Klaus Schwab stepping down as World Economic Forum executive chairman

No successor to Schwab has been named, but the founder said in an email to staff the group's executive board, 'under the leadership of President Børge Brende, has taken full executive responsibility.'

Klaus Schwab stepping down as World Economic Forum executive chairman
AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
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After more than five decades at the helm of the World Economic Forum, executive chairman Klaus Schwab says he is stepping away from his role in running the global organization.

Schwab, 86, made the announcement in an email to WEF staff on Tuesday, according to Semafor. He has led the organization since its inception in 1971, when it was originally known as the European Management Forum.

The email outlined how, by the time of the WEF's next annual summit in Davos, Switzerland, in 2025, Schwab will transition to a role as non-executive chairman. The decision is pending an approval from the Swiss government.

No successor to Schwab has been named, but the founder said the group's executive board, “under the leadership of President Børge Brende, has taken full executive responsibility,” reports Semafor.

Officially registered as a non-profit, the Schwab family has formidable power within the organization, with the founder's children being appointed to high positions while his wife, Hilde, leads the WEF's foundation and awards ceremonies.

In 2023, Politico questioned the WEF about its policy stating, “the founder designates his successor.” The organization declined to respond. The outlet floated a number of names as potential candidates to succeed Schwab, including his son or daughter, current WEF president Børge Brende or managing director Jeremy Jurgens.

A letter from a group of current and former WEF staffers sent to The Guardian the same year described skepticism over succession plans:

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.

One big name from outside the organization that was floated as a successor was former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair.

News of Schwab's plan to step back from his role comes a month after rumours circulated online about his health. “These claims are entirely baseless — he is very well and has not been to hospital recently,” WEF spokesperson Yann Zopf told USA Today.

The organization's next annual summit is scheduled for January 20–24, 2025.

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