Elon Musk Said Davos Isn’t Fun. Well, Is It?

A not-so-scientific poll of attendees at the Super Bowl of global capitalism.

The Coachella of the business world?
Credit...Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The concept of fun is weirdly hard to define, like love or obscenity. You kind of know it when you’re having it, and you definitely know when you’re not.

Last month, Elon Musk, the Tesla and Twitter C.E.O., said that he had declined an invitation to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos, because, he wrote in a tweet, “it sounded boring af”: Not fun at all.

And yet, Davos is global capitalism’s Super Bowl, a place where world leaders (Olaf Scholz!), royalty (Philippe, King of the Belgians!), corporate titans (Jamie Dimon!) and some of our very finest celebrities (Idris Elba! Will.i.am!) gather for five nights of parties, where they schmooze, drink rare Burgundy and — allegedly — set the course for the future of the world over Michelin-starred canapés.

So which is it? Is Davos fun? Or is it boring? Well, it depends on whom you ask, as well as what you get invited to.

(And according to a W.E.F. spokesman, Mr. Musk wasn’t even invited to this year’s conference. So there.)

“Davos is not boring at all,” said Randall Lane, the chief content officer and editor of Forbes, who has been going to Davos since 2014. On Thursday night, Mr. Lane’s magazine hosted a party for 1,200, featuring musical performances by Fat Joe and Doug E. Fresh in honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop — an event that many people would consider fun.

“It’s not boring during the day, and it’s definitely not boring at night,” Mr. Lane said. “If you think it’s boring, you probably haven’t been here.”

During the day, Davos is given over to official programming — the Davos agenda. (Reporters and executives from The New York Times regularly participate in the conference, and the company has hosted private events there.) It features talks and round-table discussions about such topics as the energy transition, the global supply chain and Alzheimer’s disease, which are perhaps less fun than Fat Joe, or Sting for that matter, who played a small concert hosted by Microsoft on Tuesday evening.

“The conference itself is not at all fun,” said Jolie Hunt, the C.E.O. of Hunt & Gather, a marketing agency. She has been going to Davos for 20 years. “The dinners, the nightcaps, the schmoozes: those are tons of fun.”

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Credit...Laurent Gillieron/EPA, via Shutterstock

Those events take place at restaurants, in hotels and at private chalets. This year, Anthony Scaramucci, the Skybridge Capital founder and former White House communications director, hosted the 12th annual edition of his notorious wine party at the Hotel Europe, which the financial journalist Felix Salmon called “a drunken mess” back in 2011. (Though Politico reported that, this year, the wine ran out just before 11 p.m.)

According to Semafor, group chats on WhatsApp and Telegram now play a major role in determining which parties hit and which ones miss. Semafor cited “power chats” that include “Burning Man at Davos” and “unDavos,” for those interested in the “less stuffy social scene.” (Group chats: again, fun to some, not fun for others.)

According to Ms. Hunt, one crowd goes to bed by 11 p.m. in order to be up for what she called “the breakfast circuit.” Another crowd, she said, stays up dancing until 4 a.m. Late night/early morning dancing is a classic sign of fun. (Still another crowd reportedly finds its fun elsewhere.)

Because Davos is so remote (two hours by car from Zurich, less by helicopter), the conference promotes a kind of snowed-in hyper-networking. Some find this energizing (fun). Others find it enervating (not fun).

“I am generally so drained by work that I just collapse,” Adam Tooze, a historian, wrote in an email.

Davos attendees are usually about 80 percent male, which is also not fun. A 2020 Times UK investigation found that female guests were “routinely harassed.”

Laura Modi, the C.E.O. and co-founder of Bobbie, a baby formula start-up, said that she was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere, which she found “extremely welcoming.” This was Ms. Modi’s first Davos, and she found it fun — to a point.

“I myself haven’t really left my house in a year during the infant formula shortage,” Ms. Modi said. “So the longer dinners, talking to people I would never get to speak to and having laughs — that was fun.”

Still, she said, “It’s a lot of people on the grind. I can absolutely see why Elon would think it’s boring.”

For some longtime attendees, such as the economist Nouriel Roubini, known for his gloomy projections, Davos this year was “95% work and very little socializing,” he wrote in a WhatsApp message.

“In 2020 there were all the crypto crooks, con men, criminals, and carnival barkers clogging the Promenade and hosting $500k champagned parties,” he wrote. “Most of them are gone…good riddance!”

(So … con men: fun? But also bad.)

Missing also were the Russians — politicians and oligarchs — who face sanctions for the country’s war against Ukraine, and are officially excluded by the W.E.F. For two decades, they hosted some of the most lavish parties in Davos, with Cossack dancers and caviar. Last year, Russia House, once the country’s hub on the Davos promenade, was rented by a Ukrainian businessman and renamed “Russia War Crimes House.”

With the crypto bubble popped and Oleg Deripaska nowhere in sight, it was easier to focus on what Mr. Roubini calls “megathreats” — known downers like climate change, war, pandemics and stagflation. The theme of this year’s conference was “Cooperation in a Fragmented World,” and the official conference overview includes the word “crisis” or “crises” eight times.

Still, Mr. Roubini conceded, there was merrymaking on the mountain.

“People have fun even in times of war,” he wrote. “Human survival coping mechanism.”