Web Summit CEO sidesteps political crisis
The day before the world’s largest technology and startup event opened in Lisbon today, Web Summit’s new CEO Katherine Maher has avoided comment on the current corruption imbroglio surrounding the Portuguese government.
Talking to RTP 1 Telejornal news on Sunday and asked if the political crisis in Portugal would affect the Web Summit, Katherine Maher said: “I think the wonderful thing is that we’re really partners with the Portuguese government, and when we talk about the government what we’re really talking about is the people of Portugal; the government is the people, the citizens of the country, so it is the case that there have been some changes, but ultimately our partnership is with the government, and we are thrilled to know that there will be some representatives there, and that the commitment to Web Summit and its important place in the Portuguese startup economy remains really sound.”
On the withdrawal of several large multinational technology companies and Israeli startups that pulled out of this year’s Web summit because of comments made by former CEO Paddy Gosgrave over the Israel-Hamas conflict, and who stepped down as a result, Katherine Maher said: “We have a great attendance here and several companies have decided to come back, and we were really pleased that out of the 70 companies that raised issues, the vast majority decided to stay in, including a number who had withdrawn later deciding that they would come back after telling the public that they were not going to attend this year.”
“We have had a number of excellent conversations and I expect those conversations to proceed. In terms of conversations with political partners, or members of the national governments, I haven’t had the chance to speak with the Israeli government yet, and I do feel that is an important conversation for us to have, but I want to be respectful of the phase where we are at, and make sure that folks know that we are a partner that they can trust.”
Asked whether Web Summit is facing a reputational crisis, she said: “I think it raised some questions about what our role in the world was, and I think it is appropriate that our partners and stakeholders ask those questions, but what we have seen in the past couple of weeks is loads of excitement and enthusiasm, and attendance numbers, which is evident to us that people are just as excited to come, and I think people are going to have a wonderful event and that is what people are going to remember.”