Freshly returned from the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting (and a quick round of engagements across Europe), I can attest that Davos is back to its pre-pandemic bustle—the high-profile attendees, the engaging conversations, the queues for security… Amid all the talk about soft landings, upcoming elections, and rising geopolitical tensions, the focus (or lack thereof) on two topics really stood out to me:


  • ESG: One thing that did not return is a discussion of ESG. The term “ESG” was not on the meeting agenda, and I did not hear the acronym mentioned once all week. This is a far cry from January 2020 when the theme was “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World.”The environment, social issues, or governance concerns were on the agenda, of course. On climate, we had extensive discussions on the green transition, the speed of technological innovation and adoption, and realistic paths to net zero goals. The appropriate governance protocols around the development of AI were another major topic of conversation, and with almost half the world’s population going to the polls to elect new leaders in 2024, we talked about the potential impact of increased social fracturing and upheaval.While the exclusion of “ESG” is a result of ongoing backlash, what struck me most is that the discussions this year—absent the acronym—progressed to focus on strong, tangible action. In the past, they could tend toward the theoretical and abstract. Perhaps disaggregating “ESG”—three important but in many ways distantly connected sets of issues—has helped to focus the debate.
  • AI: Of course, AI dominated the discussions. I sensed near-universal optimism on the impact generative AI will have on business and society as a whole. This is consistent with the findings from our annual AlixPartners Disruption Index, which found that 75% of CEOs were optimistic about the impact of these technologies. What was missing, though, were concrete use cases. Even among some of the world’s leading experts, the discussion remained at a surprisingly high level. While only 14 months have elapsed since the launch of ChatGPT, the pace of change and implementation is accelerating mightily. And I know from AlixPartners’ own experience in working with clients that there are many practical cases that demonstrate tangible, real-world results. For a technology that has the capacity to materially reshape entire industries and the global economy within the next 5 years, urgently moving beyond the theory to a grounded understanding and focused priorities is essential.PMs, HRMs, CEOs, NGOs: That is not to imply that the discussions at Davos do not have real value. In a more fractured world, opportunities like the WEF’s annual meeting have dwindled. It is one of the few venues that still brings together heads of state, cabinet officials, CEOs, heads of NGOs, and leading researchers. And arguably, we need these opportunities more than ever.

Our world today has more (and growing) walls. Even if we have to go into the Alps to rise above them, I am all for it.