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Oct. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Once upon a time, the World Economic Forum was the ultimate Wall Street jamboree.
Now, in the riptide of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, WEF officials and delegates say many of the chief executive officers who gathered in Davos, Switzerland, over the last five years didn't listen to warnings from their peers. Davos organizers also say they failed to play tough with the financial-industry bosses, opting to accept their funding and let them turn Davos into a rave-up for Wall Street excesses.
``We catered to what the financial leaders wanted: solo speaking slots, luxury hotels and VIP treatment we wouldn't afford anyone else,'' Steinberg, 38, says. ``We gave them a soapbox. It was all political. We try to minimize the politics, but can't.''
Each January, global financial titans and their entourages gathered in the Alpine hamlet. A band of fluegelhorns wandered in hotel lobbies, heralding the arrival of delegates such as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. CEO Richard Fuld Jr., Freddie Mac CEO Richard Syron and U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, along with actresses such as Angelina Jolie and Sharon Stone.
Steinberg says the most-discussed housing issue among some delegates centered on Davos's Belvedere Hotel, where corporate chieftains and their deputies were ``more interested in entering into bidding wars to secure the biggest party room than they were in attending sessions held there.''
The five-day annual forum, which also attracts scholars and scientists, has always been eclectic. Racing Audis on the ice of a nearby lake and attending snow-polo matches in St. Moritz have been popular diversions. The dress code was casual, and the garb of Wall Street, Schwab says, was perhaps unsuited to the cold and candid camaraderie of Davos. ``There is a certain discomfort with snow,'' Schwab says.
``It was all laid out in Davos,'' says WEF delegate Daniel Loeb, 46, owner of Third Point LLC, a New York-based hedge fund. ``The investment bankers got so caught up in competing with each other that they used the place to schmooze, instead of actually learning about what was going on in the world.''