Sun Valley: What are these guys doing here?

July 8, 2009

Allen & Co’s annual Sun Valley media conference attracts more than moguls, technology executives and money managers. Of the more than 200 people on the invitation list, there are plenty whose connection to the conference’s themes are tangential at best.

This is a perennial feature, previous attendees told me, but they usually don’t get as much attention because reporters are trying to break news on the big media guys. Many of them come because they have ties to banker and conference organizer Herb Allen. Others come because they’re just plain interesting people.

Also, you can detect what likely themes will emerge in panel discussions. We’re guessing a host of generic discussions that usually mark high-level meetings: world health, making U.S. children more competitive in math and science so they’ll “innovate” and start tech companies, the United States’ export of “soft power” through which it influences other nations through its cultural and media exports, how sports and media can continue to get rich off each other, how to make big money in poorer countries and various other topics that we mention below. The “huh” category is reserved for pure guesswork.

P.S. Here is one other observation we discovered while researching all 250+ names on the invitation list that we obtained: A far higher-than-expected number in their official biographies list the interviews they gave to Charlie Rose on his show as one of their top accomplishments. Rose, as you might expect, is expected to attend.

P.P.S. We heard that there are one or two “special guests” scheduled to come, but have no idea who they are. Any guesses? I’ll start with Apple CEO Steve Jobs and director Steven Spielberg.


  • Jerry Reinsdorf: Owner of the Chicago Bulls basketball team and the Chicago White Sox baseball team.
  • Peter Ueberroth: managing director, the Contrarian Group Inc. (But better known as the former commissioner of Major League Baseball)
  • Francis (Fay) Vincent, chairman, Vincent Enterprises. (Former MLB Commish.)
  • Stan Kroenke, chairman, The Kroenke Group. (Real estate magnate, married to Wal-Mart heiress Anne Walton. Owns the Denver Nuggets basketball team and is majority shareholder of the U.K. Arsenal soccer team. He also owns way too much other stuff to list.)
  • Allan “Bud” Selig, commissioner, Major League Baseball.
  • David Stern, commissioner, National Basketball Association
  • Roger Goodell, commissioner, National Football League
  • Gary Bettman, commissioner, National Hockey League
  • Jeffrey Wilpon, COO, New York Mets, and Fred Wilpon, chairman, Sterling Equities Inc., who also owns the Mets.
  • Ted Leonsis, principal owner, Washington Capitals Hockey team. (And former AOL executive.)
  • Daniel Gilbert, chairman, Quicken Loans. (He is the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team and bought an American Hockey League franchise in Erie, Pennsylvania. He also is a venture capitalist, and has invested $4 million in the social networking and style tips website StyleCaster)
  • Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James. (The Chosen 1!)

Washington, D.C. types and other politicians:

  • Ambassador Henry Crumpton. President, Crumpton Group LLC. (Former CIA agent in a variety of rather high-up positions. His company, according to a now-defunct version of his website, identifies ways for other companies to make profits in parts of the world that might not seem all that friendly at first.)
  • David Kilcullen, partner, Crumpton Group LLC.
  • Montgomery Meigs, visiting professor, Georgetown University. Also General, U.S. Army (Ret.)
  • Luis Alberto Moreno, president, Inter-American Development Bank.
  • Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City. (He is not on our latest version of the list, but you never know.)
  • Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey.
  • Sam Nunn, former Georgia Democrat senator and head of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. (With this much starpower in Sun Valley, one hopes the missiles are aimed somewhere else for a few days.)
  • Manuel A. Roxas, senator, Philippines.
  • Raymond Chambers, secretary-general’s special envoy for malaria. (After all, if Bill and Melinda Gates are coming…)
  • Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow, The Brookings Institution
  • Martin Indyk, director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Senior Fellow, foreign policy, The Brookings Institution
  • Michael Berman, president, The Duberstein Group. (Lobbyist for some big companies, including Comcast, General Motors and Goldman Sachs. He was counsel to former Vice President Walter Mondale during the Carter administration.)


  • Delos Cosgrove, president and CEO, Cleveland Clinic.
  • Donald Stein, department of emergency medicine, Emory University School of Medicine.
  • Joseph Vacanti, chief of department of pediatric surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital.
  • Denis Cortese, president, CEO, Mayo Clinic
  • David Snow, chairman and CEO, Medco Health Solutions Inc.


  • Michelle Rhee, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools.
  • Joel Klein, chancellor, New York City Department of Education.


  • Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO, Cirque du Soleil. (For night-time entertainment?)
  • Mark C. Taylor, chair, department of religion, Columbia University. (For morning prayer?)
  • Muhtar Kent, chairman, CEO, The Coca-Cola Co. (For light refreshments?)
  • Jonathan Oppenheimer, head of chairman’s office, De Beers Group. (For impromptu Sun Valley marriage proposals?)
  • Andrew Liveris, CEO, chairman, Dow Chemical Co. (Widely considered to have taken a big M&A deal in the wrong direction, maybe he’s hanging out somewhere where he’s unlikely to run into company shareholders.)
  • Yousef al Otaiba, Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. (The U.A.E. has investments in various media properties, making al Otaiba a fairly logical attendee.)
  • Donald Robert, CEO, Experian. (These guys know your credit rating.)
  • Richard Riordan, former mayor, Los Angeles. (A natural for movie studio guests, we’re guessing.)
  • Louis Simpson, president and CEO, capital operations, Geico Corp. (In case one of us reporters crashes a rental car?)
  • Heather Nolin of Heather Nolin Consulting. (We swear we couldn’t find anything about her online.)
  • Michael Fux, president and CEO, Lifestyle Innovations LLC. (This man ran the company that brought you memory foam mattresses, mattress toppers and pillows.)
  • Andrew McKenna, chairman, McDonald’s Corp. (Lunchtime sponsor?)
  • Simon Johnson, professor of entrepreneurship, MIT Sloan School of Management. (We are guessing that he is moderating a session that every crusty old media mogul should consider attending.)
  • Philip Knight, chairman, NIKE Inc. (Sun Valley promises lots of hiking.)
  • Ronald Sugar, chairman and CEO, Northrop Grumman Corp. (Most of us are flying to Sun Valley.)
  • Nassef Sawiris, CEO, Orascom Construction Industries S.A.E. (We’re st
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Regarding one of your ‘Huh?’ people: (Muhtar Kent, chairman, CEO, The Coca-Cola Co. “For light refreshments?”):

Allen & Co.’s entire value-add is in the networking. Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway is by far the biggest shareholder of Coke. Warren and Herb Allen are good friends, and Herb is on Coke’s board; Donald Keough (chairman of Allen & co) is on both Coke and Berkshire Hathaway’s board and is a friend of both Warren’s and Herb’s.

One example of the many ways in which the above and other attendees are connected: Allen & Co bought a controlling interest in Columbia Pictures years ago, later sold it to Coke, and later helped Coke sell it to Sony.

Barry Diller, InteractiveCorp CEO and Sun Valley attendee, is also a Coke director. InteractiveCorp’s directors include (surprise) Donald Keough, John Malone, Diane von Furstenburg (also Barry’s wife), all in beautiful Sun Valley as we, er, speak.

The connections go on and on.

For anyone interested in how this conference REALLY works I strongly recommend reading chapter 2 of Alice Schroeder’s recent (and only authorized) biography of Buffett, “The Snowball.” The chapter, appropriately titled ‘Sun Valley,’ gives a rare, detailed insiders view of the Allen & Co. conference.

Posted by Rob D | Report as abusive