Bloomberg declares war on Davos from its Lion City den
The lanyards have all been put away, the chairs stacked in the Great Ballroom of the Capella Hotel in Sentosa, Singapore, and the inaugural New Economy Forum has been wrapped up.
It was the first of what Michael Bloomberg, founder of the global news and information group, promises will be an annual event, discussing the big issues in the global economy, turning a distinct eye on the boom economies of Asia. It was an informative and enjoyable two days, with plenty of new ideas jostling for attention from the 400 or so attendees.
Here are the six top things I took away from Lion City.
1. Singapore certainly knows how to put on a show. The city is not known as the “Switzerland of Asia” for nothing. Everything worked with clockwork efficiency, and the venue was perfect. Sentosa is a leisure resort off the island’s south coast, and it was self-contained and compact enough to ensure ease of access from several hotels to the glitzy Capella. One word of advice though: If the event is held there again, the organizers should ensure better media access than via the underground loading bay at the Capella. Literally the “tradesmen’s entrance,” it was a gloomy and stifling introduction to the glitzy hotel.
2. Bloomberg has declared war on Davos. The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss town was both the inspiration and main rival for the NEF, and executives left us in no doubt that the aim is to offer a more modern, relevant and Asia-focused alternative to the annual Alpine shindig. It is true that there are better places to learn about the global economy than Switzerland, but time will tell whether Bloomberg can pull it off in Asia. One attendee in Singapore, also a Davos regular of many years’ standing, said: “The forum pathway is littered with the gravestones of people who have tried to imitate Davos,” and he is right.
A Davos regular said: ‘The forum pathway is littered with stones from the graves of people who have tried to imitate Davos.’
3. Michael Bloomberg is indefatigable. At 76 years old, you might forgive him for perhaps wanting to take it easy, yet he shows no sign of slowing down, ready at the forum center at the crack of dawn and lasting until well after dinner. The NEF very much reflects his view of the world, and at the agenda’s core were the issues he has made his own: Global trade, action on climate change and inclusion in all aspects of business life. The only disappointment was that he did not use the event to announce his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election, but I suppose you can’t have everything.
4. The NEF wants to be seen to be doing things. At the beginning of the event, it listed 10 issues that it hoped to resolve in a pretty short time. Ranging from globalization to inclusion, it was an impressive hit list, and some 60 global business leaders in Singapore pledged to solve them. It was, also, another dig at Davos, which has been criticized for being just a talking shop with no practical achievements to its name. We will have to wait for the next NEF to judge Bloomberg’s success on this front.
5. The NEF is more suspicious that you might think of the world of social media and instant reaction communications. Michael himself criticized Twitter for encouraging a “140 character” mentality, and several panelists attacked new media for facilitating the spread of “fake news.” There were some disparaging words for the “techno-optimists” and “cyber-utopians” who, it was suggested, believe that technology will solve every challenge mankind faces. The NEF’s main preoccupation was a very old technology phenomenon — the prospect of a US-China trade war — identified as the top priority by nearly 70 percent of the delegates.
6. NEF Beijing in 2019 is not guaranteed. The Chinese capital was due to be the venue for the first event this year, until the Chinese found that it clashes with a big trade fare in Shanghai. Singapore stood in at the last minute. But judging by the chorus of gratitude and approval Singapore received at the closing event, you should not assume it will end up in Beijing next year. Much as Davos takes place in the ideological neutrality of Switzerland, maybe the NEF organizers will decide they are better off away from the heavy hand of the Chinese authorities. Singapore would no doubt welcome them back.
- Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai