LEILA FADEL, HOST:
It's called summer camp for billionaires. This week, top executives at the biggest and most influential companies in tech and media, including Apple, Facebook and Netflix, gather in Sun Valley, Idaho, to hike and golf and to make deals.
NPR's David Gura introduces us to the private investment bank that brings them together.
DAVID GURA, BYLINE: On the first day of this weeklong gathering, around 90 private jets will land at the small airport near this tiny mountain town. Then a who's who of media moguls and tech titans will take over the Sun Valley Resort. In years past, their arrival has gotten breathless play-by-play treatment on CNBC.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Well, we're already seeing some of the biggest names arrive.
GURA: Tim Cook usually shows up, and so does Mark Zuckerberg. Jeff Bezos is a regular, and so is Warren Buffett - and Oprah. Well, this week, it's likely the aggregate wealth of the men and women staying in Sun Valley will be more than a trillion dollars.
COLIN GILLIS: It really is elitism on full (laughter) display.
GURA: Media analyst Colin Gillis is with the firm Chatham Road Partners.
GILLIS: But actually, it's a very private event, so I shouldn't say full display.
GURA: The Allen & Company's Sun Valley conference is a spectacle. The dress code is casual and outdoorsy. And that seems compulsory. In years past, Patagonia fleece vests have been standard issue.
GILLIS: I tend to watch, you know, the reports that come out of this conference, you know, with a bowl of popcorn, right?
GURA: It's entertaining, Gillis says. But each photo of participants mingling in the mountain air could be a clue about what could be the next big deal in media and tech.
Steven Davidoff Solomon runs the Berkeley Center for Law and Business.
STEVEN DAVIDOFF SOLOMON: They've organized the biggest matchmaking service for media companies.
GURA: And that's the reason why it's one of the most coveted invitations in business, from a bank a lot of people haven't heard of. Allen & Co. avoids publicity. And the firm doesn't have a website. It didn't respond for NPR's request for an interview. It's been around since 1922. And the bank has been run by the same family for three generations. And in all that time, it's built some deep personal relationships.
Donna Hitscherich teaches finance at Columbia Business School.
DONNA HITSCHERICH: You know, at the end of the day, I think what a lot of people don't necessarily completely appreciate is that this business is all about people, right?
GURA: And she says, that personal touch has gotten harder to come by at banks that are publicly traded and therefore beholden to investors. Its focus on relationships also extends to how and whom it hires. Allen & Co. brings on board people who are well-connected, including prominent former members of Congress and George Tenet, who ran the CIA. Its bankers seem content to keep a low profile. That's an Allen & Co. trademark.
And the firm seems to have no problem poaching from its bigger rivals, according to Drew Pascarella, an associate dean at Cornell University's business school.
DREW PASCARELLA: Folks that are at the prime of their career, with all the relationships already built.
GURA: And those relationships seem to pay off. Allen & Co. advised Facebook and Google on their multibillion-dollar IPOs. And it's been reported Amazon's founder, Jeff Bezos, decided to buy The Washington Post in Sun Valley.
The goal, Pascarella says, is for lucrative deals to emerge eventually,
PASCARELLA: And, you know, it culminates in a large fee when the time is right.
GURA: That's the model on which Allen & Co.'s built its business and it continues to operate. So the next time there's a merger or acquisition in media or tech, there's a good chance it may have been hatched at a resort in central Idaho.
David Gura, NPR News.
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