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Davos: 'Changing the game' over cocktails

By Richard Quest, CNN
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
  • Richard Quest heads to Davos, where everyone, it seems, has an event they want him to attend
  • Among the guests are the world's biggest political, economic and corporate players
  • Governments meet corporations; corporations meet clients and the press meet everyone

Editor's note: Richard Quest is CNN's international business correspondent and presenter of Quest Means Business; the definitive word on how we earn and spend our money. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- For the past few weeks my email box has been slowly, inexorably, filling up with Davos invites. A seminar here, a reception there, a late nightcap thrown in. Everyone, it seems, has an event -- and they want you to attend.

There are the governments bringing along their hot-shot ministers, with whom you can schmooze over canapes; the consulting groups holding parties to reveal their latest surveys; the NGOs seeking attention and coverage for their causes; the companies screaming "we're here, come and meet our CEO!"

Richard Quest
Richard Quest

Like opportunistic birds pecking juicy flies from the head of a wallowing hippo, they are feeding on the WEF's ability to attract the world's biggest political, economic and corporate players. Governments meet corporations; corporations meet clients; the press meets everyone. All have a story to tell and an agenda to sell.

Allow me to give you a taste of some of this year's events: one company has invited me to a "thought provoking breakfast discussion on the future of human capital" (dress code: Business casual; funny - I was going to wear my ski gear); another is offering a session on "re-defining success in a digital age." Doesn't salary count anymore?

Then of course there is the need to have a USP. One consulting group has tied its Davos invite to a photography exhibition: "Game changing -- now is the time!" Everyone wants to be seen to be game changing.

Feeding the famous at Davos
Richard Quest's Davos do's and dont's

There are some obvious winners. The Sochi Nightcap, sponsored by Coke and the Russians, will celebrate the two week countdown to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Since it's late -- from 10 'til midnight - and also sponsored by Russian business, I predict with confidence that this will be both full and very lively.

Then of course there are the hardy perennials, such as PWC with its Global CEO Survey launch, featuring cocktails.

There are some events that you just don't miss (if, that is, you are lucky enough to be invited). The informal closed breakfast session with Shimon Peres is always a fascinating chance to hear the 91-year-old president of Israel speak with prescience on world issues. It alone is worth the trip to Davos.

Everyone from Martin Sorrell's WPP to the government of South Africa wants a bit of your time during the Davos week. And all of this is on top of the 88 pages of official panels, seminars and discussions.

Crucially, invitations are always described as "individual and non-transferable" as if there are hordes of interlopers waiting to freeload. To guarantee your place it is not enough to simply be a Davos attendee, you need to be invited to each specific event too.

Davos is probably the world's most elite society, but it dresses itself up as a non-elite event. Don't be fooled. You must wear a specially coloured badge, which shrieks your status to others. There are events to which you may be granted admission or be barred from joining. Even the hotel that you are allocated speaks volumes (please WEF, some will beg, don't put me in Klosters this year... pretty please!).

But there is one meeting place for everyone at Davos, where status goes out of the window, and who you are matters less than if you can pay for the ridiculously priced drinks: the Piano Bar. Late, very late at night, they pack them in with bone crushing disregard for comfort. Everyone from interns and volunteers, to CEOs and government leaders - the lot. Drunken singing and high jinks ensue.

This is a truly Swiss experience because the Piano Bar is neutral territory. It doesn't matter how you got to Davos, or why you are there; once you're in the Piano Bar all that matters is that you drink, sing and make merry.

Then the early hour arrives, and the chance for a couple of hours' sleep, before it's time to attend that morning breakfast discussion, redefining something or other. You will only wish you could remember what.

Read more:

All you need to know to be a Davos delegate

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