How the World Economic Forum secretly categorizes Davos delegates

Jens Stoltenberg is a three. Ursula von der Leyen and John Kerry are ones.
Jens Stoltenberg is a three. Ursula von der Leyen and John Kerry are ones.
Image: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
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One might think that being invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is enough to solidify one’s place in the highest echelons of business-oriented society. But the gathering has a way of separating even the global elite into strata.

In person, the WEF’s annual meeting lays bare the participants’ relative importance through the color and design of their name badge. The hierarchy of attendees is also enumerated, with more nuance, in WEF’s databases. Participants are put into categories numbered from one to seven—an indication, of sorts, of how senior or perhaps important a delegate is to the business world.

Nearly every person attending is assigned one of these “position levels.” Those listed as ones are labeled things like “Top Executive” or “Head of State.” Twos are labeled in positions like “Senior Executives” and “Deputy Head of State.” Central bankers are level three. Level four includes country officials in a sub-ministerial post. Local government officials are level five. People in honorary positions are level six. Level seven is for those classified as “Functional Staff.”

Donald Trump is listed as “1-Head of State.” His daughter Ivanka Trump, whose title is listed as “Advisor to the President,” is listed as “7-Functional Staff.” Her husband, Jared Kushner, as “Assistant to the President and Senior Adviser to the President,” is noted as “4-Sub-Ministerial Post.”

The WEF has publicized its annual meeting attendees to varying degrees in recent years. At times it has kept the list private, released it in full, or released it while excluding certain groups of people. The information here is based off a list submitted to us anonymously through our Secure Drop portal. By name, it matched, person for person, the attendee list made available to journalists. However, the information we received contains more detail on attendees than Quartz has ever seen and reveals in ways never disclosed before how the WEF catalogs and categorizes the world’s powerful people.

The WEF declined to comment on the list or the purpose of the categorization of attendees.

Quartz members can search and explore the entire list of attendees by name, company, position, or country, complete with their numbered category assignments.

The categorizations reflect not just the participants, but the organizations they represent. There are only two leaders of international organizations labeled as “1-Head of Top IO” (for “international organization”). Those are António Guterres, the secretary-general of the UN, and Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Leaders of the WTO, NATO, and OECD are listed as “3-Head of IO/Deputy Head of Top IO.”

In all, 46% of this year’s participants are listed as a ones, and 0.75% are sevens.

The categories are not static, as a trio of former UK prime ministers illustrates. Gordon Brown, who was prime minister from 2007 to 2010, is listed as “6-Public Sector Expert.” (Al Gore, the former US vice president, is categorized the same way.) Tony Blair, who preceded Brown and is now executive chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, is “1-Academia/Think-tank.” David Cameron, Brown’s successor, is “1-Top Executive” (he’s at the forum as president of Alzheimer’s Research UK).

The current UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, is not on the list. He is staying away from the event and has banned most other ministers from attending.