After last night’s networking dinner, the moguls of media, finance and tech industries piled into a panel discussion this morning to listen to a talk with two hedge fund managers about the economy in what was the first day of investment banker Allen & Co.’s annual retreat in Sun Valley, ID. The multi-day event will run this week with panel discussions and one-on-one talks, the last one being with former CIA chief George Tenet talking to the current CIA director Mike Pompeo (formerly a U.S. Representative from Kansas).
The star of the day was Air Force General Lori Robinson, who was interviewed in a one-on-one discussion with Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution whose expertise is defense and foreign policy. “She was very straightforward” as she spoke about the challenges the U.S. faces, said one attendee. “I can tell you that after listening to her, I sleep better at night knowing that she is there.” Another called her “obviously extremely competent.”
Robinson has been in the field since 1982 and has held top posits at the Pentagon and is now is the Commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command and NORAD which oversees homeland defense, civil support and security cooperation to defend and secure the United States and its interests. She is the first woman to hold the position.
The other session that had people talking was this morning’s session where well-known hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller and Baupost Group’s Seth Klarman (also a hedge fund manager) told the executives that many people confuse the performance of the stock market with the health of our economy, but that is not necessarily a great indicator. “They gave out a lot of data and investment information about our economy and how to determine growth,” said one attendee. “It was great because they really spoke their minds.” The panel was moderated by The New York Times/CNBC journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin who consistently gets high marks from attendees for drawing out responses with smart, informed questions.
That panel discussion was followed by another called Brand USA that included General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra, the first women ever to run a U.S. automaker and who has been aggressive in implementing a new strategy to streamline and pull up the profits by looking at developing businesses whether it be autonomous vehicles or taking consumer data and tailoring their products through better manufacturing decisions. Another on the panel was FB’s COO Sheryl Sandberg who spoke last year as well; it was moderated by the Financial Times’ journalist Lionel Barber.
One thing that seems to be happening this year is that moguls are flying in and out, but don’t seem to be staying for the entire week for days in a row. Up tomorrow for talks will be Nike founder (and philanthropist) Phil Knight who will be interviewed by CNBC’s Becky Quick with Tom Brokaw coming after to moderate a panel on “A Country Divided.” Next King Abdullah II from Jordan will speak one-on-one with talk show host Charlie Rose.
Right now, Friday will have a panel discussion about the drug epidemic in this country (moderated by Gayle King), Bill Gates will be interviewed by Sorkin and then speaking will be the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago when he tried to bring peace to a five-decades old conflict. That’s the schedule as of now, but some of it may change, attendees were told.