CEOs Dig Deeper on WEF Topics at YPO Hub in Davos

Forging a sustainable path toward a common future was focus No. 1 today for the world’s top leaders gathered for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. In parallel, entering the conversation for their own collaborative discussions were YPO members from around the globe, who participated in a jam-packed day of sessions ranging from stakeholder capitalism to government and corporate partnerships to personal investment choices and ocean health.

Richard Curtis, spokesperson for Make My Money Matter, set the stage urging leaders to empower themselves by understanding where their money, especially pension money, Richard Curtisis invested. “By deliberately putting our money into more sustainable investments, we are using our voice and speaking out against unethical corporations,” says Curtis.

Against a backdrop of a fast-changing and unpredictable geopolitical climate, Ian Bremmer, political scientist and Founder of Eurasia Group, put the week ahead in context for YPO CEOs.  Delivering a powerful session, Bremmer gave his take on the U.S. elections and the power of data. “Our political institutions are becoming more and more de-legitimized,” says Bremmer, who predicts that the U.S. 2020 election will have external interference and will be wrapped in fake news once again.

On the advent of technological solutions to solve climate-related problems, Bremmer notes that we will “continue to see more geo-engineering around water and air quality.” He believes data has the power to transform education, health care and agricultural systems.

Ian Bremmer YPO Davos


Corporations, governments must align in 2020

Claire Perry O’Neill, President of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, shared the latest cutting-edge insights among global leaders as monumental climate negotiations approach later this year. She urged businesses to look at their own practices and to recognize their power to shift the dial and make policy signals.

“The private sector is increasingly focusing on this issue, thinking what it means for corporate risk, returns and performance and making really ambitious pledges and commitments,” says Perry. “But we have had a twin track running where corporations are sitting alongside what governments are doing in their negotiations and pledges. Now is the time to have everybody’s alliance when it comes to the climate.”

Here’s what Perry O’Neill  suggests CEOs think about around climate:

  1. Set your net zero targets.
  2. Work on how you are going to get there. Just don’t say what your emissions are going to be in five years, but set a defined target further out for 2021 and 2025.
  3. The UN’s global sustainability platform is an open source where all companies can report their plans in order to track and know where all this ambition is going.
  4. Think about how sustainability runs through your entire business and industry. Look at yourself in your sector. You might be in the top quarter in terms of sustainability but there are slackers out there, and this is the time to put pressure on other companies in your industry.
  5. As CEOs, you have immense power over your supply chains and distribution channels that you control via your boardrooms. Apply pressure to question how they are sourcing new forms of energy and forms of input.

“2020 is the year the curve needs to inflect,” says Perry O’Neill. “We are out of time. The ambition of the corporate sector helps raise the ambition for the rest of the world.”

View highlights of our conversation with Claire Perry O’Neill:


The importance of optimism

The founders of Global Optimism and co-authors of the book The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac led a discussion at the YPO Hub about purpose-driven enterprises and the importance of optimism in our ever-changing world. 

Their message: we have only 10 years to transform.

“This is the moment,” says Rivett-Carnac, “We’ve taken a long time to get to this moment and unless we are able to make changes in the next decade, we miss the opportunity to manage this threat.”Davos2020_Christiana-Figueres

According to Figueres and Rivett-Carnac, this is the decade for dealing with climate change. Otherwise, by 2030 we will have loaded the atmosphere enough to make transformation impossible. After 2030 we lose our influence on nature.  

While it’s human nature to feel concerned about the state of climate change, Figueres reminds us to remain optimistic; to give ourselves a chance to honor the fear and despair, get in touch with it, but strive to move beyond it into the gritty determination. 

“Optimism is not the result but the input of any challenge,” says Figueres. 

“The darkest moments in history were always the biggest moments of optimism,” says Tom Rivett-Carnac, Co-Founder, Global Optimism

As a plea to CEOs around the world, Figueres says, “You need to understand where the dangerous carbon is hidden in your supply chain.  We must de-carbonize our corporations.”

View highlights of our conversation with Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac:

Implementing UN Sustainable Development Goals

“Starting small can still make a difference,” says Grete Faremo, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UNOPS in discussing thought-provoking efforts to advance resilient infrastructure in the face of climate change. 

“The bulk of procurement the United Nations does is from small and medium companies. You don’t have to be big to work with us,” Faremo states.    

Grete Faremo YPO Davos

What will be required to implement UN SDG goals is USD5 trillion annually and most of that will need to come from the private sector. But right now, there’s a gap of USD1 trillion. This will require new partnerships to drive innovation. “We at U.N. can’t do it alone,” she says. “We look to find venues to accelerate, scale, and drive breakthrough. We know we need to think differently. We need new solutions.” 

View highlights of our conversation with Grete Faremo:


The Ocean Race: racing for purpose

On the same day Greta Thunberg challenged business and government leaders at the WEF annual meeting to do more than talk about fighting climate change, a member of the sailing crew that ferried her across the Atlantic to attend the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City in September 2019, shared his first-hand knowledge of the rise of plastics in the oceans – and the harm they present.

Sailing world record holder Boris Herrmann joined Olympian sailor Rokas Milevicius and Richard Brisius, Chairman of The Ocean Race, at the YPO Hub to share their experiences about competing in The Ocean Race, the longest and toughest professional sporting event in the world, and to bring attention to the importance of protecting our oceans.

With oceans covering 71% of the earth’s surface and ocean ecosystems generating at least USD21 trillion annually in economic benefits, The Ocean Race is vested in protecting those waters. It has introduced a sustainability program as part of the race, comprised of three building blocks – awareness, science and education, according to Brisius.

Addressing questions from panel moderator and Managing Partner of Bamboo Capital Partners, Florian Kemmerich, a YPO member and Chair of the YPO Planet Action Network, Brisius said that his sailing crew can conduct scientific studies where no one else goes, and that the data they are creating is making a difference.

Richard, an avid sailor and entrepreneur his entire life, says The Ocean Race is “racing for purpose.” He adds, “It is a business, but I wouldn’t do it for the revenue. We do it for the planet.”

View highlights of our conversation with Richard Brisius:

Success and the value of time

The Co-Founder and Co-Executive Chairman of The Carlyle Group, David Rubenstein spoke with Irina Liner, Director and Co-Founder of AtlasInvest during a standing-room-only fireside chat.

When asked what he looks for when hiring young professionals, Rubenstein had three things to say. First, a person must have reasonable intelligence. “I’m not looking for geniuses. I have worked with geniuses before, and it didn’t always work out well,” he joked. Second, he looks for the willingness to work hard. And third, the ability to persuade people, whether by writing, speaking, or by example.  

‘I’m looking for people who know what to do with success when they get it. Not just to get more artwork and houses and boats but do something useful for society by giving back,” says David Rubenstein, Co-Founder, Co-Executive Chairman, The Carlyle Group

David Rubinstein YPO Davos

Rubenstein speaks of his passion for patriotic philanthropy –  what it means to use your funds to better your country. His efforts are wide-ranging, extending from arts, culture, health care, education, but also stressed that one does not have to give money in order to be patriotic or philanthropic.  

“You can love humanity and be a philanthropist by giving your time, your energy, your ideas. The most valuable thing you can give is your time… I encourage people that don’t have staggering amounts of money to give your time. That is very valuable,” says Rubenstein


Day’s themes reaffirm YPO’s mission to build better leaders

Many CEOs and other leaders attending the WEF annual meeting were able to dig further into the meeting’s themes at the YPO Hub during this first full day of presentations. Two YPO members, the 2018 and 2019 EY World Entrepreneurs of the Year, were on hand to discuss what it took to make it to the top of what is considered one of the toughest competitions. During the second fireside chat on Tuesday afternoon, Andrew Forrest, Founder and Chairman of Minderoo Foundation, named EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2018, and Brad Keywell, Founder and CEO of Uptake Technologies, the 2019 honoree, agreed that the most powerful force in improving this world is leading highly ethical businesses.

“Existentialism will become a construct that defines how we make decisions. There has to be some philosophy that becomes the leading principle, versus just capitalism … we need to have the strongest moral code ever to protect humanity,” Forrest says. 

Discover more insights from the YPO Hub in Davos 2020:

YPO is the global leadership community of more than 29,000 chief executives in 130 countries who are driven by the belief that the world needs better leaders. Each of our members have achieved significant leadership success at a young age. Combined, they lead businesses and organizations contributing USD9 trillion in annual revenue. YPO members become better leaders and better people through peer learning and exceptional experiences in an inclusive community of open sharing and trust.