Enter America’s rock star. Monday and Tuesday, following record levels of snow, helicopters could be heard and seen flying through the nearby mountains. They were “shooting avalanches” so that the snow in the mountains didn’t unexpectedly sweep the billionaires in their best business attire down the valley. Today, the only helicopters in the sky were much louder and piloted by U.S. Marines, protecting the arrival of the President of the United States in his own Marine One helicopter which landed loudly like a concert’s rockstar on a hill a few yards away from Congress Centre, home of the World Economic Forum – much to the delight of the local elites.
Still America first. President Trump is only the second U.S. President to address this gathering of global business and government leaders. It took courage for this President for bringing his message of America First here. I, for one, understand how that can be a great thing for the global economy. The rise in U.S. markets and the drop in unemployment in our country are already lifting many ships abroad. Here are a few personal favorites from that message:
- America is committed to global growth and prosperity. When the U.S. economy grows, so does the world’s.
- The Trump Administration supports free and open trade — but free trade cannot flourish unless all countries are held accountable to the rules.
- Leaders must reform, not abandon, the international economic system. America’s goal is to make the global economy work for all sovereign nations, not to dismantle it.
Penguin shuffle. He might be President of the most powerful nation in the world, but I could see him in the distance mimicking the penguin-like walk of the rest of the crowds in Davos: shuffling carefully across the snow and ice to his waiting bullet-proof car. His entrance into the Congress Centre was met with lights, flashing and audible buzz of excitement. Texan Rex Tillerson’s smiling face said it all, as he soaked in it: This was suddenly a “populist” president even here, with a surprisingly warm welcome from the throng.
Like it, or leave: Feisty Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation, was taking no prisoners in her message here on Wednesday to those in the crowd who challenge the President’s message; said she: “Those who don’t want to listen to him can leave.” The buzz of that sharp comment quickly made its way around the Centre. But her point wasn’t really leave, but to stay to hear him out: Davos is precisely the right place for conflicting ideas to come together.
Trains, Planes & Automobiles. The billionaires were much more interested in the more detailed American infrastructure message Secretary Chao had come to share, as was I, knowing the backlog of highway, train and airport projects that Texas has on hold. She said that the Trump infrastructure plan is near ready for primetime and would cut all but the absolutely necessary in environmental and development review processes. Talking money, she became instantly more popular in this crowd.
Gunning for Texas. One of my greatest amusements in this land of milky snow and honied money is the gun talks I have once I have been “outed” as a Texan. Here are a few of the best:
- Global business executive who lives in California: “I just couldn’t move our headquarters to Texas, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with people bringing guns to the office and such.” I told him we Texans were mostly unarmed in most of our business meetings, but he has a preconceived notion that is going to take more than my persuasive conversation to change.
- A Russian technology investor: “Knowing the person you’re having a deep conversation with is also carrying a gun, does that inhibit the depth of your honesty and the vigor of your debate?” He was absolutely bewildered how he could carry on a business debate with someone across the table who might be angry enough to draw a weapon.
- European business publication editor: “Why do you Texans care so much about your guns?” I smiled and just changed the subject, although sorely tempted to ask him if he remembers a tea party event a few years back that led to that great American experiment. Private gun ownership played a pretty big role in that.
Amazon to Texas? I loved this rumor from one Silicon Valley insider: He fully expects Jeff Bezos to pick Texas over 19 other contenders for the second Amazon headquarters. Not because Bezos, born in New Mexico, raised in Texas, necessarily likes it under the Lone Star flag, but because he wants to help push back at Trump and turn Texas Democratic Blue. Well, Jeff’s space venture, Blue Origin, is already in Texas – Culberson County, and I think it still votes Republican red most days. But, yes, we do welcome Democrats in Texas, and I think he’ll find a good deal of the workforce he will hire and attract might not share his political yearnings, no matter how handsome the howdy.
Melinda’s message. Among the Texas-born billionaires who didn’t show up in Davos this year, Melinda French Gates of Dallas stands out. She has been here before but didn’t come this year. Instead, she mailed her homework in with just a passionate message to Davos delegates. She echoed the theme of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in asking a stronger commitment to gender parity and equality. But ever the quant and MBA, she is asking for better data: “In 2015, the United Nations identified 53 pieces of information the world needs to track to achieve global gender equality. The problem is, right now, we only have a decent baseline for 10 of the 53.” And this challenge: “We should have had the data 20 years ago. We need it now, and you have the power to collect it.” Well said … or, rather, well written.
Regional attendees: Executives from AT&T (Dallas) and Fluor (Irving) were in attendance this year, but perhaps more impressive was the heady presence from Mexico, including:
- Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, Secretariat of the Economy of Mexico
- Eugenio Madero, Chairman and CEO, Rassini (brakes)
- Paulo Carreño King, CEO, ProMéxico (trade and investment agency)
- Carlos Treviño, CEO, Pemex – Petróleos Mexicanos
- Jesús Cepeda, Founder, One Smart City (AI for cities and state governments)
- Salvador Alva, President, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) (MIT for Mexico)
- José Antonio González Anaya, Secretary of Finance and Public Credit of Mexico, Ministry of Finance and Public Credit of Mexico
- Nicolas Mariscal Torroella, Chairman of the Board, Marhnos SA de CV (international construction giant)
- Monica Flores, President, Latin America, ManpowerGroup (job placement) and,
- Carlos Pascual, Senior Vice-President, IHS Markit (international business intelligence).
Crosswind’s President and CEO, Thomas Graham, is in Davos this week during the World Economic Forum. He will be posting some of his experiences and encounters, with a particular eye for fellow Texans who have come for the lively debates on energy and the environment.