hussein and wife of the current ruler of Dubai. After dinner I had the opportunity to meet the princess and also have a photo opportunity. After a group photo, I asked her if she was aware of the “selfie,” and she said yes. Not wanting to create an international protocol incident, I asked if that would be appropriate. She enthusiastically responded yes. Guess what? I took the selfie. When I relayed the story to my colleague Jon Zehner, he said, “Oh Herman, that was so American.”
Tonight I attended the University of Chicago reception at the invitation of President Robert Zimmer. The program focused on energy consumption and global warming. Former EPA head, Carol Browner, joined a Chicago professor and representatives from the World Bank and India. A very lively discussion ensued, with declining oil prices a prime topic. I had an opportunity to speak with President Zimmer and received an invitation to visit him in Chicago. People are really friendly at Davos!
My last social event was the Citi event. I was a guest of Raymond McGuire, Global Head of Investment Banking. Ray is also a fellow classmate from Harvard Business School and a member of the Executive Leadership Council. In addition to meeting Michael Corbat, the Citi CEO, I also had a very interesting conversation with the Vice Chairman responsible for Public Finance. We will schedule a follow-up meeting to determine how our Public Institutions team can work with Citi on major infrastructure projects. Hello Big Apple in the very near future.
I am finishing this blog past midnight in Davos. As I will be up in less than four hours for the two-hour drive to Zurich and then a flight home, this will most likely be published while I am somewhere over the Atlantic.
It has been a privilege to represent all my JLL colleagues at Davos. This was definitely a learning experience for me, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity. I hope you have enjoyed the blogs. Now the real work begins. I will be working with many of you over the next few weeks to follow up on the many exciting opportunities uncovered this week.