The future of Klaus Schwab – Mr. Davos for more than half a century – became a talking point at this year’s meeting after World Economic Forum staff leveled harsh criticism of their president and the lack of a succession strategy.
A group of current and former VEF staff who contacted the Guardian said Schwab, 82, was a law unto himself and had surrounded himself with “nobodies” who were incapable of running the organization he founded in the early 1970s.
“Klaus has been at the head of VEF for 52 years. When he was born [in 1938] 122 out of 195 countries in the world did not even exist at the moment. He is completely unaccountable to anyone inside and outside the organization,” the group said.
“We are a group of current and former VEF employees. We want to play our part in encouraging debate about the role this organization plays in the world.”
The group said it wished to remain anonymous. “We are hesitant to come forward because Klaus is very well connected and can make life difficult for us even after we leave the VEF.”
Speculation about Schwab’s future intensified this week after an article in the online publication Politico said VEF’s strategic partners – the companies that finance the $390m (£315m) annual deal – were unhappy about the lack of a succession strategy.
A group of VEF staff members said they posted their criticisms on social media platform LinkedIn, but they were removed at the VEF’s request, which the organization denies.
In posts shared with the Guardian, he said: “There is not much future for VEF apart from Klaus, not only because there is no clear successor, but also because its board is such a snake’s nest that senior management will be at each other’s throats the moment the old man pop out.”
A VEF spokesperson said: “The Board of Directors decides on all future appointments of institutional leadership. The Forum has a strong institutional governance structure to ensure its continued ability to fully support its mission.
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is one of the leading international figures linked to the role.
A group of former and current VEF employees questioned the organization’s ability to function without Schwab at the helm.
“In most organizations the next generation of top leadership is poorly visible at upper management levels, but at VEF Klaus has surrounded himself with such a group of nobodies at the top that it’s hard to see how any of them would be taken seriously by anyone of any consequence inside or outside the organization.”
“Klaus chooses his leaders using the same criteria that Putin uses to choose deputies to the State Duma: loyalty, cunning, sexiness.” The quality of the people at the top reflects the type of people who work for the rest of the organization.”
The head of a British company agreed that there appears to be no successor to Schwab. “My impression is he’s going to die in his boots,” the executive said.
Another longtime Davos visitor expressed surprise that Schwab allowed speculation about his future to surface. “To be honest, I find it a bit disrespectful.” [given everything he has done] but he should have known it was going to happen and taken steps to prevent it.”
The World Economic Forum is a Swiss foundation and has no shareholders.