WEF founder Schwab steps back from executive post Mr Schwab

World Economic Forum (WEF) founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab will be stepping back from his role running the global gathering since he founded it in 1971.

Mr Schwab announced his intentions in an email to staff on Tuesday that was shared with Semafor by a person connected to the organisation.

He will be stepping down as executive chairman and transitioning to a role as non-executive chairman, he said, adding the change in his role is pending approval by the Swiss government.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the forum said that the organisation is “transforming from a convening platform to the leading global institution for public-private cooperation.” 

The forum’s governance structure is set to change as a result of that evolution, the spokesperson said, and Mr Schwab “will transition from executive chairman to chairman of the board of trustees” by January 2025.

Mr Schwab has not named his successor, but said that over the last year, the group’s executive board, “under the leadership of President Børge Brende, has taken full executive responsibility.”

Mr Brende is a former Norwegian conservative leader.

Mr Schwab, 86, is synonymous with the organisation that he has managed for more than 50 years.

Initially known as the European Management Forum, early iterations of the event drew far fewer attendees to Davos than the thousands that now ascend to the Swiss mountain town.

Now, the annual WEF meeting in Davos attracts dozens of high-ranking world leaders and chief executives each year, with more than 50 heads of state attending in 2024, according to the organisation.

The forum operates much like a family business, with Mr Schwab’s children appointed to high-ranking positions and his wife Hilde heading the organisation’s foundation and awards ceremonies in Davos.

In recent years, the forum has shifted its focus towards the center, and away from liberal politics, Semafor previously reported.

Succession at the WEF has been the subject of fevered speculation, and a Politico article floating possible names roiled the gathering in 2023.

The forum has also been navigating a difficult political landscape, and has steered back toward the center in recent years after embracing progressive directions in culture and finance.

The WEF, though a nonprofit, is a remarkable business: The organisation brought in nearly US$500 million in revenue in the year ending March 2023, and had a neat 200 million Swiss francs sitting in cash, Semafor reported last year. semafor.com

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