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A wealth of ideas: Johan Andresen on the World Economic Forum, Davos

Leadership today, as far as I can see, has much to do with openness. At Davos, it is not only the wine that makes people feel at ease.

I have been going to the World Economic Forum in Davos since I took over as chief executive of Ferd in 1998. As such I inherited the slot from my father who had been going to Davos since the late 1970s. At that time there was hardly any security concerns: skis were left in the cloakroom in the morning, then sessions until lunch, skiing was done in the afternoon, and fireside chats rounded off the day. The world and the WEF in Davos have both changed.

What has not changed is the reason why the owners of Ferd went, and still go, to Davos. Unlike other executives who use the meeting primarily as a venue for pure business meetings, for me the event is primarily an intellectual shot in the arm. I believe that one of the best things you can do as an owner, and especially if you also run your company, is to make sure that you continuously develop as an individual, both inwards and outwards. Socrates was right: to "know thy self" is perhaps the most value creating exercise you can engage in. An owner without self-insight is most likely an idiot, and possibly a dangerous idiot.

I therefore challenge myself by taking part in sessions and discussions that push me out of my comfort zone, looking for answers to questions that I did not even know I should ask. As The Economist recently said in its column on the world leaders attending Davos: "If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn’t know." Indeed, it was in this spirit of humility that I picked up take-home ideas on microfinance and social entrepreneurship.

Impact investing is the term used for an investment style where capital is intentionally placed to create both a financial return and positive social or environmental impact that can be actively managed and measured. Both the $120 million (€89 million) microfinance fund I set up together with the government of Norway, and Ferd's portfolio of 11 social entrepreneurs, would be categorised as such. Since impact investing is relatively new, it is no surprise that family-owned and private businesses adopted it first and foremost. And in meetings with other family businesses at Davos I tried to explore who was doing what and what they had experienced so far. It seems that although family business make a lot of impact, very moderate sums are invested according to the definition. Yet another reason to go back next year.

Leadership today, as far as I can see, has much to do with openness. At Davos, it is not only the wine that makes people feel at ease and exited. Everybody feels privileged to attend and mix: from titans of industry, to politicians, to 24-year-old entrepreneurs. At least that has not changed since the days of my father. Perhaps, then, it is the open style and atmosphere of Davos that global leaders can learn from most, in their efforts to rejuvenate entrepreneurship and capitalism.

Johan Andresen is the fifth-generation chairman and owner of Ferd, a Norwegian conglomerate. Follow him on twitter: @FerdOwner

Read the current issue of CampdenFB for an interview with Johan Andresen.  

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