Gotham’s New Davos Man

 

THE FORUM BEGINS at 2 p.m. on June 22, when attendees will file into the Grand Hyatt Hotel. They will not be given printed schedules telling them where to go for the two special discussions with as-yet-unnamed political leaders, or for, say, the closing talk on rebuilding corporate credibility.

Instead, each attendee gets an iPad. “No, it’s not decadent,” Mr. Attias said.

The next day there are interactive sessions, on the usefulness of failure, for example, followed by task forces on topics like developing and empowering workforces.
Mr. Attias talks about business problems with an arsenal of gesticulation. When he says “ideas,” he puts both pointer fingers to his temples. He points ahead for “holidays,” clenches for “United We Stand” and holds hands out and upward for “Wall Street.” He puts his thumb on top of his fist like Clinton for “trust,” then sticks both thumbs out for “strong signal.”

Citigroup chief executive Vikram Pandit is one of the forum’s announced speakers, and so is New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, even though the News Corporation’s new digital chief, Jonathan Miller, is one of the 13 advisory board members. Another advisor is Gary Winnick, who paid $30 million to settle a class action lawsuit after the collapse of his firm Global Crossing. “You know, we need to put together the new generation and what you call sometimes the old guard,” Mr. Attias explained. “I am someone who learned that it is important to put around the table people who were living in this ideal world with, sometimes, easy money.” He pronounces money like Monet.

He does not expect the forum’s first year to be lucrative. “But I am building something that could be sustainable for the future.” Out of the corporate leaders, policy makers and investors from sovereign wealth funds and private-equity funds and hedge funds who were invited, he said, 150 have signed up so far. He hopes that number will double.

“It takes time for people to realize an event is serious,” the French economist Jacques Attali, another board member, said this week. “The first year will be just the beginning.”

“I know that registrations are always coming at the last minute,” Mr. Attias said, before standing up slowly in the sun. “It’s quite amazing.”

mabelson@observer.com

Gotham’s New Davos Man