Just to have the opportunity to be invited to Davos, you must be invited to be a member of the World Economic Forum, a Swiss nonprofit that was founded by Klaus Schwab, a German-born academic who managed to build a global conference in the snow.
There are several levels of membership: the basic level, which will get you one invitation to Davos, costs 50,000 Swiss francs, or about $52,000. The ticket itself is another 18,000 Swiss francs ($19,000), plus tax, bringing the total cost of membership and entrance fee to $71,000.
But that fee just gets you in the door with the masses at Davos, with entry to all the general sessions. If you want to be invited behind the velvet rope to participate in private sessions among your industry’s peers, you need to step up to the “Industry Associate” level. That costs $137,000, plus the price of the ticket, bringing the total to about $156,000.
Of course, most C.E.O.’s don’t like going anywhere alone, so they might ask a colleague along. Well, the World Economic Forum doesn’t just let you buy an additional ticket for $19,000. Instead, you need to upgrade your annual membership to the “Industry Partner” level. That will set you back about $263,000, plus the cost of two tickets, bringing the total to $301,000.
And if you want to take an entourage, say, five people? Now you’re talking about the “Strategic Partner” level. The price tag: $527,000. (That’s just the annual membership entitling you to as many as five invitations. Each invitation is still $19,000 each, so if five people come, that’s $95,000, making the total $622,000.) This year, all “Strategic Partners” are required to invite at least one woman along as part of an effort to diversify the attendee list.
As part of the strategic partner level, you get access to the private sessions as well as special conference rooms to hold meetings. And perhaps the biggest perk of all, your car and driver are given a sticker allowing door-to-door pick up service.
At the moment, the forum says they are not accepting applications to become “strategic partners” unless the company is from China or India and must be one of the 250 largest companies in the world.
To truly understand the enduring (if fading) appeal of the World Economic Forum, you have to go back to high school. One thing we learn in high school is that human beings, like wolves and fish and most other lower life forms, travel in packs. We also learn that there is a pecking order to those packs. And in every high school there is a group of cool kids who enhance their status simply by hanging out with one another. In my school, we hung out each morning along a certain wall in the front hall. (Yes, I was a cool kid in high school. Of a sort. The nerdy, artsy sort with an Isro.)
Rothkopf then notes Davos is fading because it can’t deliver the networking goods. It costs too much. The new cool kidz, the Chinese, aren’t part of it, and it’s too big. He closes with a Steve Case quote that neatly sums up Case himself in a sentence and rescues Rothkopf’s high school metaphor. Amazing that Rothkopf only gets it now.