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It takes a crisis to focus on the value of Davos

By David Buik for CNN
  • Buik: Until 2008 Davos was seen as no more than an extended party for business leaders
  • Media deserves credit for giving Davos impetus needed to attract global attention says Buik
  • Buik says this year's agenda will focus on global challenges and building a risk response network

David Buik is a partner at inter-dealer broker BGC Partners in London. He has over 47 years experience in London's financial services sector as a trainee investment banker and broker.

(CNN) -- It is hard to believe the 30th anniversary of the World Economic Forum at Davos is upon us.

In 1971, Klaus Schwab, a professor of economics at the University of Geneva, attempted to entice the "good and the great" from the world of economic academia, as well as leading lights from business, industry and commerce to exchange views on world issues at the stunningly beautiful ski resort in the Swiss Alps.

To most onlookers his aspirations seemed far too ambitious.

It took some time to attract support from all the worthwhile categories. For many years there were far too many "spear carriers," "walk on parts" and "also rans" to provide such a gathering with the optics and credibility it required. To use the words of Confucius: "Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey!"

The media deserves huge credit for giving this symposium the impetus needed to attract global attention and, more to the point, support. It is financial television to which Davos owes most of its gratitude -- CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, FOX, BBC, SKY and more recently Al-Jazeera.

It didn't take long before the written press "took hold of the bit" and gave it the necessary exposure. Up until 2008, most market watchers and commentators on business categorized this glittering event as no more than an extended party, allowing captains of industry and politicians to rub shoulders in a convivial forum, whilst indulging in excessive entertainment.

There was far too much evidence of Dom Perignon, Cristal, fois gras and caviar, which not surprisingly triggered the angst and irritation of shareholders and employees from the larger corporations. Chuntering in wine bars and pubs around the world was very prevalent, as those suffering from envy and spite ticked like proverbial meters.

There is nothing like a crisis or a catastrophe to focus the mind. In the past two years the world has had it in spades.
--David Buik, partner at BGC Partners.
2010: Quest goes skiing

It has taken world problems such as food, the failure of World Trade Organization members to reach a global trade agreement, climate change and a financial crisis in 2008, to take this event out of the jamboree category and transform it into a preeminent event for all politicians, CEOs, finance directors and economists to be supportive of.

Though the likes of Henry Kissinger have been in attendance for a number of years, it is only recently other statesmen and politicians of his caliber have graced the occasion. In recent years, U.S. President Bill Clinton, China President Wen Jibao, former UK Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Russia's Vladimir Putin, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, former U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have all paid homage in their own way to this increasingly important convention.

There is nothing like a crisis or a catastrophe to focus the mind. In the past two years the world has had it in spades. Back in 2009, the future of the world's economy was very unclear; in fact prospects looked extremely bleak. It was interesting that 2009 was the year the politicians made their presence felt more than on any other occasion. There were also numerous CEOs of banks who made the trip to the Swiss slopes to exchange views and ideas on plans for recovery.

Away from the world of politics, two delegates have been more visible than any other: Martin Sorrell, the CEO of WPP -- the largest advertising and PR agency in the world -- and Howard Lutnick, Chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC Partners.

Sorrell is generally considered to be one of the most accurate barometers of economic activity; hence he has always attached immense credence and importance to the WEF in Davos.

In the case of Lutnick, he has been attending for twenty years. No one knows more about the mood of Wall Street and Threadneedle Street! He derives great benefit from rubbing shoulders with the leaders of business and finance. The conferences and dinners provide him with an excellent opportunity to exchange concepts and opinions with executives from all walks of life, who in normal circumstances he would rarely have the opportunity of meeting. So many innovative ideas transpire from conversations and meetings that take place in an extremely relaxed and cordial atmosphere.

In recent weeks, Lutnick has extolled virtues of banks increasing their lending to medium size enterprises in the hope recovery can select another gear. How right he is. Therefore, it is imperative the politicians "digitum extractum" by agreeing the new capital requirements for banks as soon as is humanly possible.

This year, global challenges will again dominate the agenda with growth, support for the G20 agenda and building a risk response network at the head of affairs. So many movers and shakers are going this year, making it impossible to mention all of them.

But a flavor of those attending demonstrates how important this annual galaxy of business titans is. From politics and business: Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia; British Premier David Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne; Bill and Melinda Gates; Larry Page of Google; steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal; Tesco CEO Terry Leahy; Marc Bolland of M&S; Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo; Doug McMillon of Walmart; BP's Carl-Henric Svanberg; and leading financiers George Soros, Henry Kravis and Stephen Schwarzmann. From the banks, the glitterati include Barclays chief Bob Diamond, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackerman, Morgan Stanley Chairman John Mack, Lloyds chief Eric Daniels, Brady Dougan of Credit Suisse and HSBC's Stuart Gulliver.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Buik.

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