Crash Parties, Escape Dull Chitchat and Make Powerful Friends: What Davos Elites Know
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Crash Parties, Escape Dull Chitchat and Make Powerful Friends: What Davos Elites Know

The elbow-rubbing tactics on display in the Swiss Alps this week can apply to any business gathering or cocktail party, regardless of your VIP status

By CHIP CUTTER AND EMILY GLAZER
Tue, Jan 16, 2024 9:44amGrey Clock 4 min

For a master class in power networking, it’s tough to beat the one taking place in the Swiss Alps this week.

The annual World Economic Forum brings the planet’s power brokers together for morning-to-past-midnight meetings over coffee, cocktails and fondue. For the thousands of CEOs, billionaires, intellectuals and world leaders descending on Davos, the setting is unrivalLed in its potential to spark relationships, dealmaking and big ideas for the year ahead. After all, there are few other places where you can run into Al Gore at the hotel bar and wait next to Bill Gates to pass through the metal detectors.

MaximiSing all that powerful proximity and turning it into actual connections takes skill, chutzpah and the ability to think on your feet. What to do if you spot Sting in the elevator? How to know whether a tête-à-tête merits more than a minute of your time? And how do you divine someone’s importance without peering at the badge dangling at their midsection?

The tricks of Davos movers and shakers can apply to any business gathering or cocktail party, regardless of your VIP status. Here’s how they do it.

Names and spaces

For Salesforce Chief Executive Marc Benioff, getting the most out of the high-powered gathering often comes down to location—in this case, the top of a staircase in the Davos Congress Center, the main hub of the event.

The Davos regular said he plans to spend an hour each day of the forum perched there or in an adjacent hallway. Why? In a single hour—amid a packed calendar of meetings, lunches, dinners and other engagements—he might see 100 people he would otherwise not encounter all year.

“The amount of serendipity that happens is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” said Benioff, who has attended the forum for two decades and hosts parties and gatherings that people vie all week to get into. “It’s an incredible thing.”

Benioff has a hack for dealing with a common conundrum in Davos and beyond—forgetting your conversation partner’s name. The Salesforce chief said he sometimes takes photos of their badges if he isn’t able to take notes. If he exchanges contact information with someone, he gives his cellphone number or email and recommends they text, email or tweet at him.

“I’m generous with my contact information,” he said. (At least one reporter can attest to that.)

Or, simply ask the person to repeat their name, said Alisa Cohn, an executive coach and author attending her third Davos. She phrases the question with a touch of humoUr, asking: “‘Listen, this has been a great conversation, and I’ve already forgotten your name. Can you remind me?’”

Few people respond poorly, she said. “The truth is, they will ask you the same question because they forgot your name, too.”

Big deal, or big whoop?

Seated next to an unfamiliar guest at a dinner or lunch, several CEOs said they weren’t above stealth under-the-table googling, surreptitiously reading up on their Davos dining companions to make better conversation or to understand what, exactly, it is that they do.

When introducing herself to someone new, Cohn gives people conversational “hooks” to latch on to. For her, that means explaining she is also an angel investor, based in New York, and a fitness fanatic with a love of kettlebells. The icebreaker often spurs people to detail their own fitness routines.

True Davos experts know how to escape a long, dull or—horrors!—low-status conversation partner. Nick Studer, head of consulting firm Oliver Wyman Group and a longtime Davos attendee, believes there is value in all sorts of conversations. But he has perfected the art of extraction with a favoUrite line: “Anyways, it’s obviously fantastic [chatting]. I mustn’t keep you from your guests.”

Most people follow his lead, he said, “as long as you wrap it up appropriately and politely.”

No ‘Windexing’

One big Davos no-no is what the finance executive Anthony Scaramucci has come to describe as “Windexing.”

Say you are chatting with someone interesting, but notice out of the corner of your eye that the British prime minister or a well-known billionaire-entrepreneur walks into a room. You might suddenly feel the urge to move on, and look past the person you are talking to “like he’s a sheet of glass,” Scaramucci said. “Don’t be that person.”

Instead, apologiSe for needing to end the conversation, he said, and offer to circle back if there is time.

Scaramucci, founder of the hedge-fund investment firm SkyBridge Capital and, very briefly, communications director for the Trump administration, started jetting to Davos in 2007.

He hosts a popular and well-attended wine night there each year. Over time, he has learned a tactic for getting into a must-attend party—even when he isn’t invited.

“I crash every single party that I can possibly crash,” Scaramucci said.

Several years ago, at a party held by a Russian oligarch, a security guard stopped Scaramucci because he wasn’t on the list. Scaramucci says he didn’t blink. Instead, he disarmed.

“I said, ‘I know I’m not on the list. I’m Vince Vaughn from ‘Wedding Crashers,’” he recalled. “Five minutes later, I was eating the caviar and drinking the vodka.”

When Scaramucci spots a mega luminary he is dying to meet, he tries to be authentic. He said he developed a friendship with David Rubenstein, co-founder of the private-equity giant Carlyle Group, by introducing himself in Davos years ago.

“I just walked over to him. I said, ‘Hey, listen, I watched you on TV, I’ve seen your interviews and I’m a great admirer of yours,’” Scaramucci said. “People are incredibly nice. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they don’t want to meet you.”

Tight timing

At major conclaves like Davos, Scaramucci and others said it is important to realise you can’t do it all. Prioritisation is key.

Denelle Dixon, who runs the nonprofit Stellar Development Foundation, said her organisation sets a theme for the conference so executives can take meetings with government officials and others around that sharp topic. This year, it is blockchain’s role in expanding access to the financial system. (Davos loves a buzzword.) “It allows us to really focus,” she said.

Saying no is essential. Salesforce’s Benioff and his team usually meet with roughly half of the 600 CEOs attending Davos. But a request for five or 15 minutes of his time is likely to fail if the person isn’t a critical customer or somebody he already knows well.

“It’s not going to get part of my time,” he said. “Maybe it’ll get part of somebody else’s time.”



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Call to cut corporate carbon footprints is loudest from inside organizations, outweighing demand from customers and regulators, survey finds

By YUSUF KHAN
Sun, Mar 3, 2024 2 min

The pressure on companies to cut their carbon footprint is coming more from within the organisations themselves than from customers and regulators, according to a new report.

Three-quarters of business leaders from across the Group of 20 nations said the push to invest in renewable energy is being driven mainly by their own corporate boards, with 77% of U.S. business leaders saying the pressure was extreme or significant, according to a new survey conducted by law firm Ashurst.

The corporate call to decarbonise is intensifying, Ashurst said, with 30% of business leaders saying the pressure from their own boards was extreme, up from 25% in 2022.

“We’re seeing that the energy transition is an area that is firmly embedded in the thinking of investors, corporates, governments and others, so there is a real emphasis on setting and acting on these plans now,” said Michael Burns, global co-head of energy at Ashurst. “That said, the pace of transition and the stage of the journey very much depends from business to business.”

The shift in sentiment comes as companies ramp up investment in renewable spending to meet their net-zero goals. Ashurst found that 71% of the more than 2,000 respondents to its survey had committed to a net-zero target, while 26% of respondents said their targets were under development.

Ashurst also found that solar was the most popular method to decarbonise, with 72% of respondents currently investing in or committed to investing in the clean energy technology. The law firm also found that companies tended to be the most active when it comes to renewable investments, with 52% of the respondents falling into this category. The average turnover of those companies was $15.1 billion.

Meanwhile, 81% of energy-sector respondents to the survey said they see investment in renewables as essential to the organisation’s strategic growth.

Burns said the 2030 timeline to reach net zero was very important to the companies it surveyed. “We are increasingly seeing corporate and other stakeholders actively setting and embracing trajectories to achieve net zero. However, greater clarity and transparency on the standards for measuring and managing these net-zero commitments is needed to ensure consistency in approach and, importantly, outcome,” he said.

Legal battles over climate change and renewable investing are also likely to rise, with 68% of respondents saying they expect to see an increase in legal disputes over the next five years, while only 16% anticipate a decrease, the report said.

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