UPDATED Sunday, 8:40 PM: The 33rd annual Sun Valley conference came to a close with a well-attended dinner hosted by Allen & Company’s Herb Allen … well attended by most executives across the country at least. “All the Hollywood guys leave early like they’re too cool for school,” said one attendee. Some of the most powerful people in the country poured into the ballroom at the Idaho retreat where Allen recapped what occurred during the week and then thanked everyone for being there.
But the highlight was a tribute that Allen gave to two of his friends who had passed away — SurveyMonkey CEO David Goldberg and the former Coca-Cola Co. COO and president Donald Keough.
Goldberg, husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, died in March of this year from a blow to the head when he fell off off a treadmill while on a family vacation in Mexico. He had attended the Sun Valley conference in prior years with his wife. The executive, who had worked previously at Yahoo!, was only 47 and the father of two children.
Keough, 88, grew up in the Midwest and ended up at company that eventually became part of the beverage giant. He would rise up through the ranks, working there for 63 years at the most formative time for the Atlanta-based company, from 1950 through to 2013. He is a very well-known name in Corporate America and was considered a born leader, even named chairman of Allen & Co. He is survived by his wife and six grown children.
Allen gave heartfelt tributes to both men as Coca-Cola Co. chariman and CEO Mutar Kent — who was part of a panel earlier in the week — looked on. “Honestly, it was so well done that I got choked up from it,” admitted one attendee. And so ends another year at Sun Valley.
UPDATED, Saturday, 7:02 PM: Another day at Sun Valley, another round of panels, three to be exact. The most interesting of the day sounded like the second one which was about advancing technologies in the healthcare field — from 3D imaging training for doctors to treating cancer differently. Using 3D technology is great for Hollywood blockbusters, but for the medical profession, those attending the conference learned how it can be used to help diagnose conditions without reliance on risky exploratory surgeries.
In the field of cancer research, panelists talked about the latest kinds of therapies in treating cancer — very specifically, doctors have developed a protein that coats the chemo so that it attacks the cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact.
“It was fascinating to hear about these different kind of medical advances,” said one attendee. Yes, one day chemo-therapy will be as medieval as putting leeches on the temples to relieve a fever (which is, by the way, the way Lord Byron died).
That kind of targeted cancer treatment is something that has actually been going on for some time — at least about 14 years. I learned about it initially from former Warner Bros.’ vice-chairman Michael Fuchs who had been talking to a doctor who was part of a Nobel prize-winning medical team. This particular kind of therapy to battle cancer — and there are many — was genetic therapy and it singled out only cancer cells instead of killing everything in proximity when administered through a port that went into the liver. It was called Rexin-G.
After that informative panel, billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates took over for a discussion of philanthropy and improving health conditions on a global scale. They have been eradicating polio in Third World countries in what has been an enormous battle. The last time a disease was completely eradicated was smallpox in 1980, Gates noted.
The Gates have made huge strides in wiping polio off the face of the planet, but they told the CEOs in attendance they are not stopping there. They said they hope to do the same with malaria. The co-founder of Microsoft and his wife have been tireless workers to wipe out four diseases in the next 15 years through their Foundation and working with others around the world. “They talked about eradicating polio in Africa and they are really going after malaria now.”
The Gates are known for their efforts to improve life for children (and adults) in poor countries. One CEO I know — who many years ago was known as the first American engineer to graduate from Tokyo University — has been working in Africa and other poor nations to bring clean water (‘Water of Life’) and process it safely into drinking water. By doing so, it eradicates disease by cleaning water via using what is available in abundance in these parts of the world — solar power. At one point, this guy had interviewed with both Gates and Steve Jobs who wanted him in their companies, but he chose the same life of philanthropy to help children in Third World countries. It is a mindset. Either you have it or you don’t.
The Gates talked about what they said were very realistic goals to eradicating the four diseases by 2030. “I mean, they are talking about global issues that none of us in Hollywood ever think about,” said one attendee. “This has been a really interesting day.” Yep, this is the important stuff.
An A-list of media moguls, politicians, and law enforcement and their families are all invited to panels and then to a dinner each night. The expenses are all paid for by Allen & Company, which is an investment bank behind some of the biggest mergers in America. Read below to see some of this year’s attendees.
UPDATED, Friday, 6:22 PM: In uniform and donning a cowboy hat, Milwaukee Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr., took the stage this morning at the Allen & Co. conference to endorse law enforcement actions and talk about the U.S. prison system. The panel was moderated by the junior Senator for New Jersey, Cory Booker who “did a helluva job,” according to one executive.
Theirs was the first of three panels that were held today in what was a decided turn from yesterday’s presentations. It was a more serious, more news-driven day inside the retreat with Clarke straight down the line praising law enforcement, and then a serious conversation about how the prison system is unfair to different races and social classes. The panelists also talked about rehabilitation and how that is done effectively. Ferguson wasn’t really talked about much, said one attendee. “It was kind of in the background.”
“Clarke was very pro-law enforcement,” said another executive who said the two other panels were much more interesting. Those focused on the Middle East.
Former CIA director George Tenet who is now a managing director at Allen & Co. (don’t ask), moderated the second panel about the Middle East and the ongoing problems. “It was actually a very balanced discussion,” said one attendee. “It wasn’t a very uplifting conversation but interesting.” One of the subject matters, of course, was about terrorism and ISIS and how the group is able to win over the youth in that part of the world.
The third panel was a different format altogether. Tom Brokaw interviewed the King of Jordan. It was basically a one-on-one interview about economic development in his country and how they are trying hard to make the country more competitive.
“It was very factual and newsy. I thought was a really interesting day,” said one attendee.
UPDATED, Thursday, 5:51 PM: “We will defeat Isis” proclaimed Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to a room full full of some of the most powerful corporate executives. He said that there is no question that the U.S. military can do the job, but strategically, the key is in controlling the area and having the locals do it themselves. His comments to moderator Charlie Rose were polarizing once again. “It’s just pure propaganda,” said one executive. “I mean just Obama’s guy saying what he is supposed to. It was just stupid.” However, another attendee thought it was intelligent discourse. “He acknowledged that we still have a big challenge in Syria, but what he was saying to me is that we need the help of those in the countries being affected and they have to want to do it.”
A heavy subject coming off of the first panel of the day about the fashion industry which was moderated by French billionaire businessman Francios-Henri Pinault (yes, husband of Salma Hayek). Atlanta businesswoman Sara Blakely who founded the undergarment company Spanx and veteran fashion entrepreneur Diane von Furstenberg (wife of mogul Barry Diller) discussed their branding strategies. Furstenberg explained how she is really “selling a dream” to women who buy her clothes while both talked about the challenges in their prospective companies to grow out their brands.
“Sara Blakely is the youngest billionaire in the world, so you kinda what to listen to what she says,” said one attendee who loved the panel, noting that Furstenberg’s sensibilities about business and balancing all aspects of her business was “just great.” Probably because they were asked the right questions, too. Journalist Willow Bay (wife of Disney’s Robert Iger — are we noticing a theme here?) asked smart questions to the two businesswomen, it was noted.
While her husband and Apple CEO Tim Cook were seen around the compound arranging individual meetings with people, the weather was cooperating at least for the day. “There’s not a lot of new faces this year, some but not alot,” said one attendee. “You know, you see Tim (Cook) and Bob (Iger) making the rounds and touching base with people, setting meetings. It’s a lot of social networking for the most part” offline, you mean.
The last panel, moderated by Financial Times editor Lionel Barber, was apparently all about technology in the environmental space. For Californians attending, they were interested to see what Gov. Jerry Brown had to say. He said that they were implementing drip technologies for farmers (growers) and the state is dealing with one of the worst droughts in state history the best they can. Currently, the state gets a lot of water from Colorado, but he said, “if we have to get it from the ocean, we’ll get it from the ocean.” Desalination of water? Should have been started ages ago. He had the room laughing several times and quipped, “Hopefully, it will rain next year.
UPDATED, Wednesday, 5:42 PM: Driverless cars, artificial intelligence and colonizing Mars? Tesla founder Elon Musk discussed all these possibilities and more in the morning session at Herb Allen’s Allen & Company mogul conference in Sun Valley, ID. “He was somewhat polarizing,” said one executive. “Either people liked his presentation or they didn’t.” Either way, the young (44-year-old) entrepreneur held the attention of most everyone in the room as he shared his vision of the smartest way into the future and how current regulations actually could help the growth of technology. “What it must be to have a brain that works like that,” said one attendee.
Another morning discussion was a straight-up business panel moderated by NY Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin with CEOs Meg Whitman of Hewlett-Packard, Muhtar Kent of The Coca-Cola Co. and Carlos Brito of InBev. “It was actually a very hard business panel discussion, but it was very interesting. They talked about how to manage through change in the marketplace, cost-cutting, growing smartly and adapting to the global market,” said one attendee. All three of the panelists definitely could teach Hollywood companies a few things as all of the companies have been well-established for years to take advantage of the growing global economy.
Meanwhile, there were a little chatter about today’s outage at the New York Stock Exchange, but it was hardly a major topic of conversation among the attending moguls.
Other panels during the week include one from Gov. Jerry Brown, who is dealing with a major crisis with the drought in California. That likely will be addressed as he talks about clean energy.
PREVIOUSLY, TUESDAY, 1:07 PM: It’s that time of year again. Herb Allen’s Allen & Company is back with its five-day Sun Valley retreat at an exclusive resort in Idaho where some of the most powerful executives in media, technology and finance listen to panel discussions — and, more importantly, often privately cook up deals. The conference this year kicks off tonight with a barbeque before heading into the panels in the morning.
About 300 moguls typically attend. And this gathering already looks a lot like last year’s which was about 80% tech heavy. The conference will last until the 12th when it closes (as always) with a dinner hosted by Mr. Allen.
The usual Hollywood players are expected in attendance: Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James — just promoted to, respectively, Executive Chairman and CEO of Fox — as well as Chase Carey will be there. Other usual suspects include Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes, Viacom’s Philippe Dauman, Liberty Media’s John Malone, Disney’s Robert Iger, NBCUniversal’s vice chairman Ron Meyer, CBS’ Les Moonves, Sony Entertainment chief Michael Lynton, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, media mogul Barry Diller, The Weinstein Co.’s Harvey Weinstein, DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, Paramount’s Brad Grey, CAA’s Bryan Lourd and ICM’s Chris Silbermann, to name a few.
But this year is interesting in that it is becoming (like the economy itself) much more global with foreign politicians expected in attendance from Mexico and Colombia and from the UAE.
Also expected are Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Dropbox founder Drew Houston, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Garrett Hoffman, tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen and Wasserman’s Media Group’s Casey Wasserman.
David A. Clarke, Jr., the highly controversial sheriff out of Milwaukee, who attends NRA events and this year suggested that an assault rifle be added to the official U.S. seal, will be on hand as will Everytown for Gun Safety’s Michael Bloomberg who is the former mayor of New York City. Have fun with that, guys.
Although attendees typically are on best behavior, several will be looking for signals about what’s really going on behind the scenes at their rivals. For example: Do Lachlan and James get along, and do they have the juice at Fox — or is Rupert still running things? What’s going to happen at Viacom and CBS when Sumner Redstone’s off the stage? Is Sony still really committed to entertainment? How long will it take for Malone to persuade Lionsgate to buy Starz now that he’s on the studio’s board? And will Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook or someone else in tech decide it’s finally time to snap up a studio as they see the Internet business consolidate with deals including AT&T’s with DirecTV and Charter with Time Warner Cable?