Might New York be the new Davos?
If Richard Attias — who produced the World Economic Forum for 13 years and launched the Clinton Global Initiative — has his way, the answer is yes.
While the global elite descend on Davos this week, Attias is busy planning for the New York Forum, to be held in New York City in June. The event is designed as a "cooperative dialogue among the world's top CEO's, financial leaders and government regulators," according to an announcement.
"Davos is very global now and it's a great forum but you have over 300 sessions, about all issues from health to culture to sports to even anti-aging," Attias said in an interview conducted by phone from Munich. "And we know living in New York that the major, major issue today is to try to find solutions for the economy. How can we help social issues, how can we finance health if we don't have a very healthy economy? So I thought it is definitely the time to focus, to discuss, to work on economic issues."
Attias said he chose New York both because it is a financial center and because of the energy in the city.
"When I was in New York, just after September 11th — when I moved Davos to New York — I spent four months in New York and I was really, really impressed by the way New Yorkers were reacting, were spending, were working, were united," he said. "And I found in New York, which is now my city with my family, something which is magic. Everybody knows about the energy, about the creativity of New York, but you feel it really when you live there everyday. I made a bet with myself which was to one day create an event in New York, because New York really deserves to host great events."
Attias lives on the Upper East Side with his wife, Cecilia (the ex-wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy).
But Attias also stressed a practical reason for hosting a global economic forum in New York.
"Of the Fortune 200 companies, I believe 40 are headquartered in New York," he said. "When companies are cutting costs in the present climate, it makes sense to have an economic forum in the city where most of them are found. I want a very strong presence from American companies and leaders, but I also want to bring business leaders form Europe, from Asia, and from the Middle East.
"I can tell you as a non-American in total humility that Americans are often too timid to assert their dominance in business," he continued. "When I was looking at the past decade, the major innovations, which definitely made a revolution, are coming from the United States. Look at the iPod, look at Facebook, look at Twitter, look at Google, and I can continue the list. For me, New York, which is an iconic city, is the center of innovation and creativity. And its energy, as I mentioned, s what differentiates it from other world cities where i have had the privilege to live."
The New York Forum, which will launch with the New York Times as a media partner, will limit itself to 500 participants and include what Attias describes as "task forces by industry where we will spend time to really work deeply to analyze the situation by industry and to start the process of reinventing these business models by putting all these players around the same table."
The conference is deliberately planned for June 22-24, two days before the G20 meets in Toronto, Attias said, so that participants can bring proposals for solutions to the world's leaders in Toronto. Sessions will take place at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and the New York Public Library.