Clinton's summit more popular than Davos: survey

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s philanthropic summit was the most popular venue for chief executives in 2009, with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, tumbling to No. 4 from the top spot, a survey found on Monday.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton poses for a portrait in New York December 7, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Davos, due to start on Wednesday, suffered as executives at some of the world’s most admired multinational companies chose to speak at U.S. forums during last year’s recession, the study by public relations firm Weber Shandwick found.

The fifth Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), held every September in New York, narrowly edged out the Chief Executives Club of Boston in the “Five-Star Conference” study with the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council coming in at No. 3.

Experts said Clinton had an unrivaled mix of power and celebrity that pushed his annual summit, which coincides with the United Nations General Assembly in New York, to the top of chief executives’ speaking agendas.

“He’s got a wonderful mix of both celebrity status and he is a former American president. And, at least for the moment, he is married to the Secretary of State,” said Barbara Kellerman, a professor of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“It helps that the Clinton Global Initiative is associated with doing good much more than the World Economic Forum, which has been the subject of protests in recent years,” she said.

CGI was born out of Clinton’s frustration while president from 1993 to 2001 at attending conferences that were more talk than action. Business leaders, humanitarians and celebrities are brought together to address problems in education, energy and climate change, health and economic empowerment.

The World Economic Forum, which began in 1971, which meets January 26-31, brings together movers and shakers to discuss and seek solutions to the world’s problems.

Jennifer Risi, executive vice president of Weber Shandwick’s Global Strategic Media Group, said the CGI had been pushed to No. 1 by its location, its philanthropic focus and Clinton’s ties to President Barack Obama’s new administration.

When the last study was done in 2007, reviewing conferences between 2005 and 2007, the Clinton Global Initiative failed to rank among the top five summits for chief executives.

“The Clinton Global Initiative has become the gold standard in terms of CEO participation so business executives have shifted their focus to that event,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at the Washington, DC-based think tank the Brookings Institute.

Editing by Mark Egan and Todd Eastham