Shawn Baldwin from CMG inside the Milken Institute's Global Conference
Last Sunday, I left a rather dreary and wet Chicago in the morning and I arrived in warm, sunny Los Angeles that afternoon. I immediately dashed directly to Beverly Hills for my annual pilgrimage to the Milken Institute's 12th Annual Global Conference. The Milken Institute's forum holds tremendous allure for me and I have been a devotee for over a decade.
I began attending in 1999 when I was the Chief Operating Officer for a publicly traded registered investment advisor. This event is what I affectionately call the "Innovators Conference". I have found the conference to be a vast resource and early on it was clearly one of the largest accelerators of my career in terms of knowledge and relationships.
The knowledge and relationship base of this forum is incredibly pervasive. Every year I have been able to meet and speak with Michael Milken, Lewis Ranieri, Dr. Richard Sandor and Dr. Myron Scholes: the innovators of fixed income, mortgage back securitization, treasuries and options markets respectively. All four will also speak on panels together as well as on other panels on topics dear to them personally. Due to this conference, over the last 11 years I was able to develop working relationships with these gentlemen which begat stellar career advice, over $5 billion dollars of REIT IPO’s underwriting participation along with direct exposure and expertise on innovation and introduction of new markets (I included photos of each of these gentlemen as promised). Believe me when I say that there is no other conference like it in terms of influence or reach. The lead sponsor in 2009 was Guggenheim Investment Advisors the $100 billion dollar asset leviathan, with it's global mix of institutions, endowment plans and foundations spanning the Americas, Europe and Asia—they served as a most fitting sponsor for the aptly named "global conference". Conference staples Scott Minerd and Todd Boehly both attended meetings, discussions and seminars while speaking on several panels on their areas of expertise.
The MI Global was integral in shaping my thoughts and providing access early on to people that you normally only read about. In latter years, I would meet people like Thomas H. Lee (photo attached) who would speak at my CMG conferences in Chicago, along with Private Equity titans such as David Rubenstein and David Bonderman. Even the hedge fund industry elite attend and you can speak with the likes of wunderkind Ken Griffin and legend Marc Lasry. Corporate titans such as Steve Forbes attend this conference regularly (Steve is a speaker on both panel and general sessions). The forum will literally have four Nobel Laureates on stage at one time. The Governor of California will be present and speak on the economy and the State of the State (there is a separate conference for this as well). The Governator later sits poolside smoking cigars and conduct business while a helicopter hovers high above keeping watch.Unbelievable.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s you would see Barry Sternlicht sitting casually in the bar while listening to Steve Wynn opine about service informally before conducting a seminar on success. Merv Griffin, who was the owner of the Beverly Hilton at the time (the conference is held here due to the 2 ballrooms and pavilion area) would be walking about the halls casually willing to talk about his thoughts on real estate acquisition to anyone who chanced to ask.Incredible. The Milken Knowledge Universe is pervasive.
One of the coaxis in this universe is Michael Klowden, the President of the Milken Institute and former Vice Chairman of Jefferies. Mike Klowden seems to be in constant motion stopping briefly to interact with the second coaxis — Jared Carney, the Director of marketing and program development, for tactical and logistical information. These two never seem to stop moving and drive the tremendous energy associated with the conference at a dizzying pace.
Of course the main lightning rod attracting all the energy is the man himself: Michael Milken. Descriptions of this event as a ball or anything as courtly or laissez faire are clearly by people who have never attended the forum. You can also be clear that Mike Milken is definitely not a "Belle". The Milken Institute's Global Conference is a convexity of power, intellect and knowledge. The energy is palpable and at the center of this universe, the radiant energy power source that emanates from its core is Mike Milken. The only other similar entity that this conference could be compared to would be a nuclear accelerator, in that case Mike would be a super-charged photon neutrino—and like most hyper charged objects he positively attracts. Everyone is seeking his attention to super charge their ideas.
The Innovation and Opportunity Accelerator would be the only proper surname to give the event.
Michael Milken is clearly one of the smartest people on the planet—(5) minutes with him and everyone is clear and agrees upon that fact. This is a guy who literally focused on cure for his own cancer, to that extent the conference he created covers health, technology and enterprise to increase the quality of life through capital market processes.
Mike (as he prefers to be called and not Mr. Milken) is always friendly and speaks even as he is walking, reading, preparing for a session or introduction and conversing with his colleagues through the hotel on various aspects of the conference. Stopping the dynamo during the conference is very rare. I have had the opportunity a few times but there are 2 very key times that had a serious impact on my career:
1) When I decided to start my own firm Mike Milken sat with me and my team for over 90 minutes and listened attentively as I discussed my plans and global macroeconomics. Mike also talked to every single member of my team on their history, background and objectives. Mike did this to the objections of several of his colleagues who implored him to move on due to a very tight time schedule —to my chagrin, he sat and listened to me attentively in April 2000, as if I was one of the most important people in the world. Mike looked me squarely in the eye and told me to maintain my level of aggressiveness, drive and confidence —no matter what. I took those words to heart.I am still amazed that he gave me that much time and I am also very grateful, it helped in changing my life.
2) I once took a Chairman of one of the 5 largest plans sponsors in America to meet Mike Milken and his brother Lowell, who had successfully developed one of the top charter schools on the West Coast. Mike then invited us to a private lunch with 4 Nobel Laureates. That was one of the most incredible intellectually engaging moments in my life and it also gave me the first opportunity to really have a lengthy conversation with one of the most brilliant minds on the planet: Nobel Laureate Dr. Gary Becker of the University of Chicago. Unbelievable and incredible memories.
I was aware of Mike because of his work with a young entrepreneur from Baltimore who sought him out to help fuel his business ambitions, my business idol the late Reginald F. Lewis. I talk about RFL incessantly as anyone who knows me will say...well he is my idol (my idol in life is my Father, he is one of the strongest men I know and taught me to stand by my principles regardless of the cost—I love you for that, Dad!) RFL sought Milken out because he decided that he needed build a relationship with him to pursue his ambitions to the fullest. Reginald F. Lewis saw Milken as critical to success. Milken saw a lot in RFL so he both supported and assisted him in his endeavors. For doing this Mike literally received death threats. Mike should be lionized for having the courage to assist RFL because he radically changed the face of finance with that decision, it was also one of the reasons I sought him out.
Mike over the years has given me and countless others lots of airtime and for that we all thank him. However, most importantly Mike created the Milken Institute which our entire society benefits from, this is his lasting and permanent legacy. The convexity of intellectual horsepower and reasoning to create a better quality of life by using capital market solutions. This conference can only be compared to the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland (it is called the "US Davos" by the cogniscienti)— and it should be covered by every major news organization on the planet.
For (3) three days the top academics, financiers, captains of industry, technology and health professionals along with entrepreneurs converge in Beverly Hills seeking connections, knowledge and capital. Everyone who wants to move an initiative should make this forum a destination—having said that, this conference is not for the faint of heart. The crowd is accomplished, very aggressive and incredibly intelligent –there are also many sharp elbows in the 3000 plus attendees who have paid $3995 to attend. There is actually a waiting list and a cut off date, weeks to months before the event if you can believe it.You actually have to compete just to get in.
Even getting into the packed sessions is a competition, attendees declare which sessions they would like to attend weeks before the conference but a queue prior to the opening is still standard at the sessions with marquis speakers such as Sumner Redstone or Rupert Murdoch who appear regularly every year. Smarter bears join the Milken Associates which gives you access to the Milken Associate seats expressly reserved for this contingency.
If the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland represents countries and corporations implementing rules, laws and edicts—the Milken Global Conference embodies innovation and opportunity driven by capital market processes and solutions. This has proven to be a very, powerful formula.
I hope that you can one day experience it for yourself, until then the team at the Milken Institute have made all of the sessions available through their website. You can begin your review with my panel. :)
It was my distinct honor to kick the conference off this year as the first panel and another highlight for my career. Enjoy!
From left to right is Michael Milken, Shawn Baldwin and Dr. Myron Scholes. Mike Milken was the innovator in the fixed income markets and is legendary.Dr. Myron Scholes is one of the authors of the Black Scholes equation. In 1997 he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Peace Prize in Economic Sciences for "a new method to determine the value of derivatives". The model provides the fundamental conceptual framework for valuing options, i.e. calls and puts and is referred to as the Black-Scholes model. This is the standard in financial markets globally.Trillions of dollars in options trades are executed each year using this model and derivations thereof. All binomial option models have evolved from this original concept.