Davos Stars: Professor Klaus Schwab – Best connected man alive

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FirstRand [JSE:] co-founder Paul Harris once told me Richemont [JSE:] chairperson Johann Rupert is the "best connected person" on earth. Rupert’s networks are enviable. But his access to the rich, powerful and famous pales next to that of 76 year old Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Schwab, who has doctorates in engineering and economics, started the WEF in 1971, choosing Davos in Switzerland as the venue for the annual gathering of its members. In the same year he married fellow academic Hilde, the driving force behind the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, the foremost organisation of its kind.

Since 1979 Schwab has authored the World Competitiveness Report, an annual comparison of national strengths and weaknesses used by leaders around the world to track economic progress.  A polymath who has translated his passion for knowledge into a formidable organisation, Schwab has since inception acted as host of the annual meeting.

He is a good friend to South Africa, a country which has always punched above its weight at the Forum. Among his personal highlights, Schwab counts getting Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk and Mangosuthu Buthelezi to share the Davos Stage in 1991. It was the first time the three political leaders had appeared publicly together. What happened in Davos that year transformed Mandela’s Robben Island ideal of a socialist state into today’s reality of South Africa’s mixed, market-driven economy.

From the outset Schwab set lofty goals for the non-profit WEF whose mission is “improving the state of the world.” He is hand-on, personally facilitating the opening and closing sessions of the five-day event, and some of the highest profile ones in between. His 13 honorary doctorates and 17 national honours from universities and countries literally across the world reflects the appreciation many have for the work done by this inimitable Swiss Professor – the youngest ever appointed by the University of Geneva.

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