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WEF founder Schwab announces retirement from leadership role

headshot of Klaus Schwab
With this step, Schwab is preparing the ground for his succession, in which a board of trustees will assume leadership responsibility. KEYSTONE/ The Associated Press

Klaus Schwab will soon be relinquishing his current position as head of the World Economic Forum, the 86-year-old announced in an e-mail to staff on Tuesday.

A WEF spokesperson confirmed reports to the Keystone-SDA news agency. By January 2025, Schwab will change role from executive chairman to chairman of the Board of Trustees, the spokesperson said. It was initially unclear who would take over Schwab’s duties. The change is expected to take place before the next edition of the WEF’s annual flagship meeting in January.

The number two executive behind Schwab, WEF President Borge Brende, is seen as a promising candidate. The 58-year-old is a former Norwegian foreign minister and has been WEF president since 2017. Previously, he served as director from 2008 to 2009 and administrative director from 2011 to 2013.

New management structure

With this step, Schwab is preparing the ground for his succession. Since 2015, the WEF has transformed itself from a meeting platform into a leading global institution for public-private cooperation, the spokesperson said. As part of this transformation, the organisation is undergoing a planned evolution from a founder-led organisation to one in which a president and a board of trustees will assume leadership responsibility.

The WEF has been organised as a charitable foundation since its establishment in 1971. In future, the Forum’s Board of Trustees will reportedly be organised around four strategic committees. In this way, the institution aims to increase the impact of its work and therefore ensure institutional continuity. The annual elite meeting in Davos is to remain an “independent and impartial platform” for tackling the complex challenges of a networked world.

The German economics professor Klaus Schwab, who was born in Ravensburg in southern Germany as the son of a Swiss factory director, founded the World Economic Forum in 1971 with money from his parents, savings earned as a manager, and a loan. The Forum, with its annual meeting in Davos in canton Graubünden, became one of the most important gatherings for leading politicians, top executives, scientists, and representatives of civil society from all over the world.

Over 600 employees

The Forum is based in Geneva. It employs 600 people worldwide in Geneva, New York, Beijing and Tokyo.

Schwab has been honoured several times for his efforts to bring politics and business together to solve global problems at the WEF, including by the Japanese emperor. Critics of the annual meeting in Davos, however, accuse the organisers of the WEF of allowing the powerful of the world to increase their profits behind the backs of the population.

Schwab studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, the University of Fribourg, and Harvard University. He holds a doctorate in engineering, economics and social sciences and a master’s degree in public administration.

Success as a restructurer

Schwab led the reorganisation of the leading Swiss engineering group Escher Wyss and was Professor of Economic Policy in Geneva before founding the WEF. He remained a professor at the University of Geneva until 2003, during which time he held several directorships and international consultancy positions. He then devoted himself entirely to the further development of the WEF.

Together with his wife Hilde, he established the Schwab Foundation in 1998 to promote social entrepreneurship and innovation. Schwab has published several books. The bestseller “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” has been published in over 30 languages.

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