Magazine

What They Said At Davos


By Maria Bartiromo This year's World Economic Forum in Davos focused largely on the impact that the rising economies of China and India will have on the rest of the planet. But many world leaders and thinkers here on the Swiss Alps made only peripheral mention of the emerging behemoths when they were asked:

What is the most important issue for business in 2006?

TOM RUSSO Vice-Chairman, Lehman Brothers (LEH): We could easily see a scenario where the [Iran-Israel situation] develops into a major confrontation. Imbalances -- the trade imbalance, to a lesser extent the deficit -- can have a major impact on the dollar. Avian flu: High risk, low probability, but if it should happen, people won't come to work. We are trying to figure out how to run a firm from home. There are a lot of things with a low probability that can have a major impact. So this period of calm we are in is a bit deceptive. On the other hand, the U.S. economy is strong, unemployment is low, job creation high.

MARTIN SULLIVAN CEO, AIG (AIG): The threat of terrorism. That is the single biggest thing on a macro level, [especially] given the events in London, Jordan, and Madrid.

LARRY SUMMERS President, Harvard: Two issues: Will the co-dependency of U.S. borrowing and foreign lending...be disruptive? And what will the growth of skilled production in India and China mean for the structure of the global economy? That will be the story of the decade.

ZHANG XIN Co-CEO, real estate developer SOHO China: Coming from China, the single biggest challenge is income disparity. You see the high end growing faster...[while] the mass population is still trying to satisfy basic needs. Then you have the government saying we can't allow prices to grow too much. That hurts our business and the group that is the engine of growth.

BRYAN MOSS President, Gulfstream Aerospace (GD): The most important issue is the level of confidence in the economy that key decision-makers have over a multiyear span. We could talk ourselves into a downturn. Another near-term concern I have is the situation in the Middle East. To me, Iran could go out of control very quickly.

ANN WINBLAD Partner, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners: The most important issue is to be an innovator. You can't participate in the global market unless you're looking ahead.

JOSEF ACKERMANN Chairman, Deutsche Bank (DB) Management Board: Big terrorist attack or a collapse in asset prices because real estate prices are so high.

VICTOR CHU Chairman, First Eastern Investment Group: Bird flu. It would impact everything, and you can't prepare. If we don't have an epidemic by June, then we are O.K. For Asia, that is the most important issue. No. 2 is Iran.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN Author of The World Is Flat and New York Times (NYT) columnist: One word: energy. The biggest risk for 2006 is that prices stay high.

CRAIG BARRETT Former Chairman, Intel (INTC): The continued movement of content into the digital sphere and the Internet. All the [action] you've seen in the last six months, including Disney (DIS)-Pixar (PIXR) and getting Steve [Jobs] on their board, will [speed up that process]. It's not just entertainment, it's news, too. All industries will get impacted by the dramatic shift in the delivery of content.

SERGEY BRIN Co-Founder, Google: The environment and escalating disasters. Global poverty. All businesses should care about these issues.

Maria Bartiromo is the host of CNBC's Closing Bell


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