By Jim Hedges, Los Angeles Family Office Association
Attending the Milken Global Conference last week for the first time, I entered the arena feeling a bit smug as a long-time veteran of confabs like TED, Davos and The Aspen Institute. However, Milken’s three-day marathon of hundreds of events with thousands of speakers, and even more attendees from all corners of the globe was a singular and extraordinary experience.
No different than Art Basel / Miami Beach, with its sunny, bright surroundings, LA is a very welcoming home to this flagship event, though Milken also hosts smaller regional events around the world through the year.
First, let me address the attendees. It is truly C-class: corporate chiefs, celebrities and people with very big check books. Bumping into Goldie Hawn chatting with Tony Blair or standing in a buffet line with Chuck Schumer or Jim Young Kim (World Bank) was standard stuff. Though, it's true to say that the attendees are largely from the world of finance, owing to Milken’s own Drexel Burnham Lambert junk bond years. And just as there were scores of hedge fund and venture capital billionaires walking around, they were usually seen hot on the trails of the world’s biggest institutional asset allocators.
In terms of speakers, no one does it better than Mike Milken. The quality of speakers was stunning in its consistent adherence to quality thought leaders. There were standouts, but of all the sessions I attended, there were, importantly, no duds in the group. What is also impressive is the breadth of subject material. The obvious panels on real estate investing, the future of private equity, hedge fund woes and worries were made interesting given the high-level speakers, who never disappointed.
However, it was the more obscure subjects like health and longevity, philanthropic initiatives, gender equality issues, branding, retail creative destruction, and scores of other topics where Milken shines most. We've all heard the irascible Sam Zell, for example. It’s always smart, it's always fun, but we know what we’re getting. However, the insights from people at the forefront of genetic research or social impact investing or even robotics provided the freshest perspectives. It's also important to note that all the speakers seemingly have been prepped to remember that they are speaking, not just for themselves and their narrow field of expertise, but as citizens of the Milken family, always drawing lines and making connections.
I ran into an old hedge fund buddy, a Tiger cub who has gone on to make himself a billionaire. He was between gigs, wandering the halls, drinking from a firehouse of new ideas. Milken is a place which delivers on flooding your imagination with possibilities.