Davos: Recovery, Uncertainty and Governance

Posted by: Mark Spelman on February 2, 2010

My initial impressions of Davos 2010 was that the three dominant themes were recovery, uncertainty and governance. The early focus was on the speed and pace of recovery; the uncertainties of when to end the fiscal stimulus packages, the ongoing trade imbalances and the threat of currency revaluations combined with the urgent need to reform the financial sector.

These topics did dominate much of the agenda at Davos and the many informal conversations around the Congress Centre and the hotel meeting rooms.

However as one reflects on Davos 2010, it is the impressions, the people, the quotes, the facts that linger and stick in the mind. I leave Davos behind to face the challenge of 2010 carrying the following images in my mind.

The confidence of Asia--the positive growth rates of China at 8%-10% p.a. and India 7%-9% p.a. over the foreseeable future. This macro picture was represented most visibly during my interview with NDTV – one of India’s leading TV stations. The clear visible excitement of TV presenters and crew being at Davos--able to interview business leaders on the importance of India to the global economy was palpable and a clear demonstration of the changing world order.

The marginalization of Europe--many of the speakers were sober about European prospects for recovery--the Greek financial problems remained a constant backdrop throughout the week--Europe has a choice--it can reengage quickly outside of its borders and demonstrate that its single market, innovation and skills are relevant on the global stage or it spends the next few years stuck on its internal problems.

The frustration of the rest of the business community with the bankers on the speed of banking reform grew throughout the week. There was a sense in which we are all in this together. The business trust index has fallen from above 60% to 29% during the downturn showing the low standing of business in the eyes of the ordinary citizens. The informal conversations reflected the sense of urgency to do the right things--smart regulation and not fall into the trap of populism.

The determination of President Calderón of Mexico who showed great energy and desire to pick up the Copenhagen baton and make COP-16 a success. His willingness to listen to all parties, lead the process, manage expectations and work hard to find more tangible solutions gives grounds for optimism about the world’s ability to address our climate change challenges.

The reassuring words of the Saudis with their 4 million barrels per day of spare capacity; that we will not have an oil price spike in 2010. This demonstration of "the oil market is under control" was complemented by the opportunities in Iraq. The prospect of 10 million barrels per day being produced in Iraq by 2020 would be a dramatic turnaround if the political process in the country is able to remain stable over the next decade.

India, Greece, Mexico, oil, and trust are all the words to describe the big stories in Davos this year. It was a realistic and pragmatic forum--facing up to the real challenges ahead. The cynics will leave with enough evidence to say that Davos was another talking shop.

My takeaway is that Davos is an important point of calibration--it puts 2010 and the coming decade in a unique context which is impossible to get anywhere else--leadership is about direction, building trust and delivering results--no-one promises the landscape will be easy. The challenge is to take these impressions from Davos, recognize the realities of a multi-speed world and turn them into insights, opportunities and actions over the next 12 months.

Mark Spelman leads Accenture’s Global Strategy practice and runs Accenture’s global macro economic and political think-tank and the Institute for High Performance

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