The annual Allen & Co. conference is all about talk, but all that talk is behind closed doors, and the exclusive conclave of some of the world’s wealthiest men and women is once again rife with speculation and short on confirmation.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was spotted walking on the bike path along Dollar Road with another man late Wednesday evening. The following morning, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump made a clandestine entrance into the conference, circumventing press at a well-trafficked entrance and briskly walking into a conference room surrounded by a crowd. Photographers and television cameramen quickly spun around in fruitless efforts to capture the low-profile arrival of two of the most high-profile figures in the world, but the appearance confirmed rumors around the Wood River Valley that the pair had been spotted Wednesday.
This is the 35th year that the Allen & Co. investment firm has hosted its eponymous conference in Sun Valley. Participants take part in a variety of indoor and outdoor activities at Sun Valley Resort and in the surrounding area. Many Wood River Valley residents are hired by Allen & Co. each year to serve the guests as drivers, babysitters, caterers and tour guides, usually earning high 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.
Deals forged at the event in the past have included Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post, and Time Warner’s ill-fated merger with AOL.
But for most of Thursday morning, reporters exchanged nothing more than friendly greetings and unfulfilled interview request with moguls walking into Sun Valley Resort’s Limelight Room through the chilly air.
“Excuse me, do you have a second?” a Bloomberg reporter in a press pen asked an attendee as the latter walked into the conference. “No, sorry,” the attendee replied without pause. “Excuse me, do you have a second?” the reporter persisted with the next incoming guest. Silence.
As that scene replayed dozens of times, it fit the pattern of a morning in which the only interview was a brief exchange between Fox Business Network and Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. Zuckerberg declined a conversation on the bike path and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki was enjoying time with her family, not giving interviews, on the sun-splashed sidewalks of the resort Wednesday evening.
But such was not the case for Nick Harman, who handles development and marketing for Ketchum-based hydration app company Vyykn, who landed a brief one-on-one with Apple CEO Tim Cook, one of the conference’s attendees. Money Map Press’ private investment newsletter once called Vyykn “the Apple of water.”
“I just couldn’t resist coming up here to walk around Sun Valley and take in the sights of all these impressive media moguls that are walking around,” Harman said. “I was very fortunate to almost immediately run into Tim Cook, who was between meetings. I approached him as he was carrying a plastic bottled water, and I simply said to him, ‘May I offer you an alternative to plastic bottled water? I work for a tech company that’s going to disrupt the bottled water industry.’ And he seemed very intrigued.”
Harman said he explained Vyykn’s “app-driven hydration ecosystem” to Cook and told him to keep an eye out for the company’s forthcoming foray into San Francisco markets. Cook also walked away with a Vykkn bottle and complimentary subscription.
“It would be an amazing turn of events if we had a follow-up as a result of Allen & Co., especially given the nature of me just coming up here,” Harman said. “It would be something truly magical if I was to get a call from Mr. Tim Cook, who has my number. We would roll out the red carpet for him in the Ketchum office.”
Regardless of what happens, Harman said it was an honor to meet Cook.
“I feel very blessed to have met him. I’ve respected Tim Cook for many years. I’m an absolute Apple geek, [I] have every product they’ve ever come out with,” Harman said. “So, to meet someone like that and to have a couple of minutes of conversation about a business that I’m involved with, and for him to actually listen and be interested, and to say that he was interested in it, was just an honor.”
At the conference known as “summer camp for billionaires,” the attendees’ parking lot is Friedman Memorial Airport, which was packed to capacity with billions of dollars’ worth of jets as of midday Wednesday, Airport Manager Chris Pomeroy said.
With around 85 jets, many of them Gulfstream G650 and Bombardier Global Express models boasting wingspans of almost 100 feet and prices of $45 million to $65 million each, the airport is a private gateway to Sun Valley for most attendees, whose nondescript aircraft typically carry no logos and are often fractionally owned. But there was no question that top brass from Nike and Sprint were in attendance—their jets’ flashy graphics featured company logos and left no doubt as to what company they served.
“We’re pretty much topped out as of the end of the day today,” Pomeroy said Wednesday. “We’ve got aircraft stacked everywhere, anywhere we can put ’em.”
Pomeroy said a recent trend toward larger jets meant that many attendees’ planes flew to Twin Falls or Boise for storage after doing a “drop and go” of passengers at Friedman.
But despite the volume of aircraft funneling into Friedman from across the globe, Pomeroy said, this year’s air traffic control effort was a remarkable improvement from the 2016 event, which saw some commercial flights delayed by more than an hour.
“We had a really fantastic day yesterday. Salt Lake [City FAA center] was fantastic,” Pomeroy said. “We had a really good, really high level of compliance with our voluntary noise abatement program. There was not one flight delay yesterday where passengers did not make their connections.”
But aside from a few boldly emblazoned jets, Allen & Co.’s secrecy continued even at the airport, where photographs were requested to not include tail numbers, which could be traced to aircraft owners.
During the conference itself, it will likely remain unknown who exactly is here and what they’re discussing, but they are here and they are discussing deals that could make international headlines as they have in the past. And if the deals forged come to fruition in public sometime later, they’ll say it all started at Allen & Co.
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it was a real thrill to have one of those types talking about his world of jets within earshot. What an Important. person he must be. When he saw my dog baring her teeth and ready to strike, he and his groveling buddies STFU and weaseled away.
Just like a swarm of locust they arrive only to achieve global rule through their opinion.
Your optimistic views of how the world works.... Do you just wake up every day with a view of gloom and doom? Do you have ANY idea how much value this brings to our beautiful valley? Turn off CNN and the other news -- get out and go for a hike -- inhale some fresh air....
Welcome to the discussion.