Friday, July 11, 2008

Media moguls mingle in Sun Valley

Allen & Co. conference draws big shots, billionaires

The private jets lining the tarmac at Friedman Memorial Airport was the first tip off. The annual Allen & Company conference and retreat is underway this week in the Sun Valley resort. Herb Allen Jr., President and CEO of the Allen & Company Inc. investment firm, first assembled the conference in 1983 to bring wizards of media, finance and technology together with influential political and cultural figures.

This year's notable attendees include CNN's Anderson Cooper, NBC President Jeff Zucker, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, News Corporation Chairman and media emperor Rupert Murdoch, PBS's Charlie Rose and the conference's special guest, His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan.

With a net worth of $2 billion, Allen ranks as the 239th richest man in America by Forbes Magazine. At the conference bearing his name, he is far from the top of the capitalist heap.

Rupert Murdoch and son James Murdoch stroll Sun Valley's paths on Thursday morning. Despite rumblings about the imminent demise of traditional print newspapers, the recent Wall Street Journal acquisitionist has not shown any signs of abandoning newsprint. Asked by the New York Times if he would be making any business moves in Sun Valley, Murdoch replied "Not this week."

Sinclair Oil and Sun Valley Company owner Earl Holding and his wife Carol Holding greet James Dixon Robinson III, former CEO of the American Express Company. With a net worth of $5 billion, Holding is listed as the 63rd richest man in America. The Holdings are accompanied by Sun Valley Company General Manager Wally Huffman.

The Food Network's Rachel Ray is a new face at the annual conference, but the TV celebrity's self-made millions has launched her into the media mogul orbit. In under a decade, Ray climbed the food chain from candy-counter girl at Macy's to a celebrity chef and author of cookbooks selling over 4 million copies. Her name alone is a valuable media commodity.

James Dixon Robinson III was the CEO of American Express from 1977-1993 and has been a director of the Coca-Cola Company since 1975. He is an honorary chairman of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He is also a member of the Business Council and the Council on Foreign Relations, among other influential committees and foundations. Asked about the hurting American economy, Robinson said, "These are difficult times, but America is a great country and we will get through it."

Since leaving the helm at the Walt Disney Company in 2005, Michael Eisner has delved into new media. His Tornante Company recently launched an online video production studio called Vuguru. (In Italian, "tornante" is a euphemism for "hairpin turn.")

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