January 28th, 2009
01:09 PM GMT
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DAVOS, Switzerland - I often ask myself why do I bother to come here? Then I remember, I am here as a journalist covering what the leaders say and do. But why do so many delegates, who have a choice, come here? Surely they would be better off tending to their business back home?

Ordinary delegates say they want to hear what world leaders say about crisis.
Ordinary delegates say they want to hear what world leaders say about crisis.

This morning I got the official schedule. Some of the sessions are extremely timely and relevant. The "Brainstorm - What happened to the Global Economy?" panel promises to be good. But other sessions, like "What is Good Design?" or "Political Art: What Now?" while interesting in an esoteric way, are hardly vital at this time of crisis.

In the registration hall I asked "ordinary" delegates why they came. Not the high and mighty - just mid-level executives and officials who make up the bulk of Davos.

Some said they wanted to hear world leaders and decision makers talk about the best way out of the financial mess (after all Vladmir Putin, Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown Wen Jiabao are all scheduled to speak). Others come to continue their dialogue with clients and suppliers and discuss what they need to do next.

Representatives from NGOs and aid groups like UNICEF attend, to make sure their causes are not forgotten in this moment of crisis. One lucky businessman is here to talk to investors in medical research - yes, there are still some people with money to invest.

Lots of delegates have been coming to Davos for many years - this event is part of their calendar. Just as you don't stop going to visit relatives at Christmas, so you still come to Davos in a crisis; even more so, they would say.

Perhaps the real reason to be here is summed up by the delegate from Asia who said "opportunity is the opposite of crisis." Quite!

Tune in to CNN International each evening at 1900 GMT to catch Richard’s new show, ‘Quest Means Business.’

For more coverage of this year’s World Economic Forum, go to our special Davos page.



January 28th, 2009
06:25 AM GMT
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DAVOS, Switzerland - OK, OK, so Davos is known for its parties. And even in these hard times, a few social shindigs are bound to survive the blizzard of bad news that is blowing through the World Economic Forum.

Workers install chairs at the Davos Congress Center in advance of the opening of the World Economic Forum.
Workers install chairs at the Davos Congress Center in advance of the opening of the World Economic Forum.

There are, in fact, four parties written into the official program: the "welcome reception" as participants arrive on the Tuesday night, the "opening buffet" on the Wednesday, the lavish "cultural soiree" on the Saturday night and the "farewell buffet lunch" on the Sunday.

Even in 2009, all four are there in black and white. But on the basis of the first of them, those who come here for a break from the recession will be badly disappointed.

Even the space in which the first reception was held – in the plush Hotel Belvedere - tonight seemed somehow shrunken, if not misshapen. The proffered glass was modest, and the canapés (some of which I remembered as being so large and extravagant as to challenge one's dignity and good manners) positively normal in their dimensions.

As in previous years, CNN had asked permission to send in a camera to shoot some footage of participants enjoying their happy reunion. "No," came the polite reply, to our initial puzzlement.

Then the Swiss centime dropped. Davos is not about having a glass in one's hand any more. Parties are off-limits to our lenses; the WEF doubtless frets that such images sit badly with the image of an earnest and penitent gathering of business and political leaders, bent on finding The Way Out Of This.

Eager to relax after a long day but shamed into doing something more worthy, I take out my notepad, cross the hall and join what is billed as a cocktail party cum press briefing by a large consultancy firm.

CEOs, I learn, have never been so glum about their prospects, and expect any recovery to be protracted and hesitant. They are losing sleep at the thought of disruption to capital markets (the credit crunch, to you and me), over-regulation burgeoning energy costs and a lack of key talent. This clearly was never a party intended to go with a swing.

And why should it? Welcome to Davos in the recession. These truly are different times.



January 27th, 2009
11:12 PM GMT
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DAVOS, Switzerland - If we needed reminding why this week's World Economic Forum is important, look at the pages of any newspaper: job losses, bank write downs, economic collapse and no end in sight.

In previous years at Davos there has been the feeling that the delegates have been deciding the best way to improve the world; rarely tempered by doubts of failure or mistake. Now the errors, the failures, the disasters of decision making are as evident as the mountain itself. So this year when some delegates sound off about what must be done, they might be met with, "You got us into this mess in the first place."

Klaus Schwab the founder of the WEF recognises this, telling me this year's forum will be "...more modest. People see that they have failed to a certain extent as leaders. Even in Davos ...nobody was really listening."

Which begs the question why we are bothering to listen to these people again? Simple. They are the ones who have to get us out of the mess. Schwab points out "take the bankers, they are part of the problem but they are also part of the solution so that's the reason we still integrate them here. "

Klaus Schwab agreed that there had to be more humility at this years forum. Ultimately he admits that means hearing bankers and leaders say "sorry."

Tune in to CNN International each evening at 1900 GMT to catch Richard's new show, 'Quest Means Business.'

For more coverage of this year’s World Economic Forum, go to our special Davos page.



January 27th, 2009
11:41 AM GMT
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If we needed reminding why this week's World Economic Forum  is important, look at the pages of any newspaper: job losses, bank  write downs, economic collapse and no end in sight.

In previous years at Davos there has been the feeling that the delegates have been deciding the best way to improve the world;  rarely tempered by doubts of failure or mistake. Now the errors, the failures, the disasters of decision making are as evident as the mountain itself. So this year when some delegates sound off about what must be done, they might be met with, "You got us into this  mess in the first place."

Klaus Schwab the founder of the WEF recognises this, telling me this year's forum will be "...more modest. People see that they have  failed to a certain extent as leaders. Even in Davos ...nobody was really listening."

Which begs the question why we are bothering to listen to these people again? Simple. They are the ones who have to get us out of  the mess. Schwab points out "take the bankers, they are part of the problem but they are also part of the solution so that's the reason we still integrate them here. "

Klaus Schwab agreed that there had to be more humility at this years forum. Ultimately he admits that means hearing bankers and leaders say "sorry."

Tune in to CNN International each evening at 1900 GMT to catch  Richard's new show, 'Quest Means Business.'

For more coverage of this year’s World Economic Forum, go to our special Davos page.



January 26th, 2009
11:19 PM GMT
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DAVOS, Switzerland - I like to arrive in Davos a few days before the World Economic Forum begins when I can experience the picturesque Swiss town without the thousands of delegates. During the Davos week, getting a hotel room here is impossible.

Many stay in apartments, or worse, in nearby towns (oh the shame of it!). This year I made a bit of Quest Personal History (QPH)! I am so early I am the only person staying in my hotel. The existing guests checked out (a group of German skiers) and the manager asked me what time I wanted him to come in to make my breakfast, since I am the only person here.

In all my years of travel for CNN Business Traveller, I have stayed in big hotels, small hotels, grand hotels, shocking hotels… but I have never been the ONLY guest staying in a hotel.

By this evening, other early birders will have arrived and I shall have to ‘share’ my hotel! In the days ahead I shall write about the issues at Davos.

Until then I shall enjoy another moment of QPH… today I will ski! I know of no real research into this, but delegates always ask each other, “have you ever actually skied during Davos?” The answer is usually long and rambling about why best intentions have been thwarted; panels, meetings, lunches “got in the way."

This year I will get up the mountain, then when the question is asked I can be very smug and say “of course I have skied, oh, and I even had the hotel to myself!”

Hotels and skiing… this is indeed going to be an historic Davos meeting!

Tune in to CNN International each evening at 1900 GMT to catch Richard’s new show, Quest Means Business.

For more coverage of this year's World Economic Forum, go to our special Davos page.



January 26th, 2009
04:25 PM GMT
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DAVOS, Switzerland – It's the contrasts that hit you when you come to Davos. All those mountains and snow, all that Swiss cleanliness - it all feels a long way from the gloom and mud of winter in the English countryside, which is where I was only 36 hours ago.But there are some other big contrasts, too. Even before the World Economic Forum begins, Davos 2009 feels a lot more than 12 months away from Davos 2008. Then, we thought we'd get away with a bit of a slowdown, and emerging economies like China would take over as the engines of global growth and save us from recession. Now, that recession is a reality, and today my inbox is clogged with internal CNN e-mails confirming tens of thousands of job losses: Home Depot, Deere, Sprint Nextel, Caterpillar and on and on and on.

A worker clears away snow ahead of the Davos 2009 forum.
A worker clears away snow ahead of the Davos 2009 forum.

So this year's Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum will be a rather more austere affair than its predecessors – even more sober than last year's. Old hands who've been here many times before agree that growth has given way to decline much faster than they ever expected. That has frankly awed participants into a more businesslike attitude towards their annual jolly to Switzerland.

Not that it looks that way if you go down to the kitchens of, say, the Arabella Sheraton in Davos. Amid the bustle of preparing for six days of non-stop catering, an assistant chef shows me storerooms full of gourmet supplies. My eye alights on one carton full of something pink and white and shrunk-wrapped: lobster, I ask? Nothing so mean, laughs my guide. Kamchatka crab legs, apparently, a Russian delicacy.

Oh yes, there will be quite some parties here, as every year. But some of the biggest names are canceling or cutting back. Goldman Sachs is reported to have nixed its bash for this year, and a lot of others are wary of being seen to live it up in the Swiss mountains while the world economy crumbles.

Nevertheless, the numbers of participants and hangers-on (like me) will be broadly similar to the turnout last year. For corporate leaders, there is a genuine reason for abandoning their desks and sneaking off to the mountains: we are in uncharted economic waters, and anyone who looks like they might know how to sail us back to growth will be seized on and pumped for ideas.

In Davos, dinners, drinks and deals usually win out over debates, deliberations and discussions. But in 2009 the boot will be on the other foot. With uncertainty clouding the global outlook, the networking will be about what was always originally intended: trading ideas. Trimmed of its excesses, and focused sharply on the economy, this time the World Economic Forum will be about listening.

For more coverage of this year’s World Economic Forum, go to our special Davos  page.



January 26th, 2009
11:42 AM GMT
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DAVOS, Switzerland - I like to arrive in Davos a few days before the World Economic Forum begins when I can experience the picturesque Swiss town without the thousands of delegates. During the Davos week, getting a hotel room here is impossible.

Many stay in apartments, or worse, in nearby towns (oh the shame of it!). This year I made a bit of Quest Personal History (QPH)! I am so early I am the only person staying in my hotel. The existing guests checked out (a group of German skiers) and the manager asked me what time I wanted him to come in to make my breakfast, since I am the only person here.

In all my years of travel for CNN Business Traveller, I have stayed in big hotels, small hotels, grand hotels, shocking hotels… but I have never been the ONLY guest staying in a hotel.

By this evening, other early birders will have arrived and I shall have to ‘share’ my hotel! In the days ahead I shall write about the issues at Davos.

Until then I shall enjoy another moment of QPH… today I will ski! I know of no real research into this, but delegates always ask each other, “have you ever actually skied during Davos?” The answer is usually long and rambling about why best intentions have been thwarted; panels, meetings, lunches “got in the way."

This year I will get up the mountain, then when the question is asked I can be very smug and say “of course I have skied, oh, and I even had the hotel to myself!”

Hotels and skiing… this is indeed going to be an historic Davos meeting!

Tune in to CNN International each evening at 1900 GMT to catch Richard’s new show, Quest Means Business.

For more coverage of this year's World Economic Forum, go to our special Davos page.



January 26th, 2009
07:34 AM GMT
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TOKYO, Japan — Before you get to the front door of Canon's headquarters in Tokyo, you can hear it – a virtual stampede of employees pouring out of the building right at 5:30pm. You might think it's not so unusual. The day is over and workers should go home, right? But this is Japan, where the 12 hour workday is the norm. Sure, you can go home at 5:30pm, but you better pack your guilt with your briefcase. That is, except at Canon, twice a week.

Japan’s health ministry reports the country’s birthrate is well below that needed to maintain the population.
Japan’s health ministry reports the country’s birthrate is well below that needed to maintain the population.

At Canon, the company shuts off the lights and turns off the heat to force employees out by 5:30pm. There are two reasons – to cut overtime, but also an unusual one: to encourage employees to have more babies. Watch Kyung Lah's report on Canon's initiative

The thinking goes, while there's less work to do in a historic recession like this one, corporations might as well get to fixing another major social problem in Japan: the low birthrate. Keidanren, Japan's largest business group with 1300 major international corporations as members, issued a plea to its members to let workers go home early to spend time with their families and help Japan with its pressing social problem.

Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare reports the country's birthrate is 1.34, well below the 2.0 needed to maintain the population. Part of the problem is the expected 12 hour workday. Toss in the high cost of living and the social rigidity towards women and parenting, and you have a major problem on your hands. Compounding the problem, Japan is aging at the highest rate of any country in the world. The world's second largest economy, say many analysts, faces its greatest threat from its own social problems, not an outside force. Without some sort of active change in the current social and work structures, warn sociologists, Japan's population will buckle under its population proportions.

The 5:30 p.m. lights out program is one simple step towards helping solve that problem, with the added benefit of slashing overtime twice a week across the board. Employee Miwa Iwasaki isn't complaining, saying, "It's great that we can go home early and not feel ashamed." If you can feel good at work a couple of times a week, that's a rare silver lining in the current global economic storm.

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January 21st, 2009
08:38 PM GMT
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NEW YORK - In his inauguration speech President Barack Obama said, "...those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel briefs U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel briefs U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.

He has wasted no time putting those words into action. Wednesday Obama announced a pay freeze for senior White House staffers.

Perhaps more importantly, he also imposed new limits on lobbyists, saying anyone who works in his administration and leaves can not lobby the White House while he is in office.

It is unclear how much of an immediate impact these changes will have, but it is a step in the right direction.

A government job is not supposed to be an internship for a lucrative lobbyist job. Special interests wield huge power in DC.

They impact legislation in a way that the founding fathers never envisioned.

It will be hard to break their grip, but if Obama can make a start, it may go a long way in trying to restore people's faith in government.

Do you think Obama can usher in real reform in Washington or is this just more talk?

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Filed under: BusinessUnited States


January 19th, 2009
04:45 AM GMT
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TOKYO, Japan - Everybody I know has that odd uncle or aunt who seems to magically ruin the next wedding or family holiday meal; the relative who drinks too much or maybe says inappropriate things, wrecking what should be a pleasant night for the family. At Tokyo's famed Tsukiji Fish Market, it's not a family member but misbehaving tourists.

A tourist snaps a picture at Tokyo's famed Tsukiji Fish Market.
A tourist snaps a picture at Tokyo's famed Tsukiji Fish Market.

Japanese TV caught drunken tourists from London licking a US $10,000 tuna at the before-dawn auction.

A few minutes later, the camera crew videotaped French tourists joyriding on a fisherman's trolley.

Such behavior led the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to ban tourists from the market for one month, trying to give its multi-billion dollar tuna industry a brief respite.

The market estimates US$18 million worth of fish pass through Tsukiji everyday and are auctioned before dawn. That's US $4.8 billion a year.

That fish passing before point-and-shoot tourist cameras become sushi at some of the world's premier restaurants seems to elude some tourists, who might think they were at Disneyland, the working market says.

"The tourists sometimes bother us," says tuna wholeseller Junichi Honma, who bought US$50,000 worth of tuna at this morning's auction.

"The time is limited for the auction, only about an hour, and they think this is just a sightseeing show. This is our livelihood."

The market re-opened for tourists today and a few dozen tourists returned. Most were well-behaved, though a couple did nearly step on a US$8000 tuna.

They all seemed delighted to get a rare glimpse of commerce from the sushi nation of the world.

But for it to continue, the market is asking its international guests to use common sense while visiting.

For example, drinking at one of Tokyo's all-night clubs and immediately arriving for the tuna auction at 5:30 a.m. probably will make you a poor guest.

The market says it will try to keep the auction open for its visitors but adds that it all depends on future behavior.

So, for the sake of the majority of good visitors, please don't be that inappropriate relative. You've heard your mother complain about it.

It doesn't make her or this world-famous market very happy.

Watch my report of the footage that sparked the tourist ban.

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Filed under: BusinessJapan


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