The future of Klaus Schwab – Mr Davos for more than half a century – has become a talking point at this year’s meeting after World Economic Forum employees voiced strong criticism of their chair and the lack of a succession strategy.
A group of current and former WEF staff members who contacted the Guardian said the 82-year-old Schwab was a law unto himself and had surrounded himself with “nobodies” who were incapable of running the organisation he founded in the early 1970s.
“Klaus has been at the helm of the WEF for 52 years. When he was born [in 1938] 122 of the 195 states in the world right now did not even exist. He is completely unaccountable to anyone inside and outside the organisation,” the group said.
“We are a group of current and former employees of the WEF. We want to play our role in fostering debate about the role this organisation plays in the world.”
The group said it wanted to remain anonymous. “We are hesitant to come forward as Klaus is very well connected and can make life very difficult for us even after we leave the WEF.”
Speculation about Schwab’s future has intensified this week after a piece on the online publication Politico said the WEF’s strategic partners – the firms that bankroll the $390m (£315m) a year business – were unhappy about the lack of a succession strategy.
The group of WEF staff members said they had posted their criticisms on the social media platform LinkedIn but they had been removed at the request of the WEF, something the organisation denies.
The posts, shared with the Guardian, said: “There isn’t much of a future for the WEF beyond Klaus not just because there isn’t a clear successor but also because his managing board is such a viper’s nest that senior leadership will be at each other’s throats the moment the old man pops off.”
A WEF spokesperson said: “The board of trustees decides any future institutional leadership appointments. The forum has a strong institutional governance structure in place to ensure its continued ability to fully support its mission.”
Former UK prime minister Tony Blair is one of the leading international figures who has been linked with the role.
The group of past and current WEF employees questioned the ability of the organisation to function without Schwab at the helm.
“In most organisations the next generation of top leadership is faintly visible at the higher levels of management but at the WEF Klaus has surrounded himself with such a group of nobodies at the top that it’s hard to see how any of them could be taken seriously by anyone of consequence inside or outside the organisation.
“Klaus picks his leaders using the same criteria Putin uses to pick deputies for the state duma: loyalty, guile, sex appeal. The quality of people at the top is reflective of the type of people who work for the rest of the organisation.”
The head of one UK company agreed that there appeared to be no successor to Schwab lined up. “My impression is that he will die with his boots on,” the executive said.
Another longstanding Davos attender expressed surprise that Schwab had allowed speculation about his future to surface. “If I am honest I find it a bit disrespectful [given everything he has done] but he should have known it would happen and taken steps to head it off.”
The World Economic Forum is a Swiss foundation and does not have shareholders.