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Low-Key Retreat for Media Moguls

Deals: Accounting scandals, declining stock market put a damper on investment banker Herb Allen's gathering.

July 15, 2002|ANITA M. BUSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Investment banker Herb Allen's 20th annual retreat for media moguls in Sun Valley, Idaho, ended Saturday with attendees noting it was one of the most low-key events in years.

The closed gathering took place against a backdrop of accounting scandals, bankruptcy filings and a declining stock market. According to one attendee, "It's hard to get too excited about anything after watching a trillion dollars evaporate out of the market."

Besides the usual corporate presentations, the retreat included atypical topics for the gathering of business moguls--an off-the-record discussion about terrorism led by CIA chief George Tenet and one about the situation in the Middle East with remarks by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

The retreat is best known as a place where corporate heavyweights can schmooze in a relaxing atmosphere and away from the eyes of the media.

The meeting has been the place where many future deals first take shape.

One of the more interesting pairings seen at the conference was Barry Diller, head of Vivendi Universal's entertainment properties, and Amazon.com Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, which led to rumors throughout the week that a deal may be in the making between Vivendi's USA Interactive division and the Internet bookseller, sources said.

Sources noted it was not surprising that ousted Vivendi CEO Jean-Marie Messier, who was scheduled to give a presentation, was a no-show.

Some of those in attendance said the week's highlights included a talk by Unilever's Niall Fitzgerald and a very upbeat presentation by Meg Whitman, CEO of EBay Inc., who noted that the Internet auctioneer has been successful in penetrating every market but Japan.

Whitman noted that competitor Yahoo Inc. arrived in Japan first and it has thwarted EBay's efforts to make inroads there. But she said the company still hopes to find a way into the Japanese market.

"The undercurrent of it was not lost on any of us. It's one of the only Internet success stories," one attendee said.

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