Top CEOs make sweet at retreat

A summer camp for top execs put together by investment banker Herbert J. Allen found some bitter media enemies and arch-rivals rubbing elbows, cordially for once: The guest list of a private dinner Thursday night at Allen’s home included, for example, Hollywood’s dueling darlings David Geffen and Michael Ovitz.

Allen & Co.’s Sun Valley retreat for the country’s top brass Wednesday through Saturday brought out a strong showing of media types, but also attracted a more diverse range of attendees than in previous years.A roast Friday night was particularly lively, with the best joke of the evening at the expense of DreamWorks principals Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. After taking out two dolls, one with a face of Katzenberg, the other with a face of Geffen, the roaster said, “This is the new DreamWorks doll. You wind them up and nothing happens. I bet (investor) Paul Allen is really happy now about the $500 million he put into (the company).”

Buffett croons

Later that night, financier Warren Buffett entertained the assembled by crooning a song about how happy he was at the retreat.

Last year, Allen & Co. handed out squeegees with “will work for…” signs for the unemployed elite. Michael Schulhof, the president/CEO of Sony Corporation of America, last year was given a squeegee with a sign that said “Will work for sushi.”

This year’s most notable unemployed Tinseltowner, Ovitz, was a no-show for the Friday night roast, though he was present at the retreat for about two days. Sources noted that Ovitz (as in previous years) hung out with his friend, Nike chairman Philip Knight.

Typifying the diversity of this year’s group, presentations this year came from the heads of Gillette, Mattel, Nike and Heinz.

Tele-Communications Inc. chairman John Malone was the only representative of the entertainment industry to give a presentation on his company. However, he was not the only one scheduled to.

Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone was a surprising no-show, unexpectedly dropping out of a planned presentation he was to deliver Friday. Viacom Entertainment Group chairman Jonathan Dolgen was the only representative for the company at the retreat and did not give a presentation.

In a rare appearance since the death of his son, Time-Warner’s Gerald Levin spoke on a panel moderated by Intel’s Andy Grove.

This year’s high-profile Hollywood contingent included News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch, Warner Bros.’ Terry Semel, TCI’s Malone, Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. and MCA’s Ron Meyer, Sony’s Nobuyuki Idei and Howard Stringer, SilverKing’s Barry Diller, Motion Picture Assn. of America chairman Jack Valenti, Brillstein-Grey’s Brad Grey, producer Ray Stark and ICM’s Jeff Berg (the only agent at the retreat), as well as DreamWorks principals Geffen and Katzenberg, DreamWorks’ investor Allen, Levin, Malone and Ovitz, to name a few.

One top-level executive of a non-Hollywood company noted how interesting it was to meet the movers and shakers “who so heavily influence our culture,” referring to the media executives. He said that from a corporate standpoint, “a healthy cross-section of America’s best and most influential were (there). I looked around me at one point and thought, this is really something because I’m here, too…”

Another source said, “It was great to be able to walk up to Bill Gates and just say hello.”

Thursday night, Allen hosted a private dinner that included media heavyweights Murdoch, Bronfman, Idei, Stringer, Stark, Semel, Berg, Grey, Valenti (whose arm was in a sling from a tennis injury), Meyer, Katzenberg, Ovitz and Geffen.

Geffen, Ovitz ‘got along’

“It was weird to see Geffen and Ovitz in the same room, but it seemed as though they got along,” said one attendee. “At least, they didn’t show their dislike of each other.”

Some business did take place — in the form of a panel discussion about the future of technology. Moderated by Intel’s Grove, the discussion focused on delivery systems. Panelists included Murdoch, Diller, Bronfman, Geffen and Levin. All agreed that cable will continue to be the best delivery system as the phone companies have become entangled in their own race for local and long-distance services. Telco technology as a tool to deliver information is now considered a pipe dream, these panelists argued.

Grove offered his personal opinion that the delivery system of the future will be through the personal computer rather than through the television set. Despite Grove’s best attempt to inject a little point-counterpoint into the proceedings, all the panelists shot that idea down.

The media elite argued that in this world of changing technology television will remain the mainstay of delivery.Programming will continue to be key, they said, as the demand for product increases.

“Usually, you have two different points of view, but that wasn’t the case this year,” said one attendee. “Everyone fundamentally agreed.” Several attendees added that they hope for a livelier and more controversial panel next year.

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