The Trump effect. Security, already tight in this valley squeezed between high mountain ranges, was much, much tighter on Friday. More automatic pistols on hips and more personal-carry machine guns at the ready. More police rifles evident on the rooftops, held by winter camouflage troops. More dogs. More vigilance. And more people. The fourth day is usually when everyone in Davos eases up, slips away for the slopes and an easy sunset dinner before heading home on the weekend. Not this time: Donald J. Trump was set to take the stage on the last day of the 48th World Economic Forum.
American, but not alone. The Donald was facing a skeptical crowd, and somewhat of an unwelcoming crowd. The scattered boos and hisses began even before he took the stage. But it all seemed to energize him. The speech, for once, was tightly scripted and that, some would say, was because he had a different audience in mind: his conservative base back home that wanted to see him firmly defend their values before a foreign audience. They were not disappointed. And the audience here was somewhat stunned when they heard the man they thought of as the world’s leading isolationist say: “America First, but that doesn’t mean America alone.” This from him also was unexpected by this audience: “I’m here to represent the interests of the American people and affirm America’s friendship and partnership in building a better world.” He was sounding, well, very presidential!
Behind, the buzz. The President’s evangelizing remarks in Davos on Friday were somewhat surprising to this crowd of unbelievers, but the real unsolved mystery here among the chattering classes over drinks and dinner was how America’s Daniel had first decided to step into this den of the world’s financial lions to being with. A month ago, no one predicted this President would be floating down from the Alpine sky and addressing this crowd of the world’s wealthiest. I can report to you the buzz on the final day of the World Economic Forum: The French in array here are convinced it was their boy-president Emmanuel Macron who first suggested to Trump that he should soldier up and face his European critics head-to-head. Forum loyalists believe that it was rather the ever-persuasive Klaus Schwab, founder and host of the World Economic Forum from its inception, who never stops selling and who won the day. I’m told by an Administration staffer that the President, traveling elsewhere on Air Force One, heard the staff discussion of WEF and simply said, “Let’s go!” with only three weeks to spare, sending the standard U.S. security and advance teams into a genuine tizzy.
Brilliant PR. So, yes, “America First, but that does not mean America alone,” the president insisted here on Friday. “When the United States grows so does the world,” he explained. The real unsung White House hero, from my perspective, is the author of that one line. If it wasn’t Donald Trump himself who wrote it, then perhaps one of my tribe, a PR speechwriter. With those few words, he spoke eloquently to his base back home while extending the hand of a global dealmaker and the welcome of an America open to business to both the willing and the wary among the wealthy here in the near abroad. Ideas have real consequences … and messages have real meaning; my own agency, Crosswind, is founded on that principle. And I am not alone among communicators who believe that the most reliable path through a complex world of opposing forces is message first, and then healthy debate and real public dialog.
More rumor central. My favorite rumor about home, picked up at a bustling, fragrant and thankfully warm coffee shop 5,463 miles away from Austin, here on the main Davos Promenade, is talk that Austin’s Michael Dell is considering taking his company public again. I hope it’s true. I’ve helped companies, large and small, go public and others go private. And it never fails to energize both the market and management to find and communicate the very best in the enterprise in play. Who would have thought that a Jewish kid from Houston, dishwasher at 12 in a Chinese restaurant and a pre-med undergraduate at UT Austin, would end up among the very wealthiest individuals in the world – and among the most generous in Texas history. The Dell Medical School at the University of Texas that Michael and his wife Susan have endowed is today the flagship of a technological revolution in high-tech health care delivery that will literally transform our world and the lives of our grandchildren.
The royals. Donald Trump also improved relations with British Prime Minister Theresa May during his visit (“Rift? What rift?”), and his trip to the UK before year’s end is apparently back on. Even more fun, different venue, different drinks, now British sources – the Royal Family is considering a visit to America in the spring. If you’ve been watching The Crown on Netflix, you may wonder whether the Royals will be coming West because they want to or because the formidable Prime Minister has told the Queen et al. what’s required of them. Movie to follow?
Fintech Disruption. A delegation of business and political leaders from Pakistan made its first appearance at the World Economic Forum, hoping to attract business investment and financial technology. More than 87 percent of Pakistanis do not have banking accounts, representing more than 100 million people. Why should you care? Because a cash-based society is an unstable society in an already volatile region, among more social reasons, and disrupting terrorism funding means tracking the money. Meanwhile, cryptocurrency was the buzzword in every enclave of opportunity here as technology investors sought ways to introduce blockchain and bitcoin into the mainstream of American banking, financial services and business risk management. Through the “ledger in the cloud” and “the word we don’t talk about,” one pitch said we are going to “disrupt the financial industry in a big way.” I came away from Davos a believer.
Protests. There weren’t many protestors seen in the village, it’s too remote a trip for those who simply want to make trouble, but there was a funny guy in a white bear costume riding up and down Promenade, the main street of Davos, protesting what? I could not tell. And then, above the hill overlooking the Congress Centre, one building, four banners, competing protesting messages. Against Trump or for Trump? One had to guess. Samples: “Global warming with Fire And Fury!” and “They are so dangerous …They have to be fenced off.”
Home again, home again. I caught a flight out of Zurich home, surrounded by State Department and White House staffers and by World Economic Forum delegates. A great week where I think progress was made in reestablishing a dialog with the global influencers of business and public policy. A good trip for the president, and progress for our country. ‘Merica.
So much fun, and I heard a White House staffer say, “Now, we need to come back.”
Crosswind’s President and CEO, Thomas Graham, was in Davos last week during the World Economic Forum. He has been 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.