Davos Notebook

In crowded Davos, keeping VIPs happy is no easy task

How do you keep VIPs — hundreds of them — happy?

You can’t, especially at the World Economic Forum. There’s no point in pulling that “Don’t you know who I am?” line here at the annual Davos gathering, which is attended by hundreds of the biggest corporate and political bigwigs.

Aides to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani (including Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim) and officials traveling with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev were visibly upset after they were refused entry into the opening plenary session. Before the same event, Senegal’s president Abdoulaye Wade and his aides were made to stand around for 15 minutes or so.

Later in the week, Belgium’s prime minister, Herman van Rompuy, was pushed aside by bodyguards to make way for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Every morning, there are long queues at the security screening on the way into the conference, and CEOs who are used to whizzing past barriers must wait patiently for their turn like the rest of us.

“The forum has outgrown this place,” one participant told Reuters.

The answer, dear bankers, lies not in yourselves, but in Shakespeare

Many of the bankers blamed for the world financial crisis have been conspicuous by their absence from this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.

They haven’t just missed conventional debate on how to prevent a re-run. They’ve also skipped the chance to hear Richard Olivier, theatre director and son of acting legend Laurence Olivier, draw comparisons between the masters of the universe and Shakespeare’s murderous tragic hero Macbeth.

“Macbeth didn’t set out to be evil,” Olivier told Reuters. On the face of it, he was the kind of bright, ambitious young man who could be trusted with big investment decisions. Equally, Lady Macbeth, who stands for “the familial culture of an organisation” thought she was just nurturing his career.

from James Saft:

Save capitalism from the banks – Nassim Taleb

Black Swan

Nassim Nicholas Taleb,  the author of  "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable", has a simple proposal to as he puts it, "save capitalism and free markets from the banks."

Nationalise the banks, limit the rewards to those who work in what he calls the "utility" part of the system and have a completely uninsured second leg that can take all the risks it wants and lose its shirt, he said in an interview in Davos at the World Economic Forum.

"They rigged the game. We pay them for their profits, there is no clawback so their incentive is to hide the risk they are taking."

Even in crisis, NGOs pull no punches in Davos

Though a financial crisis and global recession have left many of the world’s biggest companies uncharacteristically humbled, that didn’t stop NGOs from taking shots at a few of them at the World Economic Forum.

U.S. gold company Newmont Mining and Swiss utility Bernische Kraftwerke picked up a couple of pretty dubious honors from Greenpeace Switzerland and the Berne Declaration.

Newmont received two awards — the Global Award and People’s Award — for its mining project in eastern Ghana. According to the NGOs, Newmont “is ignoring the environmental and social damage” the planned mine will create.

UAE Oil Minister forced to stay off Davos pistes

Deep, crisp and even – some would say the best thing about this year’s World Economic Forum is the quality of the snow on the well-groomed pistes above all the fevered debate.

But one prospective delegate who will not be enjoying them is the United Arab Emirates Oil Minister Mohammed al-Hamli, who has had to cancel his trip to Davos because of a lingering ski injury.

Sources said the minister injured both shoulders in a ski accident during a family holiday in November last year and had to have surgery, which can have only added to the pain of a steep fall in world oil prices.

Knowing one’s place in Davos

The big, big question for the hordes of journalists churning up the fresh, Davos snow is not how to end global economic turmoil, but where their hard-won World Economic Forum accreditation allows them to roam.

A record cast of more than 40 heads of state and government,  more than 30 finance ministers and central bankers, as well as 1,400 business executives, will be hotly pursued by 400 journalists, colour-coded into white and orange badge holders.

The 200 snow-coloured badges are the most highly prized. Anyone holding one is considered a participant, who can contribute to the great debate on setting the world to rights. They can follow World Economic Forum delegates anywhere, provided the security guards allow.