I recently had the opportunity to attend the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles.  If you ever have an opportunity to attend, I highly recommend it.  My company has been a sponsor of this conference, and many others, over the years and I can say this is truly one of the most unique conferences today.

More than 3,000 of the world’s leading decision-makers gather in Los Angeles to attend over 120 sessions that examine challenging global issues from reducing our dependence on oil to ensuring that people everywhere have access to a good education, quality health care and well-paying jobs.

Some of the highlights of the conference included director Sydney Pollack interviewing architect Frank Gehry, a look at public-figure philanthropy with Andre Agassi, Michael J. Fox and Ted Turner, and a session on the politics of climate change with Sen. John Kerry and other experts.

I didn’t have a lot of time at the conference but I did manage to attend a very good luncheon hosted by financier Mike Milken, an interview with actor Kirk Douglas, a breakfast by publisher Steve Forbes, and a luncheon hosted by Maria Bartiromo of CNBC fame.

Nobel Laureates in Economics Address “The Future of Capitalism”

This luncheon was moderated by Michael Milken and included three Nobel Laureates (Kenneth Arrow, Gary Becker, Myron Scholes).  He posed an expansive question for them: What is the future of global capitalism? The result was a wide-ranging, big-picture discussion of the role capitalism has played in increasing society’s welfare, and whether this development is likely to continue.  Overall, the panelists were quite positive and there were some interesting charts regarding the positives and negatives and the role technology has played in our population development.

A Conversation With Kirk Douglas

I have always been a huge fan of Kirk Douglas movies (and his son) and so it was really interesting to attend this interview hosted by Mort Zuckerman, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News & World Report.  Kirk has appeared in more than 70 films over six decades in Hollywood.

At 90 years old, Kirk discussed his latest autobiographical book titled ”Let’s Face It”.  He has had a stroke so his speech was a little slurred but he was very understandable.  He spoke at length about the need for peace in the world for our children’s sake, the suicide of his youngest son, the great achievements of his son Michael Douglas, and his views regarding racism in the USA.  One of the final questions/comments came from the mother of Joachim and River Phoenix who shared her similar experiences raising her sons.

U.S. Overview: Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold?

This panel was moderated by Steve Forbes, President and CEO of Forbes Inc., and included Brian Fabbri (Chief U.S. Economist for North America, BNP Paribas), Angelo Mozilo (Chairman and CEO, Countrywide Financial Corporation), Peter Orszag (Director, Congressional Budget Office) and Andrew Rosenfield (Managing Partner, Guggenheim Partners). 

The panel revolved around questions regarding whether the U.S. is poised for a return of the “Goldilocks economy” similar to 1995-96 – not too strong to cause inflation yet not too weak to slip into recession? (In other words, just right.) 

2007: The Year of Private Equity?

This panel had a lot of glitz but not a lot of substance or meaningful takeaways.  The panel was moderated by Maria Bartiromo, Managing Editor and Anchor of ”The Wall Street Journal Report” for CNBC.  On the panel were CEOs of some of the top private equity firms in the U.S. including Leon Black (Founding Partner, Apollo Advisors LP), David Bonderman (Principal and Founding Partner, Texas Pacific Group), Thomas Lee (President and CEO, Thomas H. Lee Capital LLC) and David Rubenstein (Managing Director, The Carlyle Group).

These firms have bought some of the most recognized public companies in America: Reader’s Digest, Dunkin’ Donuts, Toys-R-Us, Neiman Marcus and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. These private-equity firms have changed their image and are now viewed by many as financial saviors, paying good money for underperforming companies and turning them around. And they are averaging 13 percent returns in the past two decades, which is good for institutional investors. Of course, not everyone views them so positively. Flush with money, and running short on targets, these investors have become more aggressive in their search for firms to buy, which has raised concerns with regulatory agencies both within and outside the U.S.

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