Alan Mak

The Next Generation: the view from Davos

Published in Financial services in the UK on 07 February 2012

The theme for this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting, held at the end of January in the Davos, Switzerland, was 'The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models'. Over five days, the 2,600 delegates – top politicians, and senior leaders from business, finance, academia, media and civil society – were asked to "challenge long-held assumptions about society, politics, technology, business and economics" and come up with "New Models" (i.e. new solutions) to recurring global problems such as rejuvenating the global economy and restoring faith in capitalism. But it wasn't just senior leaders influencing the global agenda. Younger leaders too – from business and finance as well as other sectors – are becoming more integrated into the WEF's activities, and making an impact at Davos too. Established figures are realising that younger leaders can play a key role in changing the world and shaping the future. At this year's Davos, there was certainly a real emphasis on nurturing the next generation of global leaders in the same way that TheCityUK has started to nurture its Next Generation Vision (NGV) group and support global initiatives such as One Young World.

The WEF's well-established Forum of Young Global Leaders (YGLs) is a network of younger leaders under 40 from a spectrum of industries, much like TheCityUK's NGV group. One of the YGLs' most eye-catching projects is the Global Business Oath, where YGLs have partnered with the Thunderbird School of Management and others to encourage younger business leaders to "hold themselves to the higher standard of integrity and service to society that is the hallmark of a true professional" from the outset of their careers. This has obvious parallel's with the NGV's own call for positive values and behaviour to be the foundation of a career in financial and professionals services, for example by adhering to a moral code.

I was fortunate to attend a fantastic YGL event, 'The Purpose of Your Leadership', with a stellar panel consisting of David Rubenstein, founder of private equity firm The Carlyle Group; Howard Cox, a Partner at Greylock; Bill George, a member of the Goldman Sachs board, and Iris Bohnet, Academic Dean at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. In a wide-ranging discussion, they talked about the ability of young leaders to make a positive difference in the world, from business and finance to philanthropy and supporting NGOs. David Bernstein's advice for young leaders was always to always keep learning and striving to do better: "When your parents say 'work less hard' – ignore them!” he told us. The panel's other top tips for success included building a peer-to-peer mentoring group amongst close friends and colleagues; taking regular time out for self-reflection and career planning; and contributing time and skills to charitable and other good causes. Ian Powell, UK Chairman of PwC, hosted another panel discussion on leadership later in the week in conjunction with the New York Times, which included Alliance Trust CEO Katharine Garrett-Cox, who emphasised business coach Marshall Goldsmith's top tip for young leaders (and also the title for his book): What Got You Here Won't Get You There. Apart from the YGLs, the WEF has also launched a new community – the Young Global Shapers – a network of 20-30 year olds from across the globe, who are also promising young leaders. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF, hosted a panel session featuring Global Shapers and Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to discuss Generation Y's aspirations for a more stable and prosperous world.

My main task at Davos this year was to organise a panel event on the future of Europe and the Euro, entitled ‘Beyond the Crisis: What Next for Europe?’ Our Clifford Chance panel was moderated by BBC Business Editor Robert Peston and joined by Dr Gerard Lyons, Global Chief Economist at Standard Chartered; Mark Penn, former Special Advisor to President Bill Clinton; Pierre de Weck, Global Head of Private Wealth at Deutsche Bank; Josef Joffe, Editor of Die Zeit, Germany's biggest selling weekly newspaper; and Martin Wittig, CEO of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. Over 250 senior leaders from business including Chairman, CEOs and senior directors from Fortune500 and FTSE100 companies, and lots of journalists, attended, so it was a great success. This was the first time we had put on such an event, and as the youngest member of our delegation, it was great to have been given the freedom to plan and organise such a high-profile event in Davos.

So, throughout the Davos programme this year, the potential of young leaders to make a difference was very much celebrated. And their optimism mirrors TheCityUK's own faith in the next generation. The NGV group, having released its report last October, is now busy making plans to build a broad coalition of supporters – of young leaders and more established figures – throughout the City and beyond to turn our Vision into reality.  This year was my second time in Davos, and once again it was an inspiring and exhilarating experience, providing me with ideas, energy and contacts which will be invaluable in embedding the ambitions of the Next Generation Vision into the fabric of the UK's financial and professional services sector.

You can follow Alan Mak on Twitter @AlanMakUK

You can sign up for the Next Generation Vision's first networking event on Tuesday 21 February by following this link.

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