World Economic Forum, Davos founder Klaus Schwab to step back from executive role

Klaus Schwab speaks as part of SWITCH GREEN during day 1 of the Greentech Festival at Kraftwerk Mitte aired on Sept. 16, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.

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The World Economic Forum confirmed Tuesday that founder Klaus Schwab is moving away from the day-to-day management of the organization after more than 50 years at the helm.

The forum said that the move was part of a years’ long strategy to change its management structure, shifting governance to a president and managing board. Børge Brende is currently president of WEF.

The forum did not reveal who would succeed Schwab and become the face of its elite annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

“Since 2015, the World Economic Forum has been transforming from a convening platform to the leading global institution for public-private cooperation,” WEF said in a statement to CNBC.

“As part of that transformation, the organisation has also been undergoing a planned governance evolution from a founder-managed organization to one where a President and Managing Board assume full executive responsibility,” it added.

The non-profit think tank confirmed that Schwab would transition to a role as chairman of the board of trustees. It added that the board would be organized around four strategic committees “to further reinforce the impact of our work.”

WEF said the change in leadership will be completed before the next Davos gathering in January 2025.

What is the World Economic Forum?

Schwab’s plans were initially announced in an email to staff on Tuesday, according to a report from news outlet Semafor.

The 86-year-old’s succession has been the source of much speculation over recent years, with potential replacements including his children or Brende. However, the organization has, until now, been tight-lipped over its intentions until now.

Schwab, a German engineer and economist, established the forum in 1971 and also served as its executive chairman.

Then known as the European Management Forum, it was initially designed as a place for European business leaders and government officials to gather and discuss bolstering their competitiveness with the U.S.

Over the years, its annual Davos gathering has become a must-attend event for the global elite. It aims to bring world leaders and business heads together to address important issues. Key meetings at the event have included the first ministerial talks between North and South Korea, and the origins of campaigns such as the Global Health Initiative to combat AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria.

It has since faced criticism, however, for failing to represent diverse voices and make progress on global issues such as climate change and wealth inequality, and demonstrators protest at the mountain resort each year.

In its statement Tuesday, WEF said the structural changes “underscore our institutional continuity in providing an independent and impartial platform to address the complex challenges of an interconnected world.”

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