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The undoubted star of the show arrived on Friday. Mohed Altrad, last year’s EY World Entrepreneur of the Year, made his way to our TV studio stopping for selfies and handshakes on the way with star-struck fellow entrepreneurs.
The soft-spoken billionaire grew up as a Bedouin in the Syrian desert. He now runs Altrad, a construction products group in France that is expanding fast. “The last year has changed my life,” he told me, adding that not only has the business grown but also he gets hundreds of requests for speaking engagements and to provide help or advice to people. It pains him he cannot do them all.
The most important came from François Hollande, the French president. Mr Hollande wants Mr Altrad to help solve the problems of 11m people, many of them immigrants, living in France’s toughest neighbourhoods. It will take a long time, Mr Altrad says, but he is undaunted. His motto is: “believe in yourself”.
It is a potent reminder of the power of business people to change society.
As for his solution to the migrant crisis, he says the best way to solve it would be to bring peace to Syria by fighting Isis on the ground.
Disruption, the main theme of the week, has its downsides. It is striking how often the audience in Monaco has considered the downside of technological change. One man in the audience from India wondered what effect the internet and globalisation would have on the social fabric of his country and its vast rural population.
Another contributor to the debate pondered what might happen to the hundreds of millions of workers replaced by robots. Platform speakers tended to take an optimistic tone. Perhaps next year’s event will come up with answers to this — one of the most important question of our times.
Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, may run a FTSE 100 company but he has disrupted the market in different ways. Introducing him, Mark Weinberger, chief executive of EY, reminded us that Mr Polman had decided to stop reporting profits quarterly. Mr Polman said quarterly reporting was too short termist and his decision to stop it was part of his quest to create a sustainable business. Perhaps the Dutchman was hoping it would result in a shorter tenure. “I promised my wife I’d do five years. The average tenure of a chief executive is four and a half years.” He has done seven. “I continue to disappoint her.”
He told the audience in Monaco that his original ambition was to be a priest. “Then I discovered women.”
Is Estonia the tech paradise it is often painted as by outsiders? Yes, according to Jevgeni Kabanov, the country’s finalist here. “Our president used to code,” says Mr Kabanov, confirming that software programming is taught to all pupils in the Baltic country of 1.3m people. His ZeroTurnaround company’s software speeds up developers’ work in Java and is used by more than 65,000 customers. He explains that each citizen has a digital record and can sign paperwork digitally and bank online. “I file my taxes on my phone,” he says.
Erki Lipre chief executive of another Estonian company, Ridango, is now using these citizenship records to create smart ticketing for the transport industry. He’s one of the accelerating entrepreneurs receiving mentoring during the week.
“Estonia is becoming the tech hub of Europe,” says Mr Kabanov.
The sharpest entrepreneurs in Monaco appear to be hoteliers. Although some of the mid-range hotels we have seen do not appear to have been updated since the era of Princess Grace, demand is such that the hoteliers can easily charge hundreds of euros for an average double room and a steep additional charge for breakfast.
The sector looks ripe for disruption by Airbnb — in fact there’s a nice two bed apartment with pool for €146 a night that the FT has its eye on for next year.
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