Building an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation

Tragedy and Security

The meeting marked the first time that the Forum had to take special measures to ensure the security of participants.


In September 1977, the Red Army Faction, an extreme left-wing terrorist group, kidnapped Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the President of both the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) and one of the most powerful men in Germany. His body was discovered more than a month later in the boot of a car.

This atrocity cast a tragic shadow over Davos. When he was abducted, Schleyer had already agreed to chair the 1978 European Management Symposium.

“The Congress Centre in Davos resembled a fortress,” reported the German business magazine Capital. “Participants – all of them highly paid managers – had to deposit their fingerprints, pass the computerized control each time they entered into the building and wind themselves through the guard mounted by policemen armed with machine guns. Yet they accepted the inconveniences without complaint.”1 The Forum has continued to give the security and safety of participants in its events the highest priority.

Global economic conditions remained at the forefront of participants’ minds, with more discussions focusing on the social responsibilities of enterprises and the challenge of equitable distribution of wealth in light of the recent downturn. “There are many reasons why we talk of an ‘adverse environment’, combined with catchwords such as ‘structural crisis’, ‘stagflation’, ‘energy crisis’, ‘lack of mutual trust’,” Klaus Schwab remarked in his opening address. Schwab continued:

“During the ‘fair-weather economy’, we grew accustomed to improving continuously our living standard and to expecting more and more social services from the state. A disease that I would call ‘pensioner mentality’ struck large circles of the population. Thus, for many years, the focus of discussion was wealth distribution. The annual growth rates of the gross national product being juicy, the distribution dispute did not demand real sacrifice from anybody. The question was solely whether increment turned out to be more or less important. Still today, our attitude, our political and social systems and mechanisms are dominated by the wealth distribution aspect.”2

Yet, Schwab argued, the concerns about fairness and equity had become much more serious and pressing.

In 1978, in addition to the Davos Symposium, the Forum convened nine roundtables – one in Washington DC for European investors, one in Brussels in collaboration with the European Communities, and the others in London, Amsterdam, Athens, Bonn, Rome and Paris. In the French capital, two separate meetings were held – one on France and the other with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The second Arab-European Business Cooperation Symposium took place in Montreux in May, again with over 1,500 participants.

  1. “Die Elitetreffs des Managementprofessors Schwab”, Capital, April 1978
  2. Klaus Schwab, Opening Address, Davos Symposium, 26 January 1978