Microsoft is holding its annual CEO Summit this week — hosting more than 120 business moguls from around the world, collectively representing 10 million employees and $3.4 trillion in annual sales, for a three-day conversation about business trends, corporate leadership and technology.
It’s one of the most powerful concentrations of business executives on the planet.
Joining top Microsoft execs in Redmond for the event this year are Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Reed Hastings of Netflix, Jeff Immelt of GE, Ursula Burns of Xerox, John Donahoe of eBay, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, Jonah Peretti of BuzzFeed, Warren Buffett and Arianna Huffington, to name just a few.
Yes, all those titans of industry, and many more, are in town this week.
So why is this the first you’re hearing about it? It turns out Microsoft is being more secretive than ever about this elite event.
The company is providing a few public details, including highlights from the agenda (topics include “Winning with Disruption” and “Turning Points”) and a limited sampling of attendees (see above).
However, the company this year is declining to describe what its new CEO Satya Nadella said in his remarks to the group. (Working reporters traditionally haven’t been allowed in the room, but in years past, the company webcast or provided reporters with a closed-circuit video feed of talks by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. More recently, the company provided a summary of Ballmer’s remarks.)
In another change this year, the company hasn’t released photos from inside the event, as it has in years past.
Frankly, we had overlooked the CEO Summit entirely this year until Huffington mentioned the event during her separate appearance at Zillow earlier today.
Why the low profile? For one thing, the approach has put a lid on some of the journalistic activities traditionally associated with the event, helping to ensure the privacy of the attendees.
Reporters over the years have gotten very creative in their attempts to shine a light on the gathering, with the Seattle Times in 2008 digging into the registrations of planes on the tarmac at Boeing Field during the event to discern more about the attendees; and a Wired reporter in 2004 infiltrating the pre-event party to talk with Warren Buffett and witness a tense discussion between Ballmer and Bezos.
The CEO Summit dates to 1997, when Bill Gates “recognized a need for business leaders to gather and exchange experiences around leading global corporations, and to learn about new technologies that will have an impact on business in the future,” according to Microsoft’s FAQ.
Over the years, the event has also been a not-so-subtle way for Microsoft to expose its newest technologies to high-profile business decision-makers. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find a Surface or a Windows Phone — or both — in the gift bag this year.