Media moguls alight in valley
Allen & Co. opens 22nd annual
By PAT MURPHY
Express Staff Writer
It’s July. This is Sun Valley.
Then it must be time for Allen & Company
and its tycoon guests to gather for the annual conclave that Hoover’s online
business news once declaimed that it "attracts more moguls than a double-black
An estimated 400 guests—heavy hitters of
Fortune 500 companies and family members—will begin trickling into the Wood
River Valley this weekend on corporate jets for the Tuesday opening of weeklong
Conditions today, however, are vastly
different from when Herbert A. Allen Jr., now 64, picked Sun Valley 22 years
ago, not only for personal real estate investments and a vacation retreat, but
for the famed annual rendezvous of media magnates. (Little known to many in the
valley, Allen also was a major personal donor to underwriting the St. Luke’s
Wood River Medical Center hospital as well as the 1995 founding of the
Ketchum-Sun Valley Heritage Ski Museum.)
No longer is there any attempt to shroud
the July meeting with hush-hush deference.
It was a futile effort in any event. All
the signs are well recognized nowadays: the sudden parking of 50 sleek corporate
jets at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, the hiring of dozens of local
escorts and baby-sitters for VIP families, the presence of celebrities such as
TV’s Oprah Winfrey, Disney’s Michael Eisner and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and the
recent post-9/11 heavy security with Allen-imported guards.
Several years ago, Allen went all the way
by inviting national news media to the conference—a well-meaning decision that
backfired. Although reporters were prohibited from attending closed meetings and
social events, Allen’s guests were upset with the presence of TV satellite
trucks and reporters prowling the resort’s grounds trying to ambush CEOs for
interviews. No media has been invited since, although reporters show up ad hoc
and uninvited in hopes of landing stories about famed deals made among attendees
at the Allen conference.
As further evidence of change, a
spokesperson for the Sun Valley Resort, where Allen’s guests meet and relax,
this week openly welcomed Allen & Co. as "a great client" that means "wonderful
business" for Sun Valley Co. as well as the Wood River Valley. Allen picks up
the whole tab for the executives and their families.
But who attends and what’s discussed are
still officially treated as confidential, a signature style for the New York
City firm known for its modest visibility, its relatively small size (less than
200 employees) but immense popularity on Wall Street as a money manager and
midwife to huge mergers.
Something else is new this year for
Allen’s repeat guests to relish: a totally air conditioned Sun Valley Lodge,
plus 148 redecorated rooms and lavish new landscaping. All are part of a major
ongoing expansion and upgrading by Sun Valley Co. owner Earl Holding estimated
conservatively to cost tens of millions of dollars.
As their jets taxi to parking places at
Friedman Memorial Airport, the CEOs also will notice construction
activity—another indicator of growing pains in the Wood River Valley, as well
as confirmation that "construction is the sign of progress."
Mother Nature is providing a special look
this year, too. A cool June has preserved the surrounding mountain greenery,
unlike last year’s brownish hues across the landscape.
The annual meeting’s local economic impact
is considerable: tens of thousands of gallons in jet fuel sales, car rentals,
tour buses and hiking and white water rafting trips, entertainers, lodging and
meals, and, not to mention, Sun Valley Co.’s added payrolls.
In its current issue, Fortune magazine
profiles Allen & Co. and the Allen family men—with a heady lead paragraph
devoted to the importance of the Sun Valley conference in the business world,
the sort of publicity that helps perpetuate the area’s reputation as an elegant
If the Allen conference planners feel
relaxed with more openness, there’s another reason that approach could work
better here. Local residents are so accustomed to celebrities and VIPs in their
midst—including presumptive Democratic presidential candidate and part-time
resident John Kerry and longtime vacation fixture, California Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger—that a few corporate mega millionaires doesn’t turn them into
stalking, gaga autograph hunters.