DAVOS: I am penning these lines from the networking epicenter of the universe, the veritable “ground zero” of schmoozing — the Central Lounge of the Congress Hall at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.
Although some of the bigger beasts of the annual jamboree in the snow have stayed away this year — we all miss you, Donald and Vladimir — you would not know it from the stellar crowd in this venue. Virtually everyone who is anyone in the world of business, politics and media is here.
It is a journalist’s dream. My daily tactic has been to get on the shuttle from Klosters for the 20-minute trip to Davos as early as possible, head straight to the Congress Hall, and shack up in the Central Lounge.
As long as you can keep hold of your table and seat for the day, which is not always possible given the appetite for space here, you have a ringside location for the best flesh-pressing in the world.
For some reason, the Middle East contingent loves the Central Lounge, so you can hear the familiar sounds of Arabic and watch the chance encounters, the planned bilaterals and the (sometimes) awkward confrontations that take place when Saudis, Emiratis, Qataris and Egyptians are enclosed in a small space.
From time to time, the really big hitters pass through on their way to one of the upstairs meeting rooms. These people, such as head of state Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and global superstars including Tony Blair, bring in their train the full entourage — bodyguards, advisers and attendant media — and leave a virtual shock wave in their wake. Questions from journalists are invariably declined with a tight-lipped shake of the head.
But others are far more chatty. The rules of the Central Lounge are clear: It is Chatham House, off the record, deep background only, unless you manage to get the agreement of person with whom you are chatting to use something they said for publication. In my experience, that happens rarely.
But perhaps that is a good thing, because it puts these celebrities at their ease, and they open up in a way they never would if there was a camera or a tape-recorder in front of them.
The encounters come faster than an Alpine avalanche. Sometimes you’re talking to one eminent business leader, and you see over their shoulder another, even more interesting, personality. The etiquette is that you fake an urgent phone call and head off to the new attraction.
In the space of 30 minutes this morning, I had fascinating conversations with Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Dubai real estate group Damac, followed by Jose Silva, the relatively new CEO of Dubai’s luxury hotels group Jumeirah. Then came Essa Kazim, governor of the Dubai International Financial Center.
Around and in between these fascinating encounters, there was a clutch of Saudi ministers, the Kingdom’s award-winning film director Haifaa Al-Mansour, the leading historian of the oil industry Daniel Yergin, and many financial “masters of the universe,” as well as a veritable constellation of glamorous media people.
Davos is famed for the quality of its night-time networking — which will be the subject of a subsequent diary — but for daylight schmoozing, leave me in the Central Lounge.
• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai