Only the best for Forbes' CEO Forum


Imagine a room full of the most influential corporate leaders in America with name tags pinned to their power suits.

The organizers of Forbes magazine's CEO Forum in Annapolis not only imagined it, they insisted on it. Big BOLD type so the big guys don't have to holler, "Hey you," across a crowded banquet table.

"Forbes wanted the first names to be very, VERY large," said Anne DeOrsey, with Galaxy Expocard Registration, a Frederick company that specializes in convention name badges. "We made them for everyone. You can't get in unless you have one on."

The lobby of the Loews Annapolis Hotel was buzzing with introductions yesterday as business leaders exchanged killer-grip handshakes and superwhite smiles.

Some were even becoming fast friends. Well, sort of.

John Belk, CEO of Belk Stores Services Inc., clearly was impressed by David Deutsch, the city manager from Bowie. But apparently Mr. Belk thought Mr. Deutsch was a bit more powerful than was actually the case.

"This man's been doing some great things with the city of Baltimore," said Mr. Belk, his North Carolina drawl rising above the din in the lobby. "You should definitely talk to him."

Mr. Deutsch laughed, but did not correct his newfound friend. "We'll work it out," he shrugged later. "We'll get Bowie noticed here."

Later, at a reception at the Naval Academy Museum, the corporate elite loosened up over amply poured drinks (no cash bars here) and trays of wild pheasant pate and terrine of venison. In a corner, two musicians in 17th-century garb played colonial music, with the notable exception of the "If I Only Had A Brain" tune from "The Wizard of Oz."

Meanwhile, the cocktail conversation gurgled over the cool marble museum atrium and around the displays of historic cannons, swords and assorted implements of destruction. Business, pleasure and power were among the more popular topics.

"I have to make business decisions even as I speak," Dave Talbot, chief executive officer of Bata Shoe Co. Inc., told a captive corporate audience before getting interrupted with a tray of marinated chicken and saffron dipping sauce.

"I absolutely love playing that golf course," said Dick Swift, chief executive of Foster Wheeler Corp.

"Let me give you my card," offered Dan Colussy, chief executive of UNC Inc.

"The lawyers, of course, are against everything," huffed Peter Huber, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

"You're going to have to excuse me, but I can't talk to you because there are some people I have to say hello to," said a breezy Bob Robertson, president of Con-Way Transportation Services.

"The key is, think globally, act locally," advised Jack Pellicci, president of Oracle Corp.

"Did you know we invented the paper towel?" asked Albert Dunlap, CEO of Scott Paper Co.

Their moods were jovial and expansive despite a day of travel in rainy weather. Betsy Vincent, the wife of Biogen chief executive Jim Vincent, was just happy for the little things, like the shoes on her feet. She left her white patent leather pumps in another bag on the helicopter and someone from the hotel was kind enough to retrieve them for her.

Such attention to detail kept the event's staffers hustling until the last minute. One major challenge: figuring out the seating arrangements for the fancy dinners at the Naval Academy and the Annapolis Yacht Club. You just can't go boy, girl, boy, girl.

"Not everyone is planning to go to every dinner, and we can't put the same people at the same table two nights in a row," said Julie E. Effron, director of conference operations for Forbes Management Conference Group. "And we can't forget that each HTC table also has to have a lawmaker and a Forbes host."

Seats won't be assigned at the corporate seminars today and tomorrow, but the main conference room at Loews won't hold everyone who paid the $2,850 forum fee. So 50 movers and shakers will find themselves seated in a downstairs "spillover room," where they will watch the speakers on closed-circuit television.

"It's a very nice room. The people can see and hear everything upstairs," said Francesco C. Leboffe, Forbes vice president and general manager.

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