New York is the ultimate “make or break” town and the next few weeks might determine if Richard Attias can indeed make the city his own. Moroccan-born, French-bred, Upper East Side-based, Attias is almost equally well known for running Davos’s World Economic Forum (WEF) as marrying French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s former wife, Cecilia, in 2008.
Now two years after leaving the WEF, Attias is returning to the global get-together business with the launch of the first-ever New York Forum.
Opening on 22 June, this two-day summit is envisioned as an intimate gathering of the international economic elite to help rescue the battered world economy. Unlike at Davos, there will be no policy-pushing NGOs, (hopefully) no anti-globalisation protesters, just one A-list after-party and – most refreshingly – no Brad and Angelina.
“The Forum is not about paparazzi or celebrities,” says Attias, who’s ambitiously subtitled the event In Pursuit of a New Economic Paradigm. “But rather job-creation, restoring corporate credibility – rebuilding confidence in the global economy.”
To keep the focus on finance, Attias has limited the New York Forum to a scant 350 participants paying a hefty $4,500 entry fee. “CEOs, global top executives, academics and sovereign wealth fund leaders”, is how Attias describes the crowd. At his side is a 13-member advisory board packed with business-world heavies such as Columbia University professor Edmund Phelps – a 2006 Nobel Prize winner for economics – former Sony America CEO Michael P Schulhof and Jonathan Miller, the freshly minted head of News Corporation’s expansive digital efforts.
Sessions range from conference standards such as “Climate Change and the Corporation” to more immediate calls-to-action such as the BP-induced “After the Oil Spill”. And confirmed speakers include everyone from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit and Hearst president Cathy Black to media magnate Rupert Murdoch, writer and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and French economics minister Christine Lagarde.
At its core, the Forum is as much driven by results as discussion and will produce what Attias calls a policy-packed “white book” that he will submit to the G20. Each participant will receive an iPad loaded with the Forum programme. Attias also rather hopefully views the iPad as a communications tool for participants to continue Forum conversations well after the final session. “Usually these things end with people saying ‘see you in a year from now’,” says Attias. “The iPad allows our community to be in permanent contact.”
With calendars already packed with similar events such as the Ted conferences, the Clinton Global Initiative and Davos itself, can the New York Forum economics-only focus offer a competitive edge?
“Recent economic events have generated a lot of confusion,” observes Luis Oganes, managing director of the Emerging Markets Research Group at JP Market. “Paradigms are being broken, business models are being challenged, developed and developing economies are ‘trading’ places. So the questions raised by the NYF are indeed timely and appropriate.”
As he finalises the New York Forum details, Attias is also busy producing similarly styled (and scaled) events across the globe – from Bahrain’s upcoming global Education Project to the Clinton Initiative itself. Yet despite his packed schedule and glamorous family, Attias is clearly launching the New York Forum for the long-term. “The Forum is really a call to action,” he says. “To help the global economy reinvent itself.”