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One on one with Klaus Shwab

The news is grim tonight on the economic front. Fifty-four thousand jobs have been announced to have been lost today. Countries are on the brink, for example, Iceland. And chief executives have been thrown out. It seems the corporation elite will no longer be the stars of the show this year at the World Economic …


The news is grim tonight on the economic front. Fifty-four thousand jobs have been announced to have been lost today. Countries are on the brink, for example, Iceland. And chief executives have been thrown out. It seems the corporation elite will no longer be the stars of the show this year at the World Economic Forum.

All this week we are live here. We ll be asking the questions to business leaders on the state of the world economy. It s a five-day event which officially begins on Wednesday. It focuses on one crucial topic it says is going to be shaping the world after the economic crisis.

Unfortunately, it ignores one fact, the crisis is still unfolding. Many may find it difficult to look beyond the gloom. There is no doubt there is one major difference that will be seen at this year s World Economic Forum. It s one of tone, dignity; some say it s a move from hubris to humility.

The leaders here know that they were the same people in many cases who were responsible for getting us into the mess we re in the first place. I put all of these points to the founder of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab.

He admitted to me that it would be a different tone here in Davos, 2009, “First, in terms of some elements we have emerging and coming out of the crisis. Second, in terms of the composition of people, we never had such a strong interest from politicians and other stakeholders, business, of course, to come to Davos and to dialogue, to interact.

“And finally, the ambience, the whole atmosphere will be very different because we are in a transformational crisis.

Quest: When you say the atmosphere will be different, what do you mean?

I think it will be more concerned, more austere, more modest, people see that they have failed to a certain extent as leaders in the world. They are looking for ways how to reestablish a certain leadership, a common or joint leadership, to move out of the present crisis.

But there will be a lot of people that will be watching and saying, these people who have failed have no business talking about getting us out of it. They got us into the mess in the first place.

Yes. That s to a certain extent true. There have been people who acted in a fradulous way. There have been people who acted in an unethical way. But let s face it, we all are responsible for what has happened. Everybody failed here.

I know. But that is almost like saying collective guilt. That is tantamount to saying, well, it s everybody s fault.

Collective guilt of not reacting in time. Here you could include all stakeholders. But actually let s look at the bankers. They are part of the problem. But they are certainly also part of the solution, so such a reason why we still integrate them here in Davos.

The theme, Shaping the Post-Crisis World. And isn t it a bit soon to be talking about Shaping the Post-Crisis World. I mean, it s a bit like calling in the architect while you re stilling putting out the fire.

Yes. You are right. But, but don t forget, we have to manage the crisis, but this crisis is a transformational crisis. It s above all else, a crisis of confidence. And in order to restore confidence, you have to establish signposts. The world after the crisis will be different.

But on a personal level, why have you got any confidence that this bunch of people can put in place the transformational issues that you seek?

We are speaking here about government leaders. .We are speaking about business leaders and so on, who else? What we have to do is to make sure that those people consider the present situation in a different light without exuberance on a realistic dimension.

From hubris to humility, perhaps?

Yes. That s what you can say, but also to creativity. We have to create a new world and that s what Davos 2009 is about.

What is the hallmark of that new world?

Serving society. It s not only a crisis – a financial crisis, we have here what will discuss many other challenges: climate change, Africa, and so on.

They have been on the agenda for as long as I can remember at Davos, climate change, the Middle East, Africa, poverty, and AIDS. Every year, sir, they come up. And every year, very little gets done.

That s right. Very little gets done. But at least something gets done. And let s not forget the problem which we have in the world is the politicians are responsible to their national constituencies. And this makes it so difficult to address really global issues and to spend the necessary means for it.

Finally, do you expect to hear many leaders, many bankers just simply say, sorry?

I hope we will hear some.

Richard Quest is a CNN anchor and correspondent who reports on business travel issues. Tune in to CNN International each evening at 1900 GMT to catch Richard’s new show, “Quest Means Business.

Topics: FJP

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