The True Demise of Davos Man


Davos Man, a phrase attributed to the American political scientist Samuel Huntington, was all the rage in the late 1990s. The Financial Times once headlined "What's on the mind of Davos man?" in preparation for the annual gathering of the select best and the brightest's meeting in the small Swiss mountain village. Each year, top business executives mingle with policy makers and academics to review the world's agenda. Among the chosen few, there is leadership and order. Whether or not one agrees with who they are or their decisions, it is impressive that a group can meet informally to influence a global agenda. Not only does Davos Man have his/her pulse on what is happening, he/she also is in position to make things happen in the future.

Bloomberg Businessweek ran a story in 2010 on the death of Davos Man. Bruce Nussbaum argued that the Great Recession affecting world economies was a result of failed economic policies he attributed to the Chicago School of economics which was represented by the business executives hobnobbing in Davos. "Davos Man may be walking and talking in Davos next week, but he is stricken with a terminal irrelevance that infects both him and the conference that once celebrated his masterly success," Nussbaum asserted.

Recent events have shown not only the diffusion of power in the international system and the failure of an economic theory, but two very personal stories have shown collateral damage to Davos Man. The first is an explosive article in the Atlantic Monthly, followed up by several articles in the New York Times by and about Anne-Marie Slaughter. Former Professor at Harvard Law School, former Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, former first woman to head the U.S. State Department Policy Planning Department, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the ultimate Davos Man/Woman, starkly headlined: "Why Women Still Can't Have it All". Slaughter's argument, coming from obvious guilt that her adolescent son was rebelling because of a lack of maternal care, is that having a position of power at the same time as raising a family is not possible given the type of pressures inherent in Davos Man/Woman like careers. Admitting that her husband, a tenured professor at Princeton, "has spent more time with our sons than I have, " Slaughter bemoans having missed out on parenting, and very personally says that the image of Davos woman having it all is not possible given today's culture. Indeed, the woman who wrote "A New World Order" seems to be admitting a lack of order in her own very household.

The second Davos Man in trouble is the former head of Barclay's Bank, Robert Diamond. Diamond resigned over the scandal involving the bank's attempts to rig benchmark interest rates. Beginning as a lecturer at the University of Connecticut Business School, Diamond rose the corporate ladder to become Chief Executive of Barclay's Bank, earning as much as 10.1 million pounds ($16.5 million) in salary, bonuses and stock a year, making him the U.K.'s top-paid bank chief executive officer and becoming one of the most powerful corporate figures on both sides of the Atlantic. His testimony before a British parliamentary committee was riveting not because of his indignation at the behavior of some of his subordinates, but most deplorable because of his inability to accept personal responsibility. Not once did he say, "I was in charge. I am responsible. I'm sorry." Instead, Diamond placed all the blame on a small group who discredited the hard work of loyal and devoted Barclay employees. Beneath the veneer of order and impeccable management, Diamond only admitted that there were rogue traders who were negligent if not corrupt and implied that there were other banks if not the entire system who were also to blame. The parliamentary committee, much more polite than I would have wanted, did not push enough on the famous questions, "What did you know and when did you know it?" They were much too kind to the chief executive.

Slaughter and Diamond were at the summit of their careers in the public and private sectors. Both represent the best and the brightest epitomized by what has been called Davos Man. The article by Slaughter as well as the resignation of Diamond raise questions not about Davos itself, but about how our society prioritizes. Both Slaughter and Diamond were role models. Both were venerated by those in their professions. But beneath the veneer, both have failed. Slaughter admits her failings as a mother. Diamond was forced to resign because he was found failing as the chief executive of a major financial institution. One could argue about the failures of Davos Man's economic system, these are two clear examples of Davos Man's human failures.


July 7, 2012


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