Summit of Minds: ‘Great People, Great Content, and the Great Outdoors’

Author: Nancy Mann Jackson       

Summit of Minds

The Summit of Minds event is hosted in founder Thierry Malleret’s hometown of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in the French Alps (above). (Adobe Stock)

Since 2007, Thierry Malleret has published The Monthly Barometer, a predictive, analytical newsletter that distills the macro issues that matter to top-level business and investing decision-makers into one page. The newsletter combats information overload and siloed thinking by addressing and analyzing tough topics and global issues — but often, those topics also warrant more conversation.

To facilitate that conversation, Malleret, a former investment banker and economist, along with his partners, launched Summit of Minds in 2014. The three-day event, hosted in Malleret’s hometown of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in the French Alps, has since been held annually — most recently, Sept. 20–22 this year — and is known as a place for leading political and military figures, scientists, analysts, businesspeople, and wealthy families to gather in the great outdoors to discuss “investible ideas.”

Summit of Minds

Thierry Malleret, who launched Summit of Minds in 2014, says organizers “want everyone to know each other after three days.” (Courtesy Summit of Minds)

Attendance at Summit of Minds is by invitation only, and the number of participants is capped at 300. “We want it to be intimate, and for everyone to know each other after three days,” Malleret said. “If it’s too big, participants will get lost in the crowd.”

Malleret draws on previous high-profile conference experience in designing Summit of Minds: In the early 2000s, he ran the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF). In addition, one of his Summit partners, Philippe Bourguignon, was the CEO of the WEF, which Malleret called “purely serendipitous.”

Over the past five years, Malleret and his team have honed the event as a place where participants can get direct access to diverse individuals and ideas, based on the “strength of weak ties” and chance encounters, he said. Organizers bring in prominent thinkers and practitioners and design a carefully crafted program to frame the conversation, but every attendee’s voice is heard on the wide range of topics discussed. This year, topics at Summit of Minds — held at Le Majestic Congress — Meetings Centre, an hour-long car ride from Geneva International Airport, as well as at local hotels and restaurants and outdoors in the surrounding mountains — included mental illness, culture wars, climate change, Brexit, the French tech industry, aging gracefully, and politics in India and Hong Kong.

“We count on each participant to add their own personal ingredient and to stir the pot,” Malleret said. “We make a commitment to participants when they register: We will reimburse your costs if you leave without a new idea, a new friend, or a new project.” In 2018, 100 percent of participants left Chamonix with a new idea and a new friend, and almost 80 percent initiated a new project.

Expanding the Brand

The Monthly Barometer is focused on how economics, technology and cyber issues, as well as natural and political issues, relate to investments and investment decisions. As the publication’s trademark event, Summit of Minds shares the same focus and expands it into the natural world.

“Our audience consists of prominent investors with a social conscience, so we focus on how to make the world a better place,” Malleret said. “At our events, we expand our theme of economics and technology to include well-being and connecting with nature because we believe you make better decisions by spending time outdoors.”

That connection with the outdoors was expanded upon in a write-up of the 2019 event on the Summit of Minds website: “A conviction that physical movement and direct experience enhance not only our well-being but also our cognitive capacity lies at the heart of the Summit of Minds, [which gives participants] ample opportunity to put this idea to the test. Creativity, climbing, canyoning, conversation while hiking, mountain biking, and early morning meditation and stretching [are] all on offer and made the most of with enthusiasm.”

Many decision-makers are overwhelmed by the complexity of the world and all the information available to them — a problem that drove Malleret’s decision to launch The Monthly Barometer. And Summit of Minds goes even further to relieve that feeling of being overwhelmed. “Our events give them a chance to step back, enjoy a beautiful place,” he said, “and get a new perspective.”

Indeed, the breathtaking mountain location invites attendees to breathe deeply. And because the Summit of Minds team pays such close attention to every detail, to breathe easy.

For instance, Malleret writes a personal note to each attendee, which is waiting in their hotel room when they arrive. He and his wife personally welcome each guest as family, he said. Upon guests’ arrival, team members offer them a book that is likely to be of interest to them, and Summit speakers recommend books that have made an impression on them during the conference.

And every member of the event team knows who’s who so they can facilitate introductions between individuals who have similar interests.

“We want every participant to feel that he or she is participating in a family gathering or a gathering of friends,” Malleret said. “We interact with participants in a way that is very respectful but also very friendly.”

Summit of Minds

Le Majestic can accommodate up to 400 people in one meeting room. Attendance at Summit of Minds is capped at 300 each year, to keep the event intimate enough for people to get to know one another.

Keeping It Fresh

Helping attendees gain a new, fresh perspective year after year can be challenging. But Malleret and his team accept the challenge and work to reimagine their event for every iteration. “Unless you reinvent yourself every year, people get bored,” Malleret said. “Even though we meet at the same location every year, we make the event new every time.”

Moderators who are on the cutting edge of their industries are selected each year. Because the moderators for the sessions are responsible for helping frame the event, Malleret pays close attention to who they are and the slant they will bring to the summit.

While moderators are important, every participant at the Summit is a speaker, including heads of states who attend, Malleret said. “The way we frame the event is done is in such a way that you are forced to engage,” Malleret said. “There are no podiums, just real conversations. Our moderators get the conversations started and make sure everyone is at ease, and conversations go from there.”

In addition to bringing in the right voices to lead sessions and discussions, Summit of Minds takes pride in designing unique experiences for each event. For instance, two years ago, mountain guides led the event’s 300 attendees through the mountains and up onto a glacier in the Mont Blanc region. Atop the glacier, attendees participated in a plenary session focused on how global warming is affecting the world, with the glacier as a real-life object lesson.

Another year, Summit of Minds introduced the “idea bazaar,” in which each attendee was asked to present a new idea to everyone else. After an idea was presented, the group discussed how to move forward with that particular concept or suggestion.

Summit of Minds

The Summit of Minds moderators “get the conversations started and make sure everyone is at ease.”

Continuing the Conversation

The people who come to Summit of Minds have become a community that grows and changes slightly with each event, and Malleret and his team work continuously to nurture that community. In addition to sending out the monthly newsletter, Malleret digitally sends a collection of articles with a personal note each week.

About 10 times per year, the team gathers 20 community members for dinner, hosted by a subscriber. Each guest comes up with an idea that would be of interest to others in the room. The group has held such dinners in Dubai, Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Paris, London, and other cities. If a member of the community writes a book, Malleret’s team hosts an event to present the book and invites other Summit of Minds participants.

“It’s a way of supporting each other and nurturing our community,” he said.

Summit of Minds

Walkshops, workshops conducted while walking, are part of the Summit of Minds experience.

In 2019, Summit of Minds began holding regional events for the first time. While Chamonix remains the core event, the first ancillary event was held in June in Armenia, co-hosted by the Armenian head of state, President Armen Sarkissian, in an effort to encourage investment in the country. The event drew 240 people.

Families Summit of Minds, focused on family businesses and co-hosted by the Business Families Foundation, took place in the Charlevoix region of Quebec last month.

“When we venture outside of Chamonix, we always do so at the invitation of a great partner,” Malleret said. “At each one, we use the same structure as in Chamonix — a combination of great people, great content, and the great outdoors.”

Outdoor activities at Families Summit of Minds included a “walkshop” — a workshop conducted while walking, based on Malleret’s 2017 book, Ten Good Reasons to Go for a Walk. “Walkshops make us more creative,” he said, “and more original in our thinking.”

On the second night in Charlevoix, attendees could choose dinners around a theme that most interested them, ranging from discussions about trade agreements to places to invest, led by a theme leader. And they could stay after the last day, when sessions ended for “a bit extra” — additional organized activities in the great outdoors.

“We are roughly doubling our capacity in terms of Summits every year,” Malleret said. “We are very excited by this impressive growth, which vindicates our business model.”

Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer in Birmingham, Alabama.

‘Talking Like Pessimists’

Shortly after Summit of Minds 2019 concluded, a 13-page PDF overview of the event’s discussions and conclusions was posted to the Summit of Minds website.

In addition to summarizing session outcomes, the document shares books recommended by speakers and features seven quotes from speakers and participants:

  • “Be who you say you are— otherwise don’t say it.”
  • “If you cannot be perfect, be remarkable.”
  • “The canary is the Arctic. And the canary is dead.”
  • “You don’t need to be bigger to be better; you do need to be better to be bigger.”
  • “We should be learning from history, but Britain is living in it.”
  • “Those who do not say anything must also be heard.”
  • “Our idea of the problem creates our idea of the solution.”

The conclusion of the document acknowledged the somber nature of the discussions that took place, but offered the following hopeful insights:

“We spent the Summit talking like pessimists. But the mere act of coming together, and thinking and talking, defined us as optimists. We would only have engaged if we thought there were solutions to be found, or, at least, improvements to be made.

“Let us say, then, that in Chamonix we were pessimistic about the probabilities, and yet optimistic about the possibilities.”

Find the entire Summit of Minds PDF here.

Summit of Minds, which began as a standalone event in 2014 in the French Alps, was replicated into two regional versions in 2019 — and four are on tap for 2020, in addition to the signature conference. Find next year’s summits under Upcoming Events at Summit of Minds.

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