“It’s my job
to have ideas”
Any global leader with something to say has already been his guest, since Professor Klaus Schwab has been chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) since he founded it in 1971. In 1998, he commissioned Steiner AG to build the WEF headquarters in Cologny. The building captivates through its openness and harmony – two values Schwab feels are, from a political perspective, endangered today.
Professor Schwab, what do you feel when you look at the world in 2015?
The international community is facing huge challenges. We are possibly seeing the end of a phase of international political cooperation which began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This phase was marked economically by closer integration and rapid growth across western industrial nations. Now it seems clear that we must face the challenges of increasingly violent extremism, reduced growth and foreign and monetary policies based on confrontation. In this context, the WEF 2015 was dedicated to the topic of “The new global context”.
Europe’s vision of peace became reality. What vision does Europe need today?
The concept of Europe actually brought us peace and stability. For someone like myself, someone considerably influenced by the Second World War, this was hugely important. Unfortunately, this is forgotten in times of economic challenges. I am concerned to see that national interests are again coming to the forefront. Take the example of Greece. We should be less concerned about who pays what and who gets what. It’s essential that Europe retains its competitiveness and political unity instead.
You grew up in Germany and, as someone who supports the concept of Europe, have been living in Switzerland for many years. What did you think when the Swiss voted in favour of the anti-immigration initiative in 2014?
I usually don’t express an opinion on political initiatives. However, we draft the annual report on global competitiveness and in this context I believe that the Swiss anti-immigration initiative could cost Switzerland its place at the top of the competitive rankings. When I speak to representatives from international organisations in Geneva or large companies in Zurich, there is the unanimous opinion that the lack of a stable legal framework is a problem. The ongoing changes to the legal system are calling Switzerland’s position as a favourable economic location into question. We are also sending the wrong message to young talents looking to join Swiss companies.
Also, the sale of Steiner AG to HCC 2010 has its origins at the World Economic Forum, where company directors Peter Steiner and Ajit Gulabchand were able to interact for years. In a way, you are the “figurehead” of the new Steiner AG...
That is undoubtedly too much of a compliment. But it is true that the special context the forum offers as an independent platform never ceases to facilitate new connections, projects and ideas amongst participants.
Was the presence of Peter Steiner at the forum also the reason why Steiner AG was able to build the WEF headquarters in Cologny in 1998?
Naturally, it’s a pleasure to have a partner you know and trust when carrying out a major project. Yet the crucial factors behind the selection of Steiner AG were the company’s expertise and professionalism.
How satisfied have you been with the building up to now?
I’m very satisfied! And I’m not the only one. Over the past year, almost all of my visitors have said that they are highly appreciative of the building. Personally, I believe it’s important for our head office to reflect the forum’s character and culture by being open, transparent and in harmony with the environment and residents. I and my colleagues are grateful to the architect Jacques Bugna and Steiner AG for having successfully implemented this.
You are now 76 years old. What does the future hold for the forum without Klaus Schwab?
My job is to have ideas. And as long as I have ideas and the passion to lead an institution such as the World Economic Forum, I will carry on doing so. However, we have structured the forum so well in recent years that it is well equipped to continue on without me, at least initially.