The so-called summer camp for billionaires kicks off this week, as tech and entertainment industry moguls convene in Sun Valley, Idaho for the annual Allen & Co conference.
Among those invited to this year’s gathering are Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Tesla founder Elon Musk. Media moguls such as Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch and John Malone are all regular attendees.
The event features several days of talks about business and the economy, all of which are off-limits to the press, as well as extra-curricular activities such as rafting and golf.
But the real action comes in the meetings, power lunches, and general chit-chat the moguls engage in between the formal sessions, which often provide the foundation to mega deals. These deals usually don’t materialise until weeks or months later, which is why an army of reporters armed with telephoto-lenses stalk the area, diligently snapping pics of what could be the next blockbuster deal.
Often the photos prove nothing more than the fact that Executive A had lunch with Executive B. But with so many high-powered execs in attendance (not to mention the fact that the event is hosted by an investment bank eager to broker big corporate marriages that pay big fees), it’s inevitable that some of these encounters lead to deals.
Here’s a recap of some of the biggest deals that have been hatched at the conference over the years.
The seeds to one of 2015’s most high-profile acquisitions were planted in July 2014 in Sun Valley.
It was there that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam had lunch together and started talking about “the way the world was going.”
Those discussions progressed over the fall, culminating with the May announcement that AOL was selling to Verizon for $US4.4 million. The combination could help telecommunications giant Verizon become a bigger player in mobile and video advertising.
As for AOL, hopefully this deal will turn out better than the last big combination it sketched out at Sun Valley: the ill-fated 1999 merger with Time Warner.
Cable company Comcast morphed into a media goliath in 2011 when it acquired a majority stake in entertainment company NBC Universal.
The deal involved months of negotiations but a key moment occurred during a secret meeting at a condo near the ninth hole of a Sun Valley golf course in 2009. According to a report in the New York Times, Jeff Immelt, the CEO of GE (which owned NBC at the time), met with Comcast COO Steve Burke and Comcast’s 89-year-old founder Ralph Roberts.
Immelt had already met with Roberts’ son Brian, who was the CEO of Comcast, but he wanted to hear from the elder Roberts as well. The secret rendezvous required that Immelt dodge not only the gaggle of reporters armed with telephoto lens cameras, but even his own colleague, NBC CEO Jeff Zucker, who was also at the conference but was not privy to the deal talks.
Jeff Bezos/Washington Post
In August 2013, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos surprised the world by announcing that he had acquired the Washington Post for $US250 million.
One month earlier, Bezos had two three-hour meetings with Post Chairman Donald Graham at Sun Valley, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The meetings were not completely spontaneous. Allen & Co, the boutique investment bank which hosts the conference, had been hired by Graham to broker a deal and had reached out to Bezos months earlier. But the casual atmosphere of Sun Valley may have helped things go smoothly. “I named a price and Jeff agreed to pay it,” Graham later told Reuters.
One of the largest deals ever when it was announced in 1995, Disney’s $US19 billion acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC created a media and entertainment powerhouse and put Sun Valley on the map as the destination for headline-grabbing acquisitions.
The talks began when Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner bumped into investor Warren Buffett at the conference, according to the New York Times. Eisner asked Buffett’s opinion about whether Disney and ABC should “do something together.” Buffett apparently liked the idea and suggested that Eisner talk to Capital Cities/ABC Chairman Thomas Murphy. The three then had a brief chat which set the ball rolling for serious deal talks that took place in the weeks ahead.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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