Private jets double-parked at Friedman Memorial Airport. Nondisclosure agreements, fresh off the press. You won’t see any formal signs for Allen & Co.’s annual media, business and technology conference, but entering its 36th iteration at Sun Valley Resort, locals know where to look.
Expect the telltale giveaways to continue through the weekend and into next week, as a select cadre of the world’s richest and most powerful converge on the Wood River Valley for the hush-hush affair, slated to start Wednesday.
Though guests rarely say what happens in the Limelight Room of the Sun Valley Inn, the Allen & Co. effect ripples countywide. For many residents, the week of work, ranging from babysitting to catering to guiding gigs, has become a welcome rite of July, complete with boosted wages and, often, a fat tip.
The conference, like the company itself, is secretive. Allen & Co., a private Fifth Avenue investment bank, doesn’t have a website. It counts George Tenet, the former head of the CIA, among its employees. Organizers and staff are contractually bound to silence. The schedule, as always, stays under lock and key. Presentations and panels cover a wide range of topics, but have focused on politics and on the technology, media and telecommunications sector—the bank’s specialty.
Still, much of the real business happens outside the classroom, yielding very big and eventually very public results. Time Warner’s doomed merger with AOL is rumored to have grown from the meeting. So was the $250 million purchase of The Washington Post by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world. Last year, Bezos’ top competition for that title shared the same room, as four of Money magazine’s five richest people on the planet came to the conference: Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg.
Every year, the guest list stays tightly guarded, and the 2018 invitees are no different. In early June, Bloomberg and Variety claimed to have a copy in-hand, which included some of media’s biggest and most controversial players.
These days, Charlie Rose counts in the second camp. A longtime television journalist and celebrated interviewer, Rose is a regular at Allen & Co., known for hosting Q&As with its most powerful attendees.
Now, felled by the #MeToo movement and, it seems, his own behavior, Rose is out of a job: In November, a Washington Post investigation found that Rose had allegedly sexually harassed eight women in the workplace. He was fired from CBS, PBS and Bloomberg the next day. Since then, the accusations have widened: The Post continued its investigation and, in May, published a report that identified 27 women who said they were sexually harassed by Rose, as recently as April 2017.
So his invitation to the 2018 event comes with some surprise—as well as the possibility for ignominious photo-ops and awkward interactions with his fellow guests.
That includes his old boss, CBS CEO Les Moonves, and Hollywood heavyweight Barry Diller, who, in a March interview with The New York Times, told columnist Maureen Dowd that “Charlie Rose ceases to exist.”
Not if his invitation is any indication. But maybe Harvey Weinstein does. Embroiled in a broader cloud of sexual misconduct, the disgraced film producer was reportedly left off this year’s list. Earlier this week, a New York grand jury heaped another set of charges for sex crimes on Weinstein, who has already pleaded not guilty to counts of rape and forcible sexual acts against two women.
Then there’s Jerry Richardson, until recently the owner of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, and another 2018 invitee, per the initial reports. A December Sports Illustrated investigation found that “at least” four former employees received confidential payouts to stay silent on Richardson’s workplace misconduct, which included sexual harassment and the use of a racial slur.
Under pressure from the league, he sold the Panthers in May for a record $2.2 billion.
NBC’s Tom Brokaw was also invited back, despite sexual harassment allegations against him. Brokaw, who hosted the “Nightly News” for 22 years, has denied wrongdoing.
An invitation doesn’t guarantee attendance—but it’s a tough one to turn down. Ask any of the heavy-hitters expected to attend, according to Bloomberg, like Fox titan Rupert Murdoch, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, General Motors head Mary Barra, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Or try to ask them, and get used to Allen & Co.’s de-facto motto: “We have no comments on the conference,” said Sun Valley Resort spokeswoman Kelli Lusk.
That message has been the same for 35 years: Everybody’s here, and nobody’s talking.
Friedman Memorial Airport Manager Chris Pomeroy expects flight traffic next week to be similar to the 2017 edition, with East Coast flights touching down around noon Tuesday, landing everything from Pilatus turbo-props to G6s on their 100-foot wings.
Get in early or be prepared to circle the block: It’ll only take six or seven hours for parking spots to fill up, Pomeroy said. Late arrivals drop off and dash—to Twin Falls, Boise, Pocatello, anywhere with space. When the weekend comes, they’ll all turn around, and head the other way.
“It’s a captive audience,” Pomeroy said. “The organizers know who they’re going to get—the same people come back, year after year. And based on what they’re telling me, it’s going to be a busy week.”