Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Valley greets, but doesn’t meet, heavy hitters

Allen & Co. attendees come to Sun Valley for annual retreat, possible business deals

Express Staff Writer

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg exits the conference area during the 2010 Allen & Co. event in Sun Valley. Photo by Mountain Express

Telltale signs of the much-discussed but always secretive Allen & Co. conference create tantalizing images of business deals taking place in Sun Valley.

The New York-based investment bank hosts the retreat at the resort after the Fourth of July, bringing media, technology and entertainment leaders together for private discussions and potentially huge business deals.

Though some decisions that come out of the meetings can have major impacts in the business world—and prompt speculation about who is talking with whom about what—secrecy is a key component of the event.

Previous attendees have included software tycoon Bill Gates, investment guru Warren Buffett, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, television icon Oprah Winfrey and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg. The guest list and agenda, however, are never revealed to the public or the media.

But efforts to keep it totally under wraps are impossible. Locals and visitors are tipped off to guests' arrival as corporate and private jets descend upon Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey. Guests expected—but not confirmed—to attend this year include Walt Disney Co. president and CEO Bob Iger, Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis, CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves, Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman, and Sony Corp. chairman and CEO Howard Stringer.

And, as this marks the 29th annual Allen & Co. retreat in Sun Valley, residents are used to the undercurrent of activity.

Reticence is the rule, among participants, organizers and officials.

"Like all our guests, they're very important to us," said Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley Resort spokesman.

He declined further comment.

Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich said the city doesn't focus on individual names but welcomes the group as a whole.

"We're delighted with the idea that they can hold their meetings anywhere and they keep coming to our area," he said.

Willich said the city provides assistance when needed but allows the group to meet undisturbed. The respect for privacy afforded attendees is likely a central reason they keep coming back, he added.

"The approach is, hold your meetings, enjoy the area and we're not going to bother you," Willich said. "We're just not those kind of people."

Although the economic impact on the valley is difficult to estimate, Willich said the retreat provides a boost to business.

"It's hard to say," he said. "The month of July is a big month anyway. But it's obvious, if you look at the people around, the number of people going in and out of meetings and staying in the area, especially Sun Valley, it's a big deal to us.

"Maybe that's why we want to make sure we treat everybody right, so we don't mess that up."

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall said that while the event provides a boost to the area, Allen himself has made a considerable impact.

"Mr. Allen is a blessing to this community," Hall said. "His conference is an institution that puts [a lot] of money into locals' pockets, and having his conference here provides international exposure that money can't buy."

Hall noted that Allen donated $100,000 in seed money that helped build Ketchum Wi-Fi, which provides free wireless connectivity in downtown Ketchum.

Greg Randolph, general manager of the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the event is good for attendees as well as for the community.

"Allen & Co. draws a lot of national and international attention to the Sun Valley area and certainly shines a light on the interesting mix of seclusion, amazing outdoor environment and level of intellect in the community," he said.

In return, he said, "We provide a unique retreat where some of the world's most influential thinkers network."

The conference will likely be in full swing on Thursday and last through the weekend.

Rebecca Meany:

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