Of soirees, traffic snarls and self importance

What do you have when you put 2700 self-important people in one of the elite hotels such as Waldorf Astoria in New York City? To call it Davos 2002 is an oxy moron in itself. The 2002 edition of the World Economic Forum was held nowhere close to the Swiss city of Davos. Instead an overcrowded and getting increasingly irate by the minute New York City, played host to the likes of Bill gates, the Microsoft chairman; Steve Case, his nemesis at AOL Time Warner (no the two did not shake hands); and other celebrities.

The fact that the event was ¶much ado about nothing¾ was evident in the wet blanket nature decided to put on the proceedings. Manhattan was under a fine mist of rain for nearly two days, which made getting around the city an even bigger head ache. Traffic snarls, over bearing cops and sidewalks brimming with upset New Yorkers would ensure that Davos never comes to New York again.

But the famous people were oblivious of all the problems, just like they were of the protestors who lined up outside the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, on Park Avenue in mid-town Manhattan. Irony of it all became more acute when you took into account that the ¶protestors¾ were standing in the shadow of a JP Morgan Chase building, next to an Audi showroom and only a block away from the Rolls Royce store.

Indians, as expected were out in full force. Finance minister Yashwant Sinha rubbed shoulders with his peers, while entrepreneurs and financiers like Purnedu Chatterjee of the Chatterjee Group networked, scouting for next moneymaking opportunity.

Mr. Sinha met former US president Bill Clinton at Bill Clinton shakes hands with Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha in New York at a reception hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry for the delegates of the WEF. Like him Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu was out hob-nobbing with other leaders, even though what is the value of his or Mr. Sinha being in New York continues to befuddle me. Why because they just were happy being surrounded by their fellow countrymen and did limited mingling.

Talking about mingling, film director Shekhar Kapoor was seen chatting with Miramax head honcho, Harry Weinstein. The two who were on a media panel, obviously were not talking about the doomed Talk magazine ? perhaps the conversation was all about Kapoor’s upcoming flick ? Four Feathers. Well at least Kapoor had something to talk about. I wonder what was a has-been entrepreneur like Sabeer Bhatia doing at the forum. Good food and wine might be the reason.

Over $500 bottles of fine Bordeaux wines and sumptuous meals they pondered over issues such as how to redistribute wealth and fix poverty issues that plague the globe today. Comical in their justification, that they have the answers, it was interesting to see them debate about rise of fundamental Islam and other meaty topics.

In an increasingly wired world, the roles of corporate manager and public citizen cannot be separated, remarked William H. Gates III, Chairman and Chief Software Architect, Microsoft Corporation, USA. Hey someone hand him a copy of Wall Street Journal, for it seems he has missed out the entire Enron episode and how a corporation just destroyed thousands of loyal employees and how it scammed its way into power circles to get projects like Dabhol in India approved.

Turning to the challenges to corporate power by demonstrators on the New York streets during the Annual Meeting, Gates said: ¶It is a healthy thing there are demonstrators in the streets. We need a discussion about whether the rich world is giving back what it should in the developing world. I think there is a legitimate question whether we are.¾

Similar thoughts were echoed by Narayan Murthy, chairman and co-founder of InfoSys Technologies. ¶I think if Infosys is any indication, I think entrepreneurial spirit can bring about social change,¾ he says. In his case, he says he is proud of the fact that he has shown Indian entrepreneurs that it is possible to build a world-class company in India, even when odds are stacked against them. And yes, it is possible without baksheesh.

Thank god for at least one thought leader who did not mince words, for rest of them it seemed were in New York to enjoy the parties ? and there were many. Among the best party of the weekend was the one hosted by Accel Partners at Veritas restaurant in downtown Manhattan. Michael Milken, Rob Glaser (of Real Networks), techno-pundit Esther Dyson, venture capitalist Jim Breyer, and Caroline Kennedy were all enjoying themselves, only to move later in the night to the New York Stock Exchange floor. Red Herring (my employer) had a party and so did Forbes, which hosted a dinner for visiting politicians and business leaders at 21 Club. (I was not invited so cannot talk about who was there.) Compaq had a party, so did Talwar Gallery, which invited a select few for a private gathering.

Bundeep Rangar, a venture capitalist from London and chief operating officer of COO, Ariadne Capital summed it up best when he quipped, ¶I am here to network and meet people.¾ He showed off the cards of the likes of the newly appointed Intel president Paul Ottellini. It seems for Mr. Rangar, the weekend was all about parties.