Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Monti makes moguls think, laugh

Protesters and feminists criticize Allen & Co. conference

Express Staff Writer

Occupy Boise protesters try to gain the attention of Allen & Co. attendees Friday afternoon on Sun Valley Road east of Ketchum. Photo by Willy Cook

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti flew in for a one-day cameo at the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley on Friday. Members of the Italian press said Monti stopped by the conference to sniff out the possibility of securing investment in the Italian economy.

The Sun Valley mall was crawling with Italian reporters from Corriere Della Sera, Sky TG-24, Il Sole 24 Ore and other Italian media outlets who waited unsuccessfully for hours to get a comment from Monti. Though Monti did not make a public appearance, the mall was flooded with pensive, chuckling billionaires after Monti's interview with journalist Charlie Rose.

According to conference attendees, the prime minister brought up a lot of deep points, but was very funny as well.

"It was wonderfully thoughtful, wry," said Sony Chair Howard Stringer. "I think Italy would be better off with Mario Monti as prime minister next year, not just this year. He had a very deliberate speaking manner, but he was funny, too."

Apple CEO Tim Cook sparingly said the interview was, "very good—excellent."

Zoppas Industries CEO Gianfranco Zoppas gave a lengthy interview to the Italian press after he was stopped by an Idaho Mountain Express reporter.

"We are a very fortunate country to have such a prime minister," Zoppas said. "At the Sun Valley conference there is a lot of possibility to feel what's going on. We have the opportunity to fix what's going on. The prime minister has a reassuring and well-rounded vision. Italy is currently undergoing a cultural shift, but we're moving forward with the austerity program. We're walking the path we've chosen."

Other Italian movers and shakers in attendance at Monti's interview were Fiat President John Elkann and Index Ventures partner Mike Volpi.

Monti's 30 billion euro austerity package, which calls for lower spending, higher taxes and pension reforms, was designed to keep Italy from facing complete economic disaster like that experienced by Greece. It was passed by the Italian Senate in late 2011. Monti calls the austerity package his "plan to save Italy."

"The euro had a moment of weakness, but it's not finished," Zoppas said. "The Italian public is in need of being governed. The hope is that the euro must maintain its strength."

Zoppas told the press that Microsoft leader Bill Gates asked Monti a question during the discussion. The question apparently concerned Italy's "ability to move forward" with the austerity package.

After squeezing every drop of information they could from Zoppas, the Italian press offered their perspective on Monti's austerity package and Italy's economic situation.

"It's not a direction that you can joke about, but it's necessary," said Maurizio Caprara, diplomatic correspondent for Corriere Della Sera.

In a July 13 article, Caprara nicknamed the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley a "paradise of conspiracy."


Protesters create a stir

In addition to all the fuss surrounding the Italian Prime Minister, Occupy Boise protesters continued to stir the pot at the conference until the bitter end during their first annual "Sunny With a Chance of Moguls Camp"—organized in direct response to the "summer camp for billionaires," as the conference has been jokingly called. On Saturday afternoon, the protesters set up by Friedman Memorial Airport to see off the jet-setters with a not so "bon voyage" as the moguls rode their metal caravan into the clouds.

"We stood at the corner of Highway 75 and Airport Way," Occupy Boise protester Alex Neirwith said. "Everyone going to the airport could see and hear us. They couldn't ignore us. My sign said, 'Size does matter. Too big has failed.' Even if they didn't agree with me, I got some smiles from folks.

"On Thursday, I was protesting at the corner of Sun Valley Road and Dollar Road. We got the most feedback I'd ever seen, especially from people driving Sun Valley Co.-marked cars—the servers of the masters of the universe. They were giving us two thumbs up. In Boise, people just drive by. In Sun Valley we got more attention."

The protesters also held a mock wedding Friday at the Ketchum Town Square between a "media whore" and a "corporate fat cat."

Ironically, the Occupy Boise protesters used "1 percenter" Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook technology to organize their demonstrations.

When questioned what the protesters were trying to accomplish, Neirwith said, "I can't speak for anyone but myself. I wanted to make a statement against the increasingly disgusting income inequality in the country. I wanted to communicate to the one-hundredth of 1 percent that business as usual is over."

Occupy Boise protesters were not the only people to criticize this year's conference. Feminists from the Wood River Valley and across the nation contended that businesswomen were severely underrepresented at the event.

Former Wall Street media analyst and current Manka Bros. business blogger Jill Kennedy wrote in her "On Medea" blog, "There were very few women represented. By my count, there were three (and two were from Xerox—Ursula Burns and Anne Mulcahy [retired]—and only one, Sheryl Sandberg got any sort of attention at all. And, no, mogul wives don't count."

Female big shots such as Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman have attended the conference in the past, but women are still on the fringe at the mogul summer camp.

Powerhouse Oprah Winfrey did make an appearance on Saturday morning to interview billionaire investor Warren Buffet. One Allen & Co. employee said that during lunch Saturday, many of the moguls' plus-ones swarmed Oprah like a "frenzied school of Amazonian piranhas."

"The ladies at the conference were all over Oprah during lunch. She could barely eat her meal," he said.

Brennan Rego:

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