Thomas Birr about the World Economic Forum 2017

Thomas Birr is SVP Innovation & Business Transformation at innogy. Jointly with Peter Terium, CEO of innogy, he joined this years’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in January. Time to look back:

Thomas, from an Innovation Hub perspective, was it worth taking part in this year's WEF? THOMAS BIRR: Yes, very much so. The benefit of being in Davos largely depends on how much focus and preparation you put on your agenda. Having said that, I enjoyed a lot of discussion amongst leaders and entrepreneurs about many of our key opportunity spaces, including artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain and the future of manufacturing. We realized that our activities in these areas are in good shape and in some cases, even ahead of our peers. That meant we could give a lot of input and share our learnings, which was highly appreciated by other participants. Also, with our utility background, people were very interested to hear about our innovation story. So, that is also one of my takeaways from Davos: Our innovation-culture of sharing, taking but also giving, where much applies in Davos as well.

What did you bring back to the Innovation Hub? There were a lot of technology companies and start-ups at this year's WEF, so it was a great opportunity to have “bilateral talks”. As well as building relationships, this led to concrete next steps. For example, our exchange with some leading banks has helped to open doors and accelerate our existing activities in the area of “blockchain and general ledger”. We also learned a lot about how to build and grow start-ups from talking to professional company builders, which is one of out key areas to improve. And we have invited tech-champions to run workshops in their expert fields of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, which will also involve units from our core business.

What was your lasting impression of WEF 2017? Following recent political changes around the globe, there was a strong sense of a "world in confusion". But in spite of that, the overall sentiment was far from negative. Clearly, people feel that the world economy is at a tipping point and much of the discussion was about where this takes us.

What were your highlights of WEF 2017? A real highlight for me was joining our CEO Peter Terium at the "Stewards meeting about the future of mobility" with the EU commissioner Violeta Bulc and her co-stewards including Carlos Ghosn (Chairman/CEO of Renault and Nissan), CEOs of global Mobility companies and Ministers of transport. Peter Terium gave an inspiring and well-received talk on how innogy is spearheading the development of blockchain technology to enable cars to become “economically independent vehicles” – not only self driving, but also transacting autonomously to pay charges and receive payments. A further personal highlight was the session on “Rethinking Energy Technologies” which had very strong content presented by excellent scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Would you like to take part again in WEF 2018? I think, innogy should be there. I attended meetings, also together with our CEO Peter, where the outcome clearly outweigh the personal and monetary effort we put into participation. We got backed by a very professional team on the ground, preparation by various colleagues was crisp and spot-on. When we do it like that it is money and time well spent.