BOSTON, Feb. 10, 2010 — Leaders from a wide array of backgrounds, including government, business, and academia, recently gathered in Davos, Switzerland, to attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. Among them were an array of Harvard Business School professors. Some perspectives on their experience follow.
Professor Josh Lerner
Jacob H. Schiff Professor of Investment Banking
There was a lot more indecisiveness at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this year than in the past. During the economic boom, there was a real sense of confidence that the world was on the right track. Globalization was the right thing to do. Emerging nations were developing. Everything was integrating. Last year, in the midst of the worldwide recession, a universal pessimism prevailed - palpable gloom and doom. This year there was a greater variety of perspectives. Some people still thought the world was about to end; others were more positive. A number of Chinese I spoke with, for example, were confident that China would recover and continue to do well. But overall, most people-including the leaders of private equity firms and hedge funds, normally a very self-confident group-- didn't seem to be firm in their convictions about the future direction of the economy. For the past few years, I've also worked on a special project for the WEF, leading an international team of scholars examining the impact of private capital on the economy and society. Up to now, much of the public discussion about this has been based on assertion. Representatives of private equity would declare that they created enormous number of jobs, while labor unions would argue the opposite. My group's goal is to create a set of facts that will serve as a touchstone for policy makers in the future.
Professor John Quelch
Lincoln Filene Professor of Business Administration
Recession is the enemy of free trade and the friend of protectionism. Given the severity of this downturn, there was remarkably little retreat to protectionist sentiment at Davos. That said, China can no longer play the role of the mercantilist on the world stage. The time has come for it to take on a much more public role as an economic and political leader. The mood at this year's conference was one of realism rather than optimism. In fact, it was less optimistic than I expected, although I'm reasonably confident that entrepreneurship and innovation will continue to ensure the continued economic success of the United States, with new products and markets generating robust long-term revenue and GDP growth. Part of the overhanging pessimism may have simply been due to the fact that the meeting is held in Europe, which is sensitive about its loss of stature vis-Ã -vis Asia as a counterpoint to the United States. Another probable cause was considerable disappointment among the delegates in the limited results of the Copenhagen climate change conference. Environmental and sustainability issues were high on many people's wish list at Davos, especially since more delegates than ever before represent public sector and NGO organizations. The fear among them now is that there is no obvious pathway to progress.
Professor David Thomas
H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration
The World Economic Forum's annual meeting at Davos can facilitate the ability of governments, corporations, and NGOs to address immediate and long-term global challenges. I went because of my work with the Forum's Global Agenda Council on Workforce Diversity and Talent, which I chair. One of our initiatives addresses the challenges related to the movement of talent across borders to meet skills shortages in different parts of the world. Davos provided the opportunity to bring together 40 policy makers and other individuals representing a diverse set of countries, many of the world's largest global corporations, and some significant regulatory bodies, including the UN and OECD, to think about and discuss potential solutions to this pressing problem. There are very few other places, if any, where such a diverse group could convene to have frank, off-the-record conversations that enable them to envision new possibilities. My hope is that when these parties continue their work on this issue, they will now be more open to new ideas and more sensitive to the perspectives of all the relevant stakeholders.
Faculty Video on Davos