Sure, the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos is the premier gathering of global power brokers, a place for the great and the good to address the thorniest issues facing society. But it is also an unparalleled display of status and influence, with private jets and helicopters ferrying billionaires to decadent dinners and opulent parties, each designed to be more exclusive than the next, sowing jealousy among an elite who rarely get that feeling.
Amid this hustle, a select few manage to stand out for being thought-provoking, courageous, or simply ubiquitous. These are the winners of Davos. And Quartz’s reporters on the ground in Davos this year will identify the crème de la crème on a daily basis throughout the week.
Heading into start of the main program that starts today (Jan. 20), here are some early favorites for the figures that will make the biggest splash this year:
- Justin Trudeau—Canada’s new prime minister combines a mighty Davos cocktail of power, a famous family, liberal social conscience, and charisma. His progressive stance toward immigrants will take him far, and his relative novelty to the scene will mean the Davos set hasn’t tired of him yet. One big question is whether the former snowboard instructor dispenses with diplomatic protocol and takes to the world-class slopes that tower over the conference venue—a move that would surely garner him points among Quartz’s judges.
- Leonardo DiCaprio—The Oscar front-runner already collected an award for fighting climate change, and made headlines when he announced his foundation is making a $15-million donation to protect rainforests. He also lashed out at greedy oil companies. DiCaprio’s chances of staying in the Alpine gossip depend on whether he sticks around for behind-the-scenes talks and party appearances, or hops on a jet back to Hollywood.
- Kevin Spacey—The American actor from House of Cards has perfected portraying the unchecked pursuit and use of power. Spacey is scheduled to speak Friday (Jan. 22) about the theatricality of US politics—and a few choice lines on Donald Trump’s ascent could catapult him in the estimation of the Davos cognoscenti.
- Christine Lagarde—The International Monetary Fund head is scheduled to speak on the biggest issues of concern to the global economy today, including the refugee crisis, China’s slowing growth, and the sober outlook overall. Can the frank French lawyer, who has fans for her direction of the IMF, provide the thought leadership Davos attendees are looking for on these issues?
- David Cameron—The British prime minister will try to win friends and influence people ahead of a highly contentious referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the EU, which he may call as soon as this summer. Any revelations on his intentions will send the British press into a tizzy, and perk up the ears of officials who might be missing an appearance this year from Europe’s true leader: Germany’s Angela Merkel.
- Travis Kalanick—The Uber CEO could be the punching boy representing the wave of disruptive technological change that the WEF is predicting will contribute to a loss of millions of jobs worldwide. Or he and the many other tech execs given prominence on the program could charm their fellow captains of industry for the power they’ve built up in such a frighteningly short time.
- Mauricio Macri, another newish world leader, will be the first Argentinian head of government to go to Davos in a dozen years (and despite a cracked rib). Clear steps to bring his isolated economy out from the cold among the financiers and dealmakers doing business on the sidelines will generate a buzz.
- Davos Robot—A South Korean robot called HUBO will be on display, and some in attendance could come face to face with the technology that may soon replace them.
In the end, what is actually said at Davos is rarely remembered after the private planes take off and normal life resumes. But as geopolitical theater, there are few better events. One of the most memorable images from last year’s gathering was the steely determination of French president François Hollande as he strode through the hall to the main stage, determined to stand tall mere weeks after the Charlie Hebdo shootings rocked his country. Another winner was Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko, who memorably brandished a shrapnel-ridden fragment of a bus that was hit by a rocket, killing 13 of its passengers in eastern Ukraine; he angrily demanded that the Russian soldiers fighting with separatists in the region withdraw from his country. And then there was American musician will.i.am, whose sheer ubiquity at the event last year made him the talk of the town.
Stay tuned as we find out who will rise above this year.