24 hours in Davos

Day one in Davos has come to an end and I can say with certainty that I've walked away with some important learnings - some that make me optimistic for the future, others that are more concerning, writes Barri Rafferty at Ketchum.

The lessons from Davos are cause for both optimism and concern, writes Rafferty
The lessons from Davos are cause for both optimism and concern, writes Rafferty

The earliest sessions of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting were heavily influenced by the summit’s theme of ‘Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution’, or how the rapid changes in technology are transforming business, education, health, government and all other elements of society. 

These transformations have many positive ramifications – better access to precision medicine and more efficient business solutions, for example – but today’s sessions also reinforced that there are necessary steps to ensure that change is embraced in the right way.

To that end, here are three of my top takeaways from today’s sessions:

• "The future belongs to the fast." Hewlett Packard Enterprise chief executive Meg Whitman emphasised the need for moving quickly and staying ahead of the curve, but cautioned that moving quickly to capitalize on the latest technologies without engaging employees in the transformation would be a major roadblock to success.

"Organisational change requires a plan," she said, adding: "You must transform your organisation with the right people in the right job with the right attitude." Purchasing new technology is the easy part, but shifting internal culture to adopt that technology can be much harder.

• The Fourth Industrial Revolution starts with trust. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff shared an anecdote from earlier in the day, when he met the chief executive of TechnoGym during his workout at a temporary fitness centre set up by TechnoGym for WEF attendees.

From having used TechnoGym equipment in the past, the equipment recognised Benioff and his user data. As we give companies more access to our personal information, those companies must be held to a high standard. Trust is paramount in this age of increased connectivity.

• Gender parity still has a long way to go. While the forum has reported a one per cent increase in female attendees (from a mere 17 per cent to 18 per cent), gender parity remains a hot topic in Davos. At a breakfast this morning titled 'When Women Thrive', startling facts on the gender gap were shared. Here’s one that I can’t get out of my head – on pay alone, women are still a staggering 118 years away from closing the gender parity gap. Yet, if 10 per cent more women were in the workforce, GDP would increase by nine per cent, according to Mercer’s Patricia Milligan.

As a champion for women’s leadership, this statement gives me encouragement to continue the conversation and support the success of women in the workplace, which I will be focused on during my Friday panel, ‘Breaking Gender Biases’.

One other positive sign is a notable increase in the number of male chief executives willing to openly and honestly discuss gender parity within their own companies and, in fact, the guest speakers at today’s breakfast were all male. 

The Davos marathon has only just begun, but clearly the biggest issues of today and tomorrow are bubbling to the surface. I look forward to taking part in the discussions as the week goes on.

Barri Rafferty is senior partner and chief executive, North America, at Ketchum

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