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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday, July 2, 2004


Media moguls alight in valley

Allen & Co. opens 22nd annual conference

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 ski run."

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 formalities.

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 resort.

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.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.