Building an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation

The Triumph of an Idea

The second Davos was the first meeting at which the Forum welcomed a head of government.


Replicating the success of the inaugural European Management Symposium would be a challenge. By 1972, the novelty of a high-level intimate and interactive conclave on the most important issues of the day had diminished. Yet there was a clear need for top business leaders to gather to discuss the challenges ahead. On 15 August 1971, US President Richard Nixon shocked the world when he ended the gold standard, the direct convertibility of the American dollar to gold. This move roiled financial markets and raised questions about the international monetary system and the durability of fixed exchange rates.

Despite this, the second symposium attracted nearly 300 participants, some 150 fewer than the first. The European Management Forum again insisted on being selective, with personal and non-transferable invitations issued only to the CEOs of major companies. Held under the theme “Developing a European Corporate Strategy”, the second Davos was to be chaired by Hermann J. Abs, the chairman of Deutsche Bank and one of the most prominent business leaders at that time. At the last minute, Abs had to cancel his participation. Klaus Schwab stepped in, the first and only time he would serve as a meeting chair.

Pierre Werner, the president of Luxembourg, presented what became known as the Werner Plan that laid out the pathway for European monetary union and a single currency. Another speaker was Wernher von Braun, deputy associate administrator of the UN National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and one of the most celebrated rocket scientists of his generation.

Also participating was trade unionist and labour movement leader Charles Levinson, the general-secretary of the International Federation of Chemical and General Workers’ Federation (now the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions).

The roster of participants and speakers demonstrated how, from its earliest years, the Forum aimed to bring together at its Annual Meeting not only the most important corporate leaders and business strategists but also heads of government, technology pioneers, public intellectuals and civil society leaders. The daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung proclaimed the second Davos a success. It had been a “triumph of an idea”, the newspaper declared.1

  1. “Zweites Europäisches Managementsymposium: Sieg einer Idee”, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 12 February 1972