By Michelle Castillo
A smaller group of top media and tech executives descended on Sun Valley, Idaho for this year’s annual Allen & Company conference, leading people to wonder: Where have all the billionaires gone?
Local Hailey, Idaho police said there were fewer private jets that landed at Friedman Memorial Airport and nearby Atlantic Aviation SUN facilities than in previous years. Meanwhile, Sun Valley Resort staff commented that the grounds were much emptier than usual. One person noted the amount of security seemed excessive given the scant attendee list compared to past conferences. Allen & Co. did not respond to a request for comment.
Every July since 1983, investment bank Allen & Co. invites executives to its private conference at the Sun Valley Resort. The secretive firm has underwritten several IPOs including Google’s and Twitter’s, and advised on acquisitions the likes of Facebook-What’s App, Activision-Vivendi Games and AT&T-Time Warner. The retreat itself - which has been nicknamed “summer camp for billionaires” - has been associated with being the birthplace for mergers including Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal, AOL-Time Warner, Disney’s acquisition of Capital Cities and Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post.
Press are rarely invited. But, reporters show up anyway to get a paparazzi-style glimpse of tight-lipped dealmakers in their best casual wear. Suits are discarded for Patagonia jackets and vests. Dress shoes are exchanged for hiking boots and sneakers. This year, GM CEO Mary Barra, Discovery CEO David Zazlav, and Home Depot founder Ken Langone were seen arriving at the resort, while Apple CEO Tim Cook and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi were spotted roaming the area. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick picked up coffee, while Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was seen chatting with Instagram COO bestie Marnie Levine.
With government regulation casting a shadow of uncertainty over mergers and acquisitions, much of the buzz around this year’s event centered around streaming video and original content. Apple, Disney, and WarnerMedia all had executives at the conference, while agents from CAA and Wasserman, as well as producers like Brian Grazer, also mingled with the crowd.
The conference has always included panelists, lavish dinners, and outdoor activities in the beautiful Sun Valley region. This year, attendees were treated to bike rides, a river adventure, a hay ride, yoga, and trap shooting at Sun Valley Gun Club. But despite closing down the gun club for hours for attendees, only a small handful of guests arrived to participate at the event. The resort itself was desolate, with only a few children and wives scattered around. Usually more people would be lounging around the pools, one staffer noted, but with much of the resort empty there weren’t many around to enjoy the facilities.
The town of Sun Valley is home to about 1,400 residents. Events like Allen & Co. can provide an economic boost to the area and nearby towns. One driver came in from Salt Lake City, Utah in order to cash in on chauffeuring the 1 percent.
But many residents complained the event has grown increasingly exclusive, shutting down more facilities to the public each year. A local couple who brunches at the resort were notably annoyed when they were turned away, grumbling about the Allen & Co. event ruining the Sun Valley experience. One person with a summer home in the area noted that while you used to see Warren Buffett walking around downtown Ketchum, attendees rarely leave the Sun Valley Resort grounds anymore. Local businesses don’t get patronized, turning it into a dead week for many of them. And, billionaires aren’t exceptional tippers according to some: Though everyone was nice, several drivers said they received no tips, despite their services.
Additional reporting by Francesca Conti and Doug Murray