Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Business, media titans rubbing elbows

As usual, Allen & Co. conference attracts big names in business, politics


By EXPRESS STAFF

    For the past three decades, the Allen & Co. conference at Sun Valley Resort has set the stage for some of the most important deals in the media, technology and entertainment industries.
    The secrecy surrounding the privately funded confab ensures the ripples from such dealings only rarely resonate across news headlines, instead materializing in ledgers and stock portfolios.
    Investment banker Herbert Allen Jr.’s 31st annual Sun Valley Conference—which started Tuesday and kicks into full gear today, July 10—once again promises the presence of some 300 business and political magnates in the Wood River Valley. The conference officially closes Sunday, July 14.
    This year’s guest list includes many faces familiar to the convention: Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey; Tim Cook, CEO of Apple; Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft; Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook; Larry Page, CEO of Google; Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Twenty-First Century Fox; Bob Iger, CEO of Walt Disney Co.; Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City; Idaho Gov. Butch Otter; Phil Knight, CEO of Nike; Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf; billionaire Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway; Philippe Dauman, CEO of Viacom; and journalist Charlie Rose. And then there’s Allen, who heads the New York City-based boutique investment bank that bears his name and owns a residence in Sun Valley.
    The conference started Tuesday night with the Allen & Co. Western Barbecue at Sun Valley. Otter and Idaho First Lady Lori Otter were expected to attend the kick-off event. Through Saturday, guests will have opportunities to sit in on exclusive lectures and forums at the Sun Valley Inn conference center. Meanwhile, their families can participate in a flurry of activities planned months in advance, including golf, tennis, hiking, fly fishing, wagon rides, knitting, yoga and whitewater rafting.
    Meetings started today at 7:30 a.m., with an interview of a panel of commissioners from all four major sports leagues: Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League, Roger Goodell of the National Football League, Bud Selig of Major League Baseball, and David Stern of the National Basketball Association. That was followed by an interview of Google CEO Page.


This year, some of the early speculation about possible deals at the conference is focused on the cable television industry.


    On Thursday, meetings include a discussion about economic growth with Mayor Bloomberg, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, and Facebook’s Zuckerberg. That will be followed by an interview of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
    On Friday, Tom Brokaw of NBC News will moderate a panel discussion about succeeding in business without harming the environment. Later Friday morning, Brokaw will interview King Abdullah Il Ibn Al Hussein of Jordan.
    On Saturday, Tom Friedman of The New York Times will interview Bill and Melinda Gates, who run the well-endowed Gates Foundation.
    Allen & Co. executives hope the unique gathering brings about business deals that might not otherwise come to fruition.
    Security for the event is tight. No press releases are issued, and only a select few outsiders—all of whom are instructed to keep quiet about the goings-on—are allowed to view or participate in the events. Journalists are restricted from getting too close to the conference center.
    Typically, Wood River Valley residents—many of whom have been screened and hired by Allen & Co. to serve the guests as drivers, babysitters, caterers and tour guides—oblige in the company’s requests to keep the event as low-profile as possible. In return, local employees earn steep hourly wages and generous end-of-the-week tips.
    The conference is also a boon for businesses up and down the valley, from high-end restaurants to fishing outfitters. The economic impact of the conference has been estimated in the many millions of dollars, but no scientific estimates have been made.
    This year, some of the early speculation about possible deals at the conference is focused on the cable television industry. Liberty Media Corp. Chairman John Malone, who has bought and sold several media and cable companies, could act on predictions that the industry is about to go through a period of consolidation. In Sun Valley, Malone could rub elbows with fellow cable industry heavyweights Robert Marcus, COO of Time Warner Cable, and Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast.
    (For coverage of the event, see the Friday, July 12, Idaho Mountain Express.)




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