The Evolution of the Davos Man


At every gathering of the World Economic Forum, the term “Davos Man” comes alive across the mediasphere and leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many. Perhaps now would be a good time as any to define it. Coined by political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, the term Davos Man was meant to refer to members of the global elite who view themselves as completely international.  They have no need for the term “nationality” and feel that governments are merely shadows of time past to be used as facilitators in their global operations. Originally meant to identify the high level attendees of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the term has become synonymous with unscrupulous bankers, Wall Street big-shots and anyone with a fat paycheck and large clout in a high profile position.

The media naturally jumps at the chance to exacerbate populist sentiment. Whether labelling the Davos man as a disassociated member in an apathetic society or merely a business magnate making money while the rest of the world toils in the wake of his mistakes. I would propose a re-examination of the label and redefine it, in terms of one that contextually fits better in the world we’re living in and heading towards.

The first objection I would like to bring up is that you don’t need to be a rich man to be a Davos Man, not that it hurts. Take, for example, Kofi Annan. A man embedded in the economic system, he is not someone you would associate with extreme wealth. Yet Mr. Annan epitomises the Davos Man in that he transcends national borders more than most people. He is a wanted man in many an elite circle if not for his extensive knowledge, for the attractive network he brings with him. Wealth does not a Davos Man make.

The second objection would be the idea of being part of the business elite.  Hate him or love him, Bono would like to be known as an altruist and philanthropist (genuine or not) that I won’t get into. A veteran of the forum, Bono’s rock star status and charismatic personality means that he is a man who can get to most people and make them listen. He has been known to bring world leaders together and organise concerts and charities with phenomenal success. Bono wields power few of the richest men can dream of. Bono could get away with murder and still organize another Live Aid. The Davos Man spans across sectors as he does nationalities.

The last objection would be the concept of self-interest. There are plenty of social entrepreneurs and global shapers who flock to Davos without looking to climb their respective career ladders. On the contrary, they are here to further ideas and causes which they deem beneficial to their respective societies.  People like Sal Khan (Khan Academy) and Daphne Koller (Coursera) are here on behalf of their causes, causes perhaps bigger than themselves.

I can understand if these come off as exceptions to the rule, but a word limit allows only so many names to be listed. There are of course those who embody the more traditional definition of the Davos Man:  Dominic Barton (CEO of McKinsey) and Alex Weber (Chairman of UBS), striding the halls of the Congress Centre. Their numbers are however being diluted with the neo-Davos Man.

The neo-Davos man is like his predecessor, a world citizen.  Boundaries and nationalities are less important to him, not because of a vested interest but rather it is instead a global consciousness that drives him to be more than the sum of his predecessors. He is a forward looking player who wants to shape the world. There are Davos men – and women – who shape the world for the better and there are also those that shape it for the worse. They come from the public sector, private sector, non-governmental organisations and academia. They are educators, innovators, corporate business magnates and social entrepreneurs – and they’re not exclusive to the World Economic Forum. The Davos Man has evolved, and so should the definitions and mysticisms that surround him.

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4 thoughts on “The Evolution of the Davos Man

  1. I didn’t know the Davos Man was an officially accepted term. Interesting article! Nonetheless, you do not discuss the most important reason for the negative connotations, so you can’t really support your claim that the Davos Man has evolved, i.e. the WEF is supposed to be a gathering of world citizens with the common objective of the world’s future. However, every participant goes there with her/his own agenda, leading to a complete loss of focus of the original objective of the world’s welfare.

  2. Fair point Hari, but that’s very much akin to the IMF promoting “sustainable” growth across developing nations and the U.N. maintaining world peace. While you’re right there is a large dissociation between what they “should” and what they “do” do, it is hard to state that this is THE most important reason.

    Regardless of what the reason is, I’d still state that the evolution of the Davos Man still holds. What the reasons were for his previous image, and for his evolution, are of course open to interpretation and opinion, but the question of whether the change happened or not, isn’t.

  3. And of course (Davos) men or women interested in sustainable growth are more than welcome to actively participate in the upcoming World Resources Forum, held from October 6-9, 2013, in the same venue.

  4. Pingback: Voices from the Fringe at WEF – The Faith of Monsieur Fleur | Studentreporter

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