It’s always interesting to me to look at the variety of backgrounds people have before they got into conference production. Conference producers come from all walks of life, and their backgrounds tend to inform the brand of the conferences that they create. Take Richard Saul Wurman for example, who brought a lifelong passion for architecture into creating the TED Conference, a brand known for its deliberate designs of every aspect of the conferencing experience. Or take Elliott Bisnow, a young entrepreneur who turned a series of epic vacations for the 30Under30 list into the Summit Series, a brand known for its unconventionality in both setting and programming. Today, we’ll take a deeper exploration into the background of Dr. Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, and indisputably the most powerful person from the events industry.
Klaus Schwab was born in 1938 to Swiss parents and grew up in Germany. Being at a young age at the end of WWII, Klaus became involved in the German-French Youth Movement during a time when Germany needed to rebuild its national identity. He went on to study mechanical engineering and economics at Swiss universities, originally intending to enter into a life of business. But it was precisely this combination of public service, engineering mindset, and economics interest that led Klaus Schwab to ultimately found the World Economic Forum.
In 1971, Dr. Schwab published a book called the Modern Enterprise Management in Mechanical Engineering. The book was revolutionary at the time for suggesting the idea of “stakeholders” in an organization, and how management must be mindful of serving all stakeholders and not just the shareholders. In conjunction with the publishing of this book, Dr. Schwab created a small conference for 450 people called the European Management Forum. With the help of the convening power of the European Council as a sponsor, this inaugural meeting of what would later become the World Economic Forum was a platform for Dr. Schwab to introduce the management ideas he writes about in his book.
The conference was initially meant as a one-off gathering. Dr. Schwab had just accepted a job at the University of Geneva to be a Professor in Business Strategy, so at the time he had no ambition of turning the European Management Forum into the multi-national organization that it is today. But Dr. Schwab’s story is one where his life’s core passions in academia and research have manifested itself so successfully in the form of this European Management Forum, and so year after year, the gatherings in Davos continued and expanded.
With the World Economic Forum brand being grounded on the subject-matter expertise and passions of Klaus Schwab, it begins to make sense to see how today’s most famous conference for gathering the world’s biggest power brokers got its start as a conference produced by someone who founded the economic theory on “stakeholders”. Chairmen and CEOs of the Fortune 500, political leaders and ambassadors of the G20, civic leaders, philanthropists and social entrepreneurs, media moguls, tech pioneers, scholars, spiritual leaders, Young Global Leaders and Shapers, are all communities that Dr. Schwab and his organization have deliberately created programs over the years to include in the gatherings of the World Economic Forum.
The World Economic Forum community has indeed become a gathering-ground for the rich and famous. However, the path to developing this community over the span of the past 4 decades has been one of continually expanding the stakeholders necessary for a forum whose core ambition is “Improving the State of the World”.
See you at the next exploration!