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Scenes from global elite's exclusive ski retreat Staff

Scenes from Davos 2014

A woman rests on a sun chair at the top of the Jakobshorn mountain in Davos, Switzerland.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Ah, Davos.

The snow, the Swiss, the swank and swagger of the world's richest and most powerful.

The tension between the mass economic promise of globalization and the backlash against the global elite is as sharp as the mountain air at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

High in this alpine resort are the personalities that define Davos in all its splendor. Where else would investment bankers post personal greetings to Silicon Valley CEOs using first names? Where else would you catch Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson in a bear hug with a Russian oil minister (Davos 2011)?

Your typical Davos attendee isn't into snapping "selfies." So most of us, who lack the private jet to whisk us off to the Alps as well as the combined $71,000 for a WEF membership and Davos entrance fee, can only imagine the goings-on among the titans of capitalism and global technocrats who gather each year to tackle the world's biggest challenges and plan a brighter future for all.

The best we can do is catch a few glimpses, so take a peek with CNBC inside Davos 2014.

Welcome to Switzerland!

Last-minute preparations ahead of the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos.
Justin Solomon | CNBC

When it comes down to it, apart from all the pomp and circumstance, Davos is an economic conference with all of the usual, standard signage (plus some national flags). Though if one's idea of a typical Davos building is a hybrid of a Frank Gehry–designed ski resort and a private bank top-floor executive dining room, this shot of Davos getting itself gussied up before the kickoff suggests something more along the lines of a patrol station. Maybe it's the press entrance.

Speaking on Day 1 of the conference, Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, said that his country must become a place where women shine.

"By 2020 we will make 30 percent of leading positions occupied by women," he said.

Just how many women in power saw some of the welcome signage at Davos? According to an analysis by Quartz, only 15 percent of attendees this year are women, down from 17 percent last year.

A Western bias remains firmly in place as well, with more than half of the 2,633 scheduled attendees coming from five countries: the U.S., U.K., Germany, Switzerland and—as the only developing nation among the lead countries—India. These are also the only countries with more than 100 participants, according to Quartz.

Those attendees add up to roughly $186 million in revenue for the WEF.

The gender theme continued on Day 2, with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker noting that in the U.S., "women get 77 cents on the dollar that men get for the same job."

Securing Davos

A security helicopter at the 2014 WEF in Davos
Justin Solomon | CNBC

This is not the kind of helicopter that is probably the first association with the Davos mystique. That would be the helicopter equivalent of a Gulfstream jet, but security choppers on the roof are certainly a sign of the times—as well as the power the conference's attendee list.

Reading a statement from Pope Francis, Cardinal Peter Turkson reminded Davos participants, "I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it." It quickly became the most retweeted comment from Davos.

In addition to protecting the wealth in its midst, the WEF takes its security role very seriously. The conference materials say, "While participants on the 'inside,' following founder Klaus Schwab's intentions, grapple with topics such as the global financial system, global warming or the effects of globalization, others 'outside' ... deliver a masterly performance in the areas of security and logistics."

Like U2 frontman Bono, the Swiss Armed Forces is a constant presence at Davos, employing several thousand soldiers, organizing air transports and providing a complete command support system.

Larry Summers, the former Obama economic adviser and Clinton Treasury Secretary, told CNBC from Davos that though he thinks "it's important to do something about [income] inequality" in the U.S., making people poorer—"even the very rich"—in the name of balancing the scales is a destructive course of action.


The social media lounge at the 2014 WEF in Davos
Justin Solomon | CNBC

Sure, Davos has the reputation of being like the world's most exclusive "pop-up" winter country club, but even the 1 percent members-only events have to stay current.

It has gone out of its way this year to make sure that its message is communicated via "the people's platforms." The sleek social media lounge where attendees and the press could take off their furs and eiderdown parkas and tweet about the elite looked something like a secondhand Star Trek Enterprise bridge set.

On Day 1, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer told attendees, "By the end of this year, we will have more mobile traffic than PC traffic." So the WEF and Yahoo are finally catching up with the rest of the world.

Mayer also tweeted a Flickr image of the personal welcome message that Credit Suisse created for her arrival in the Swiss mountain village.

"Love the attention to detail," Mayer tweeted. "It's purple!" (Note to other bankers at the conference hoping to win some Yahoo business.)

Frost and froth

Justin Solomon | CNBC

If your idea of a Davos drinks menu begins and ends with a centuries-old selection from a Rothschild, think again: Davos 2014 had plenty of beer, with no problem keeping it nice and cold (average January temperature minus 4 Celsius).

But actor Matt Damon, who was on hand to highlight the world's critical water shortage, probably would have preferred that the crystal-clear glacial water go to the hot spots in need of H2O rather than to Swiss breweries.

After just one day, there were plenty of inspiring, toast-worthy calls to action.

Park Geun-hye, president of the Republic of Korea, said, "Every member of humanity has the potential to become members of the success story of a creative economy."

Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation and Davos co-chair, declared, "Philanthropy can take the risks that others cannot or will not."

Let's drink to that.

Speaking of star-studded power at Davos ...

Source: CNBC

Yes, Bono was in attendance (as usual) as was Al Gore—who these days straddles the line between celebrity and statesman almost as well as the Irish rocker. Matt Damon stole the scene from the technocrats and titans of banking. But Goldie Hawn, chilling with CNBC's Joe Kernen, brought a very Hollywood message of meditation.

Delegates at the retreat got in line early for a chance to join a French Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, and Goldie for 30 minutes of silent meditation.

"You are not the slave of your thoughts. One way is to just gaze at them ... like a shepherd sitting above a meadow watching the sheep," the monk said, according to a Guardian report.

The combination of the inward gazing and global messaging illustrates the Davos spirit—and contradiction—and perhaps can be summed up in a few quotes.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, told Davos attendees that "we need a reset in the way the economy grows around the world." And Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott may have captured the essence of Davos when he said, "Every time one person freely trades with another, wealth increases."

A lot of that trading goes on behind the scenes—and possibly while waiting in line for a dawn meditation session.


Mike Green | CNBC

Invited to Davos by the CEO of advertising giant WPP, soccer legend Ronaldo talked to CNBC about his role as an ambassador for the Brazil World Cup.

"For sure, we're going to be ready," Ronaldo told CNBC, playing down concerns that Brazil may be unable to finish major infrastructure projects needed to host the event. He said this year would see "the best World Cup ever."

Watch: Ronaldo: Brazil World Cup will be 'best ever'

Matt Damon

Mike Green | CNBC

A child dies every 20 seconds because of the lack of clean water and basic sanitation, Hollywood heavyweight Matt Damon told CNBC in Davos.

At the forum to promote his charity, Water.Org, and raise awareness about the difficulties of getting clean water in certain parts of the world, the actor was also presented the Crystal Award, which honors artists who have made important contributions to improving the state of the world.

Tania Bryer also caught up with Damon, who will be the focus of one of the upcoming episodes of "CNBC Meets."

Watch: Matt Damon's quest for clean water awareness

Lloyd Blankfein


Joining the "Squawk Box" team in Davos, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein reaffirmed his optimism about the U.S. economy.

But he also addressed other market themes, from turmoil in emerging markets to the slowdown in China and the European economy.

Read more: Emerging market opportunity in long term: Blankfein

Kenneth Rogoff

Kenneth Rogoff in Davos, Switzerland.

It takes an average of six to eight years for countries to regain the per capital GDP they had before a crisis, said Kenneth Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard, adding that so far only the U.S. and Germany had accomplished it.

He warned that "Europe stands to have a recession that by some measure is as bad as the Great Recession."

Watch: Davos: Assessing global risk

Jack Lew

Patrick Bucci | CNBC

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew expressed his "incredulity" about the bitcoin "phenomenon" from the Davos studio of "Squawk Box," saying that the U.S. must ensure the virtual currency does not "become an avenue to funding illegal activities."

He also discussed the debt ceiling, urging Congress not to wait until the last minute to raise it.

Read more: Lew: Dimon and I share 'incredulity' on bitcoin

Brian Moynihan and Bono

If there ever was an unlikely partnership, it would be this one. Bono and Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan chatted to CNBC's Becky Quick about their combined effort to fight AIDS by giving away music.

U2 will release its new single "invisible" as a free download for 24 hours on iTunes, as it debuts the song during the Super Bowl on Feb. 2. Meanwhile, Bank of America will donate $1 for each of the song's first 2 million downloads, as well as pledging $8 million for charity.

Read more: U2's Super Bowl offer to fight AIDS in Africa