For the past six years, since its inception, I have been attending the World Economic Forum’s summer session in China for Global Growth Companies, now referred to as Summer Davos. A lot of people have asked, why go? What do you get out of the meeting? I ask myself the same question every year at budget time because, as the founder and CEO of an employee-owned company, I feel it is my responsibility to make sure we spend our money wisely and that each activity has a cost benefit. So I thought it might be useful to share my thinking.
First some background. The meeting takes place in September each year and alternates between Dalian and Tianjin, China—two interesting cities with very different feels. It has been fun to get to know them both. While not as large as Beijing or Shanghai, they are each large enough to dwarf even our largest U.S. cities.
This year about 2,000 people attended…a mix of nationalities, and leaders from business, government, academia, the media and NGOs. The conference takes place over three jammed-packed days. Unlike the Davos that is familiar to all of us, this one is not on a mountain top and the topics are not as “lofty.” They are practical and drill down into things I believe are important to business acumen and investment decisions (at least in the eastern/developing world), with a fair share of sessions about sustainability, entrepreneurship and changing business models.
I go with two hats. First I go as a CEO of a growing multinational company that has to make practical choices about business expansion, risk management, new ways of doing things and understanding long-term trends in a growing part of the world. I also go as a communications professional, with all the curiosity that goes with it. What has happened to the future leader of China who hasn’t been seen for almost two weeks? What is going on behind the scenes of the inflamed rhetoric between Japan and China? How is the upcoming U.S. election playing out in the business discussions of the Far East? What kinds of things are the most advanced CEOs doing to build their reputations as APCO gets ready to share our major research study on what makes for a Champion Brand? How does social media really work in China, and what do our clients need to know?
I think hearing a wide perspective on all these things makes me a better consultant and gives me a chance to bring fresh thinking to our company and to our clients.
So aside from being a little tired, attending this kind of meeting gets my adrenaline going for another year and gives me much better insight into a world that is changing all too fast. Oh yes, and friendships that have been developed over the years are renewed and enhanced as we break bread (or share rice cakes) and contemplate how different the world will be a year from now.