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February 10, 2016
My time in Davos
By: Kaushik Subramanian

Kaushik is a current MBA student at INSEAD and a participant in Accenture Strategy’s work with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Digital Transformation in Industries project which included a trip to the prestigious WEF summit in Davos, January 2016.

Davos Group

The ‘World Economic Forum’ (WEF) summit in Davos is possibly the world’s largest gathering of CEOs, heads of state, and pretty much everyone who is important on the world stage. In short, this is where it places in the CEO Hierarchy of Needs:

CEO Hierarchy of Needs

Did I want to attend it? Sure, I thought I’ll go when I was 35 (I’m optimistic). So when Accenture Strategy offered an opportunity to work on some thought leadership for the forum, along with the chance to actually attend Davos 2016, I jumped at the opportunity. A CV review and interview later, I was selected as one of eight people to work on the project and attend the summit.

The Project:

Accenture Strategy is tasked with the development and thought leadership of one of the pillars of the WEF Digital Transformation of Industry. The theme for this year’s meeting was ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and with digital transformation as the catalyst behind the revolution, it’s extremely relevant. This is a very hot topic right now, and I was enthused to work on this project primarily to understand in depth what ‘digital transformation’ meant. Everyone is talking about it but few people can actually explain the concept and its impact in depth.

The 8 INSEAD students were split into 4 groups of 2, each of us working on a different area within digital transformation. I was paired with Anshul and we worked on the Sharing Economy as a part of the consumption domain.

The project brief had suggested a couple of hours a week, during the extremely brutal Period 2 of INSEAD (we do double the courses in this period), but the project would end up demanding more time. We were pretty much put into a pool and had to learn how to swim! It was a very steep learning curve for the both of us. There were regular checkpoints of course, but the work stream lead made sure that we figured most of the stuff out by ourselves, came up with our own hypotheses and found the data to justify them. The guidance was fantastic - just about enough without being too intrusive. At the end of the period, we were pleasantly surprised with the output and our personal growth. We managed to get a fantastic view of the sharing economy, and felt like experts on the topic after studying 400+ businesses in this area.

Davos

In early January, we were off to Davos. Here’s the first thing you need to know about Davos – there are many Davos’s within Davos, and your place in the pecking order of Davos is determined by your badge. Just getting a badge is a big deal, and we were all extremely grateful to Accenture for managing to get us there.

Davos is like this surreal bubble – basically every single person in that town is either a CEO, head of state, or a journalist. It was a little strange to see people in the flesh you’re used to seeing on the TV. For instance, Aaron and I were in a shuttle from home to the Promenade, and we were seated next to a Saudi prince and the owner of India’s #1 investment bank! There’s a lot of pressure to make sensible conversation at all times with the people around, and you feel a bit overwhelmed talking to them.

Our first event was at the Accenture Pavilion at the Belvedere Hotel (the heart of everything at the WEF), for an interaction with Mark Knickrehm, the Accenture Strategy CEO and Roxanne Taylor, the Accenture Group CMO. We had a lively discussion with them about our projects, our learning and we were interviewed by the marketing team for social media plug ins. The most heartening thing for me here was their humility and approachability - both of them were extremely interested in what we had to say and wanted to get first hand feedback on the project.

The promenade had a wide variety of booths by different companies – we went to check these out in the afternoon. What was extremely surprising was that 50% of the booths were occupied by companies founded in the last 5 years or so. This for me was a huge indicator of how quickly the business landscape is changing.

We were invited for an Accenture ‘nightcap’, so we decided to head there. Nightcap is Davos speak for party, albeit a bit more formal. It was over here that we had the opportunity to meet more of the Accenture leadership and have honest conversations with them about consulting life and life at Accenture. This was followed by another party at the Piano Bar, which involved a lot of fine wine and a gentleman called Kevin Spacey - however my memory is a bit hazy :)

Davos is overwhelming – we were up the next morning to attend a WEF session on the refugee crisis. Listening to the foremost thought leaders in the world talking about extremely relevant current issues was unreal. A few of us decided to attend more sessions, and then headed out for lunch with Bruno Berthon, who manages Europe, Middle East and Latin America for Accenture Strategy and is an INSEAD alumnus.

Overall, the three days at Davos were filled with Accenture events, WEF sessions, lots of networking and little sleep. ‘Surreal’ would be a good adjective to define the overall experience, and we came out of the project wiser, smarter and definitely more enlightened!

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