Milken Institute Global Conference Highlights Through the Eyes of Todd Harrison

By Todd Harrison  APR 30, 2010 1:20 PM

Lessons learned from America's left coast.


We’re no strangers to events in the ‘Ville; human capital is the heartbeat of our community and we pride ourselves on being a reflection of the company we keep. What began as a Crested Butte Mountain Mingle in 2004 evolved into legendary summer soirées in Ojai and Vail. The Critter’s Choice Awards arrived soon thereafter, followed by Festivus Benefits in 2007, 2008, and 2009 to benefit The Ruby Peck Foundation for Children’s Education.

There have been additional gatherings -- regional Minyanfests, which will soon begin anew -- as well as other conferences, confabs, and off-sites. I’ve spoken at many events and attended others, all with an eye towards absorbing the atmosphere, soaking in the energy, and fingering social mood. I’ve long believed good things happen when you get smart people in the same space. That theory was put to the test this week.

I’ve heard incredible stories about the Milken Institute Global Conference over the course of my career -- the panels, discussions, the incredible networking -- and gladly accepted an invitation when it was offered a few weeks back. My partner Kevin encourages me to “get out of the office and work the room” but I’ve traditionally preferred my conditioned position behind eight screens of flickering ticks.

I took a slew of notes, mental and otherwise, with hopes of sharing some wisdom upon my return. What follows are random perceptions that left a lasting impression; the scribbles that made their way across the country.  While my intention is verbatim accuracy, we must allow for a margin of human error.  An A.D.D. person in a sensory overload environment is akin to a moth in a light bulb factory and there were a lot of bright lights in that big city.

There were many worthy panels featuring thought-leaders from around the world. I could only attend one at a time -- these were often tough decisions -- but the fine folks from the conference did a remarkable job of covering it all. For the full experience, I will point you to the video archives of the Milken Institute, which are chock full of wisdom and foresight.

Minyan Musings, April 26th, 2010

I’ve been known to share some Random Thoughts. As I furiously absorbed the spirited discussions, I did my best to note of some standout comments, as well as my internal observations. Below, please find them, in no particular order:

Minyan Musings, April 27, 2010

With a full day under my belt, I was jazzed to dig in for a second stretch of intellectual agility and seasoned acumen. As a firm believer that true education resides in the residual grist of variant views, I found myself racing to panels and fostering relationships in the hallways. Minyans should know we were well-represented; many took the time to proudly proclaim they were part of the Minyanville community. It was humbling and heartfelt in one fell swoop.

As I continue to channel these vibes -- I feel like a cross between a UHF antennae and Andy Dufresne after he crawled out of that river -- please remember that I’ve done my best to honor the accuracy of the speakers. For the full-on Milken experience, and the quote-unquote, I highly recommend chewing through the hours of video content on their online platform.

To that end, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer serious snaps to the staffers at the conference.  As someone who has thrown his fair share of shindigs, I know how much work these types of events entail.  The fact that it sailed as smoothly as it did speaks to the elbow grease behind the scenes. It was very impressive, soup to nuts, and that effort needs to be recognized.

On the content front:

Minyan Musings: April 28th, 2010

I walked into the breakfast panel on the final day of the conference as the Grateful Dead's Hell in a Bucket played over the loudspeaker. That immediately put some pep in my step -- and scored some major “coolness” points -- but I couldn’t decide if it was telling or cutesy.

The theme for the opening panel, after all, was Reading the Tea Leaves: Investing for 2010 and Beyond.

I was particularly interested in the next panel, Online News: The Frontier of Financial Journalism. I didn’t take many notes as I was active in the discussion and wanted to cut to the chase. With the proliferation of online content and a perceived “hierarchy” of journalists, bloggers and message board posters, I wanted to know if credibility, accountability and responsibility devolve as we scale that curve.

Minyans know we don’t “do” acrimony in the ‘Ville. It’s not how we roll and it doesn’t move the needle towards a positive place. Still, the stage for healthy debate was set as Felix Salmon, a well-known blogger for Reuters, was on the panel.  As some of you may know, he offered an unflattering assessment of the ‘Ville last month while referencing another topic. And I quote:

“…the beating heart of Clusterstock is the dynamic duo of Carney and Joe Weisenthal; now that he’s fired Carney, Blodget must know that he risks losing Weisenthal as well. If he loses them both, he’ll rapidly become something like 24/7 Wall Street or Minyanville: a site with lots of low-quality traffic and generally uninspiring editorial content."

It’s no secret we pride ourselves on truth and trust in these parts -- as my grandfather taught me, all you have is your name and your word -- so suffice to say, I wasn’t thrilled when someone sent me his assessment. I’ve always believed that if nothing else, the Minyanville editorial content was inspired by our mission to effect positive change through financial understanding. I thought we earned those stripes proactively preparing people for the financial crisis, but I respect other people’s views and vibes.

The beauty of an interactive digital sphere is that constructive criticism and critical feedback arrive in real-time. In that regard, in an effort to better serve our community, I was curious to find out what Felix disliked about the ‘Ville; he’s a seasoned guy and there was utility in hearing him out.

When one of our staffers emailed Felix, he politely shared his views about “why” Minyanville wasn’t part of his online financial process. There were some constructive comments, a few top-line suggestions, which were very much appreciated, and an astonishing admission -- Felix had never actually read Minyanville!

That discussion was recorded live
 -- beginning at the 47:20 mark -- although you’ll have to turn your volume to the highest level if you wanna hear my comments as I didn’t have a microphone. It must be said that my intention then, as it is now, isn’t to feast on smoked Salmon -- I like to build bridges, not burn them -- I was simply speaking to the issue of accountability and responsibility of online financial media “voices".

I do believe its incumbent on us all to know what we’re speaking about before we put it out there for public consumption, particularly if you’re going to skewer a platform you’ve never experienced first-hand. That’s not only a matter of journalistic integrity or professional courtesy -- or, in extreme cases, potential legal liability -- it’s a social courtesy, particularly when you’ve got a platform that affects public opinion.

I had to leave the last 15 minutes of that panel as I had an important meeting across town. Felix and I never had a chance to “follow up,” although that may take place in the future. Upon my return to the Beverly Hilton, I attended the lunch discussion -- Global Financial Markets: Nouriel Roubini and Mike Milken Debate Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going -- before stepping to the next panel, one I was very much looking forward to.

Question: Who will report the news?

The last panel I attended before sneaking a drink with some colleagues and heading to LAX for the dreaded red-eye, was The Business Behind the Show: An Outlook for the Entertainment Industry. While tired and fried after a long stretch of sessions, I was particularly interested to hear what these thought-leaders had to say. The session was moderated by Terry Semel, Chairman and CEO of Windsor Media and an industry veteran who spent 24 years at Warner Brothers, where he was Chairman and co-CEO, and CEO of Yahoo (YHOO).

As I sat on the redeye, making my way back to the big city, I found myself unable to sleep. At first I thought it was because I was squeezed between two rather large men who didn’t subscribe to the “armrest boarder” airplane rule but I then realized it was so much more.

I was excited and enthused for the future. Dare I say I felt blessed to be “in the game” and enjoying the journey, one step at a time as difficult as those steps sometimes are. The last ten years have been brutal on a number of fronts and the next ten will require equally difficult decisions. What was evident, however, is that there is a ton of human capital motivated to make this world a better place and effect positive change through their words, actions and efforts.

I firmly believe that Minyanville is part of that solution and our community is a sum of those parts. My sincere gratitude for the latitude during my venture west; I hope that some of the vibes shared upon my return provide utility as we together find our way.

Good luck today.


No positions in stocks mentioned.