One of the biggest rounds of applause came when John Neill, chief executive of Unipart, the logistics company, said that if he had sold toxic products he would have been committing a criminal offence and would have expected to be in prison.
There was a frisson in the room. The atmosphere was such that a lynch mob could have been formed for the nearest banker. That got me thinking about the conduct of some of the bankers which has ranged from gross misjudgment to selfish actions in relation to bonuses and golden parachutes which really are totally unacceptable.
It had to happen. Every crisis invariably gives rise to finger pointing. This one is no exception. Sooner or later, the scapegoating had to break out in the open. It didn’t take long. At a dinner I attended on the first night of the World Economic Forum, the blame game erupted with full force.
Sessions with titles like “Reconfiguring the Global Financial Regulatory Architecture” are not always the most difficult to get into at Davos. This year is different. As the second G20 summit approaches there is a sense that decisions may be made which could significantly alter the environment within which financial firms work. So the topic seizes the attention here, especially of those who worry they may be brought into the net, like hedge funds and private equity firms. The private sector is not, however, defending the status quo. There is a widespread recognition that the system, especially in the US, but also in the EU, has not done what it says on the tin. And I detect an emerging consensus around three points.
Far too crowded. Probably 500 people over the top. Last year 2000 was heavy, 2600 is too many. Some can’t attend sessions even having tried to book online from home. Participant numbers should be reduced.
Security is also very tight, aggravated by the crush. There are heavy lines and queuing, especially early in the morning. On the other hand, this is not surprising with 40 country leaders present, many with large convoys.
No prizes for guessing what is worrying the 2,500-odd delegates due to arrive in Davos this week (albeit probably not too visibly in their corporate jets this year). Within minutes of the World Economic Forum permitting delegates to sign up for events at the meeting, which starts on Wednesday, some sessions were hugely oversubscribed.
A worthy debate on how corporations can affirm the “community” (featuring Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase) was not one of these; yesterday that still had plenty of space.