Jeremy Jurgens on the ways and means
The World Economic Forum has been actively engaged with China since the start of China’s opening and reform policy in 1979. At that time, the Chinese leaders sent a senior delegation of economists and ministers to Davos to participate in the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. For the World Economic Forum that was the beginning of a long relationship and within a few years they were hosting their first China Business Summit.
The China Business Summit became a tool for international business leaders to visit China, to better understand China and interact with their Chinese business counterparts.
“The key shift,” says Jeremy Jurgens, Senior Director, Global Growth Companies at the World Economic Forum, “was the change to what was to become a ‘Summer Davos’, an international meeting taking place in China and approaching international issues – business, political – from an Asian perspective, not just a Chinese perspective.”
This is reflected in the participation in the event – 75% of participants coming from outside China with, over the last few years, over 80 countries represented. This year there will be between 1200 and 1400 participants.
A truly global meeting
All of these factors come together to make a truly global meeting, across the industries and regions represented a range of topics are explored – political issues, social issues, economic and financial issues, evolution of science and technology, all looking at the role of Asia in a broader context.
“I’ve been at the World Economic Forum for 10 years,” says Jurgens. “When I look back and think of the evolution of the ‘Summit’, it actually ties in to larger transformational changes we’ve been observing taking place, and I think that one of the aspects that I appreciate most working at the Forum under the dynamism of our chairman, is that he’s willing to lead change, looking beyond today.”
With a shift in both economic and political power from the West to the East – almost a cliché today with many Chinese companies still growing at rates exceeding 15%, which is down from 30%, but nonetheless impressive considering the number of economies that experienced negative growth in the past year.
The Global Growth Companies
“Anchoring the Summit are the Global Growth Companies,” says Jurgens. “These are companies that have demonstrated their ability not just to have an idea but to actually start scaling it up. They have high growth, solid business models, they’re approaching new markets, and they have strong executive leadership. We have as members a number of banks and financial companies that entirely avoided the sub-prime crisis and as a result did not suffer the same challenges of the large financial institutions.”
Those GGC members present in emerging markets have also been relatively sheltered from the financial crisis, although those in the manufacturing sector have been hit to one degree or another. “Before these companies were competing against the large multinationals that were coming to their markets for talent. Since the multinationals are currently not hiring, people are being hired at an ‘affordable’ price,” comments Jurgens. “That completely changes the game. So when I speak with the Global Growth Companies’ CEOs, I would say there’s cautious optimism and that’s one of the aspects we want to highlight in this year’s Summer Davos. Who will be driving this growth? Let’s actually hear from those that are growing despite the economic malaise. What are they doing differently? How are they positioned? How do they understand the markets?”
For Jurgens, the other major global changes taking place are the shift in power from large established companies to more nimble companies, and also a shift in power from the company to the consumer – in some cases even from governments to the consumer, or the citizen.
“One of the interesting changes now is that there’s greater competition among markets,” states Jurgens. “Hyundai is selling their cars in Italy or France, challenging the domestic automaker. Even a small device such as a telephone – when I was a kid every telephone in every house looked the same. Now, just in downtown Geneva alone, you’ll find hundreds of different mobile phone options. You look at the evolution of companies such as Inditex that brought an entirely new model to the apparel industry. Today we can turn around a fashion in six weeks as opposed to the traditional 18-month fashion cycle. That changes the nature of the game and also gives the consumers more power.”
Jurgens believes that successful companies are giving power to consumers. “If something comes up on the Internet, you’d better address it. If you hunker down like the turtle in its shell you’ll miss its growth. We saw this recently with Amazon when they removed George Orwell’s 1984 and their customers’ devices and there was an immediate uproar. You have the CEO coming out and saying, ‘We made a mistake’, yet some people would argue even two or three days isn’t fast enough. All this makes for a very different operating environment and it also gives an advantage to small companies that are structured to be more agile.”
If you look at these changes they’re all large societal changes taking place over a period of time. “We were looking at these changes five years ago in order to see how we should position ourselves. One of our thoughts was to complement Davos. Davos is essential
– you need a place to address the large macro-economic, global issues. But we also wanted a place where we could engage the new generation of companies, and the ‘Annual Meeting of New Champions’ was born. It’s the Global Growth Companies, it’s our community of Young Global Leaders – dynamic leaders from all fields; business, society, government, all under the age of 40 who have made a specific contribution and want to do more.”
Another group the Annual Meeting of New Champions engaged with is the technology pioneers. These are extremely dynamic technology companies – Internet, telecommunications, energy sector, health sector – that have a truly innovative technology or approach and have demonstrated that they can scale it, that there’s a market for it.
A community of leaders
Jurgens has been with the Forum for 10 years having previously worked in educational software with Microsoft in Redmond, the head office. He joined the Forum because, he believes, at the Forum they are creating a learning environment for leaders, an environment where leaders can come together and engage and learn from each other, exchange and share ideas.
“I think that one of the aspects that truly shapes the Forum,” confides Jurgens, “is this community of leaders that want to share, that actually care about their responsibility to society.
Some people envisage CEOs as only focussed on money; well, in our experience it’s quite different, they’re actually engaged in a number of business facets; business is part of society, there’s no distinction. So we bring together those leaders who have demonstrated their ability and their commitment.”
This will clearly be seen in this Summer Davos under its theme; “Relaunching Growth”. What do we do? What are the tools available to us? What are the ideas? What are the risks, the challenges as we move ahead?
Introducing new groups
The Meeting puts a focus on the quality of participants. “We want this to be an interactive dialogue among CEOs,” says Jurgens, “so we’re really putting the emphasis on that, introducing new groups, like the Young Scientists, which will join us again this year. These are young scientists under the age of 40 who are doing something truly innovative in the scientific field from a developing country. We asked each National Academies of Science in different countries to nominate their two top scientists under the age of 40. We received over 200 nominations and from this group we selected 60.”
Elaborating further, Jurgens commented, “Young Scientists is one of the communities that look beyond today, even beyond tomorrow, and that is particularly important in this and previous Summer Meetings. Their presence creates interaction among business leaders and scientists with many of the scientists commenting that they have never before attended a non-scientific conference and had so much interest shown in what we’re doing. CEOs are curious – wanting to know what it is all about;”
Leverage from the periphery
As Jurgens foresees, “Many of the most important strategic changes that we see taking place are at the periphery of business, not at the core. If you can leverage that change at the periphery, then you can gain a strategic advantage. At the core it’s about optimization and reducing costs, scaling up, relatively well know from industry to industry. But if you can leverage something that’s outside of the core and bring it in, then that’s a ‘game changer’.”
Jurgens believes that that is one of the advantages of the cross-industry nature of bringing in business leaders together with political leaders, technologists, scientists and different actors, allowing that interchange to catalyse new ideas.
And as for conflicts of interest, “I think that’s one of the main aspects of the Forum,” smiles Jurgens. “If we look back to our mission, ‘Committed to improving the state of the world’, this is not exclusive – so we want everybody at the table who shares that commitment and is willing to make a positive contribution, and dialogue is one of the most important aspects to share and exchange ideas.”
The strength of the Meeting is that while there may be a number of areas of, competitive interest, there is also a number of areas of shared interest and shared contribution for a societal benefit. So the Meeting focuses on those topics where a positive contribution can be made. “We implicitly say to a company, when you’re a member, you are going to be engaged with potential competitors, but they’re also collaborators and partners,” states Jurgens. “And that’s actually, a lot of our work where we’ve tried to catalyse new ideas in the social sector, on global health, on education, on environmental activities. It’s actually bringing people together. For example, with the G-20 – and already with the G-8 in Hokkaido for climate change, our members came together to share common perspectives on topics they thought needed to be addressed.”
“When I speak with the Global Growth Companies’ CEOs, I would say there’s cautious optimism and that’s one of the aspects we want to highlight … Who will be driving this growth? Let’s actually hear from those that are growing despite the economic malaise. What are they doing differently? How are they positioned? How do they understand the markets?”
The World Economic Forum members in the Forum to suggest that recognized that a shared response to they bring in the business perspective climate change was needed. It was from in the G-20 session. The Forum has a this impetus that Gordon Brown invited working group that covers a number of different companies across different sectors, involving NGOs, various people, and academic experts, working together towards Copenhagen.
Key focus areas and important questions
For the 2009 Dalian Meeting, the focus will be in three key areas:
First, the overall theme of “Relaunching Growth” and how the Meeting looks at this in more depth, breaking it down into a variety of subtopics. “We’ve experienced significant turmoil in the past two years,” says Jurgens, “so the questions are important.”
To address the issues – and questions – the overall programme is based on five pillars:
- New Business Models in a Deleveraging World – How will businesses operate in a new financial ear and how will tax policies, educational priorities and incentive models change to create a new competitive environment?
- Opportunities in a Green Economy – Discovering the different dimensions of creating a green economy.
- Rethinking Asia’s Development Model – Understanding how the global recession will transform Asia’s export-driven model of growth and the industries that have relied on it for so long.
- Driving Economic Growth through Science and Technology – Exploring how government and business sectors can work with the science and technology community to jump-start economic growth.
- Addressing Societal Needs through Innovation – Examining the opportunities for business and government to address society’s needs and the risks if those needs and expectations are not met.
“The second key area that I think will make this year special,” says Jurgens, “is the diversity of the participants. It’s this intermix between the growth companies, the young global leaders, technology pioneers, the young scientists, our mentors, members and partners. All these people coming together will learn from each other, inspire one another and ultimately help develop new approaches and catalyse growth.”
Jurgens confirms his belief that it is the people who step out, identify the opportunities and take the chance who will be the growth drivers. Just by choosing to come and committing – despite the financial crisis – shows that they’re prepared to lead growth.
The final key area is China and – although the Meeting is being held in Dalian, it is a global meeting – China is an important actor. “Statistics may differ,” concludes Jurgens, “but China is somewhere between the second and third largest global economy by GDP, although still relatively low on a per-capita basis. There are a number of new large Chinese companies – banks, technology companies and manufacturers – that will be joining us in Dalian. What’s their perspective? So many people look to China as the new global growth driver making this a very important aspect.”
A pivotal moment
Given the Dalian programme for “Relaunching Growth” and the impressive list of committed participants – and taking into account the fact that the Meeting is being held in China at a pivotal moment of its global positioning – this will no doubt be a truly memorable “Summer Davos”; one that could have an important global impact, not just on global economic aspects, but on the future of our world.