Building an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation

Davos Goes Global

This was a breakthrough year for the European Management Forum.

1975

This was a breakthrough year for the European Management Forum. Attendance at the European Management Symposium increased to 860 participants, including the CEOs and chairmen of the largest European companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Unilever and Philips.

In addition, the Forum entered into its first official cooperative arrangement with a UN agency, UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization), which is headquartered in Vienna. Meanwhile, the number of roundtables during the year rose to nine.

The Forum published its first institutional brochure, in which it described its role as follows: “The European Management Forum is an independent, self-financing, not-for-profit Foundation, aligned with the strategic needs of the top decision-makers of European business.”1 The document outlined seven ways in which the Forum serves business leaders through its programmes:

  • It observes the European and international economic environment
  • It discovers new trends and follows closely their development
  • It widens the horizon by pointing at the connections
  • It facilitates contacts at the highest level
  • It brings together leaders from business and government
  • It helps to find new business relations
  • It integrates its participants actively into creative programmes

After just five years, the Forum had gained acceptance at the highest levels of business and government. While not advocating policy or strategy, the Forum had become a respected organization that served as a valuable platform for business, government, civil society and other stakeholders to confer and collaborate. Klaus Schwab’s stakeholder theory was beginning to evolve into a broader concept of corporate global citizenship.

Schwab had gained significant experience in his five years at the helm of the Forum. Yet he was still only 37 years old. Olivier Giscard d’Estaing, Founding Dean and Director-General of the INSEAD business school and the brother of French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, was Co-Chair of the Davos meetings in the years 1973-1977. One day, Schwab asked his secretary to connect him with “Mr Giscard d’Estaing”. After a short while, he received a call and a female voice announced: “Je vous passe Monsieur le Président de la République.” (“I am putting you through to the President of the Republic.”) Suddenly, Schwab heard President Giscard’s characteristic deep voice and quickly realized that he had the French leader on the line. Nonplussed, he hung up. Many years later, at a dinner with Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who by then had left office, Schwab told him the story. Remembering the episode, Giscard remarked: “You are probably the only person who ever hung up the phone on a French president!”