HOUSTON: Much has been written over the years about “Davos Man” — the species of human being that attends the annual gathering of the world’s elite in the Swiss town — but much less has been said about a closely related, but distinct, subspecies: CERA Man.
I’ve had the opportunity for the past few days to study CERA Man up close and personal in his own natural habitat — the CERAWeek by IHS Market annual conference in Houston, Texas — and feel qualified to paint a picture of this peculiar breed of human, who might very well decide the future of the planet.
CERA Man is related to his Swiss counterpart, but only in the same way as humans are related to Neanderthals. Perhaps they were the same species many years ago, and cohabited together in some roughly equidistant place — New York, perhaps or London.
But for the past four or five decades, the length of time the CERA and Davos events have been going, they have grown apart, to the extent that we can now discern significantly different characteristics.
Davos man is probably a native of Europe, but he is a citizen of the world, and proud to be so — an advocate of globalization, a believer in free trade, a social liberal and a philosophical free thinker. He might be from China, India or the Middle East, but deep in his heart he is Swiss — or at least would like a Swiss passport.
CERA man, by contrast, is likely to be American, and proud of it. Of course, energy is a matter of global interest, and the speakers on the various panels over five days reflect the international nature of the business. But the audience is overwhelmingly American, most likely from south of the Mason-Dixon line, and just as likely to be from “the great state of Texas,” as the refrain goes. He voted for Donald Trump, and will do so again.
Within the CERA Man breed, there are two separate types. The first, the oil man, predominates at the event. Most likely hailing from somewhere such as Odessa or Midland in West Texas, this man has crude flowing in his veins, and is likely to be descended from the 19th-century pioneers of the oil business in the US.
He knows his way around a rig, and typically began his career as a “roughneck” — the rig worker whose job is to get down and dirty with crude oil in its rawest state. From these humble beginnings, he rose through his own sweat and entrepreneurial talent, and now runs a multibillion-dollar shale business. He is the heart and soul of American energy.
The other type is the brains and conscience of US oil. Probably with an MBA from the University of Houston, or maybe from MIT or Stanford, he is acutely aware of the energy challenges — sustainability and environmental issues, for example — but also knows how to make a buck from the financial side of the industry. He is on good terms with the Wells Fargo bank’s Houston branch.
As for CERA woman, she is hard to observe. Certainly there are females of the species at the event, but they are few and far between at the daytime proceedings of this overwhelmingly male gathering, which is a trait they share with Davos woman.