What We Know About the Ultra-Private Sun Valley Conference Host

Outside of its annual conference, the firm—which doesn't even have a website—maintains a mysteriously low profile.

The 2023 Allen & Co. Sun Valley Conference, dubbed the annual “summer camp for billionaires,” will kick off in the mountain resort of Sun Valley, Idaho in exactly two weeks, on Tuesday, July 11. One of the most closely watched business gatherings of the year, Sun Valley remains highly secretive. Little public knowledge, beyond who might attend and who actually attended, is traditionally available. A handful of photographers are allowed.

Apple CEO Tim Cook at Sun Valley.
Apple CEO Tim Cook at the Allen & Co. Sun Valley Conference in 2019. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The event’s organizer, Allen & Co., does next to no publicity either about the event or about itself—beyond the fact that a team of extremely well-connected bankers has engineered mega-deals at the star-studded conference for more than 30 years.

The history of Allen & Co. and Sun Valley

What is Allen & Co. and who are its owners?

Allen & Co. is a family-run boutique investment firm spanning three generations and headquartered in New York City and London. The firm was founded by American investor Charles Allen and his brother, Herbert, in 1922 and has been run by members of the Allen family ever since.

Allen & Co.’s core business is investment banking. Although it’s not as prominent as industry giants like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, the privately held firm is known for cultivating long-lasting relationships with corporate leaders—especially in real estate, media and entertainment sectors. Annual events like the Sun Valley conference are important occasions for the firm’s bankers to forge and maintain these relationships and seed potential deals.

Since 2002, Allen & Co. has been led by Herbert Allen III (“Herb”), the grandson of the firm’s co-founder. Herb succeeded his father, Herbert Allen, Jr., who ran the company from 1966 to his retirement in 2002.

Sun Valley bolsters Allen & Co.’s M&A business

The inaugural Sun Valley conference, held in 1982, marked the beginning of Allen & Co.’s booming mergers and acquisition business. At the event, then-company president Herbert Allen, Jr. hooked up with the leaders of Coca-Cola and later brokered its $750 million purchase of Columbia Pictures, in which Allen & Co. owned a stake. Herbert Allen, Jr. joined Coca-Cola’s board after the deal. His son, Herb, took over the board seat in 20o2 following his retirement.

In an interview with Fortune in 2004, Herbert Allen, Jr. said the Coca-Cola deal immediately opened the door for more business. “It was like you were a parish priest, and the Pope comes along and says you’re okay,” he told the magazine.In recent years, Allen & Co. has expanded its expertise in media and entertainment to Silicon Valley.

With the exception of the annual Sun Valley conference, which often garners significant press coverage every summer, Allen & Co. maintains an extremely low profile. The firm doesn’t even have a website and could not be reached for comment for this article.

The firm is behind a number of significant deals, including:

  • Disney’s merger with ABC (1996)
  • Google’s IPO (2004)
  • The $18 billion merger between Activision and Vivendi Games (2011)
  • Twitter’s IPO (2013)
  • Jeff Bezos’s purchase of The Washington Post (2013)
  • Facebook’s $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp (2014)

How Sun Valley attracts titans

Allen & Co. essentially wants three kinds of people at the Sun Valley conference: CEOs, their families, and institutional investors, according to Fortune.

Herbert Allen, Jr. initially had to beg clients to attend, the magazine reported. Today, after years of M&A business boom, the firm struggles to keep the guest count under 300 so that everyone can fit into Sun Valley’s main conference room.

Unlike other industry conferences, Herbert Allen, Jr. invited attendees to bring their children and even offered childcare to entice adults to stay longer, according to Fortune. Such hospitality allowed guests including Bill Gates and his ex-wife, Melinda French Gates, to bring their three kids and stay for the full five days.

Earlier this month, Variety published a list of 50 people invited to Sun Valley this year so far. Familiar names like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg made the list while “regulars” including Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, were not invited.

What We Know About the Ultra-Private Sun Valley Conference Host