A flippant, fearless, and fundamental countdown of big money investing.

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#32 Community

Milken Men

It proved impossible to entice a CIO into the private jet parked outside the Beverly Hilton. The Bombardier Global 7000 had Champagne glasses, linens on the double bed, everything but an airplane’s defining part—wings. But even the dullest CIO knows that a posing inside a $72 million jet is an invitation to an optics nightmare. 

Such trepidation extended no further at the Milken Institute Global Conference, an early May extravaganza in Beverly Hills. For four days, the likes of Chris Ailman (CIO, California State Teachers’ Retirement System) and Greg Williamson (CIO, American Red Cross) moved freely, largely unmolested by hedge fund marketers. They took in presentations from Cher, who proclaimed that the government “couldn’t find its ass with both hands,” and Senators Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and Mark Warner (D-Virginia). Far, far away from Washington DC, the politicians admitted to David Rubenstein (powerbroker, Carlyle co-founder) that they actually enjoy one another’s company.  

Allocators rarely enjoy such anonymity. Every CIO who’s been in the job longer than four minutes knows they are the belle of almost every ball. As gatekeepers for trillions in assets that, in turn, throw off billions in fees, these individuals hold immense powers over asset managers’ ability to buy the jet outside. But the usual rush to shake the hand of Carrie Thome (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) or Brian Pellegrino (UPS Group Trust)—two of 3,500 attendees—was missing.

Milken, it must be said, isn’t meant for allocators. Sure, they are featured on panels (almost always first thing in the morning, because let’s face it: institutional investing is less exciting than aging pop stars). Instead, Milken is about entertainment, about headline names, about deep discussions on global policy, and about shaking hands with Kobe Bryant, Ray Dalio, Tom Hanks, and Al Gore. These names—not Ailman or Pellegrino or Williamson or Thome—are, for once, the marketing bait.  And that’s not a bad thing.

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