At Sun Valley Resort, crews have installed outdoor stages and seating areas on lawns. Plastic fencing surrounds the Sun Valley Pavilion and parts of Sun Valley Village. Hedges of potted evergreens restrict views and access. Chairs, tables and drink coolers dot the greenery in front of the Sun Valley Inn. Wood River Valley residents are commissioned to perform a variety of duties, from babysitting to guiding in the outdoors.
The preparations mark the return of Allen & Co.’s annual conference at Sun Valley—the so-called “summer camp for billionaires”—after it was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The event is the 38th annual conference of media, technology and finance moguls hosted by Allen & Co., an influential, boutique New York City investment bank.
The conference was set to kick off Tuesday and lasts through Saturday, July 10. Traditionally, it starts the Tuesday after the Fourth of July, with invited guests enjoying several days of networking, scheduled discussions and forums, social gatherings and leisure activities in the Idaho mountains.
Event organizers keep the profile low and the security high. Allen & Co. is known as being secretive. It doesn’t have a website. No press releases are issued, and media interviews are notably sparse. The agenda and guest list are kept tightly guarded among organizers, guests and some workers.
Typically, guests start arriving over the Fourth of July weekend. Some arrive in large private jets that ultimately crowd the tarmac at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey. In the past, guests have included Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, media titan Oprah Winfrey, former Disney CEO Bob Iger and various heads of state.
Through Saturday night, they participate in a flurry of events and activities, including golf, tennis, hiking, fly fishing and whitewater rafting. Casual attire is the norm, capped off with logoed vests. Name tags are mandatory, though few attendees require them. Nonetheless, daily business meetings can bring together unusual pairings of CEOs and influential faces from Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
For Allen & Co., hosting the event is an opportunity to foster—and perhaps be a part of—major acquisitions and mergers. Occasionally, the meetings do spark an earth-shattering deal. Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post was reportedly hatched at the Sun Valley conference. So was Facebook’s acquisition of the mobile messaging app WhatsApp, along with others over the years.
Invitees from the technology sector this year include Bezos, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, according to a report by Variety magazine.
From the entertainment sector, invited guests include Disney CEO Bob Chapek, Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida, as well as Netflix co-CEOs Ted Sarandos and Reed Hastings.
From the sports world, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also received invitations to Sun Valley. High-profile journalists Diane Sawyer, Anderson Cooper, Van Jones and Gayle King also made the guest list, according to Variety.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, both of whom have attended in the past, are not on the list.
As usual, though, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett received an invitation.
The conference brings a major boost to the Wood River Valley economy—and, individually, to the bank accounts of some residents. Scores of people are hired—and reportedly screened by Allen & Co.—to serve the guests as drivers, babysitters, caterers and tour guides. They can earn steep hourly wages and generous end-of-the-week tips.
Meanwhile, restaurant and retail store operators hope their establishments attract Allen & Co. guests when they venture away from the confines of the “camp” at Sun Valley Village.
On Monday evening, crews were still working at the Sun Valley Pavilion, as supply trucks filled the parking lot at nearby Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge. With meetings and gatherings seemingly moving outdoors, conference organizers are certainly hoping for good weather this week. And, with sun and temperatures ranging up to 90 in the forecast, Sun Valley will likely live up to its moniker, though more guests than normal might choose activities at a nearby river or stream.