Male-Dominated Retreat Opens Up to Women . . . Slowly

Herbert J. Allen Jr.'s male-dominated annual power powwow in Sun Valley, Idaho, is breaking with tradition. Not only are there more female executives on the corporate guest list this year than usual--a whopping six out of 104 or so--there will be a first-ever panel discussion led by and about women and business.

"Aren't they politically correct," one longtime male guest remarked sarcastically, suggesting the newfound attention to women likely was in response to unrelenting criticism by the press about their absence in past years. "I don't think it's a politically correct organization," he said.

Another regular said, "It's been suggested that they include more women, and I think they now realize that women make a difference in terms of how these companies are run."

However, a source close to Allen said the inclusion of more female executives was not a conscious decision to promote women, but rather a convenient way for the investment banker to promote clients.

Allen's famed, though secretive, annual confab, which runs July 7 to 12, is the 16th edition and has become a sort of high-powered male-bonding session for some of the world's most influential investors, chief executives and media moguls including the likes of Warren Buffett, Paul Allen, Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone, John Malone, Gerald Levin, Michael Eisner, David Geffen, Barry Diller, Edgar Bronfman Jr., Bill Gates, Andy Grove, Herbert Siegel and Philip Knight.

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It's a place where titans like Eisner and Buffett can bump into each other in a parking lot and give birth to such macho deals as Disney's $19-billion acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC.

Allen--Wall Street's mighty investment banker to the (media) stars--encourages his guests to bring their wives and kids along to the mountain retreat, billed as a family getaway with planned activities ranging from ice skating and kickball to fly-fishing and a rodeo.

While the family is at play, the moguls huddle to talk about changes in the industry.

But the number of top female executives on hand representing corporations in any given year has been few and far between--as they are in the industry in general. Last year, Mattel Inc. President and CEO Jill Barad became the first female CEO ever invited to make a company presentation.

This year, Barad is one of four women at the conference speaking on a panel titled "Women and Business," along with Washington Post Chairwoman Katherine Graham, former Disney/ABC Cable Networks President Geraldine Laybourne, and fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg. ABC's Prime Time Live co-host Diane Sawyer will moderate. (Pleasant T. Rowland, who just sold her doll company to Mattel in a $700-million deal engineered by Allen & Co., is the other female executive guest, though she will not be on the panel).

Graham, Laybourne and Von Furstenberg also have been executive guests at the conference before. Von Furstenberg runs in media circles as a close friend of Barry Diller. And it helps to be an Allen & Co. client. The investment bank is actively raising money for Laybourne, who recently started her own production company with her former lawyer--Lisa Hall, who left her practice--to serve the quickly converging Internet and television worlds.

The "Women and Business" panel is presumably also meant to freshen up the conference's program, which some guests think has gotten stale over the years.

Another new and seemingly politically correct addition is a panel called "Race in the Workplace: Past Practices/Future Challenges," which Tom Brokaw, another Allen friend, will moderate. Panelists include Time Warner President Richard Parsons, Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, Eastman Kodak's George Fisher, Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald Graham, and Leslie Jones, a student at the Roberto C. Goizueta Business School at Emory University in Atlanta.

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Company presentations, a staple of the yearly event, will be made by the heads of such outfits as America Online, NBC, Comcast, Microsoft and Disney. The effects of the Internet on the entertainment business and the convergence of the computer and television are likely to be hot topics.

Comcast was the first cable company to ally with the high-tech industry, with a $1-billion investment by Microsoft that has run up cable stocks over the last year by signaling new faith in the industry's capacity to deliver a host of new services to consumers, including high-speed connections that will make the Internet easier to use.

A series of Internet investments has occupied the headlines this month--and will undoubtedly be the talk of Sun Valley. As a hedge against declining network television viewership, NBC is investing in CNet and Snap, its fledgling Internet search and directory service.

Similarly on Thursday, Disney acquired a 43% stake in Infoseek, a search and directory service that will help direct traffic to Disney sites such as ABCNEWS.com and ESPN SportsZone. America Online's stock jumped this week on takeover speculation after it broke off talks about a technology and marketing alliance with AT&T.;

The Allen & Co. conference has served as a fertile environment for mega-media deals in the past. It's anyone's guess what, if any deals, may be bred there this year.

As one guest observes, "You usually don't know until you get there and you see who's paired up behind a bush, or you go up to talk to someone and they avoid you."

Former superagent and ex-Disney President Michael Ovitz, who attends the retreat every year, will come for the first time as an investor. In the last couple of months, Ovitz has taken control of Livent, a producer of such Broadway shows as "Ragtime," has been working with a real estate developer on entertainment-themed shopping centers and is actively attempting to land a National Football League franchise for Los Angeles.

Last month, with the aid of Allen, Ovitz considered making a bid for music giant PolyGram with two of the country's largest leverage buyout funds, Forstmann Little & Co. and Thomas H. Lee Co. The Ovitz group, along with other potential bidders, decided against making a play, and Seagram closed its long-in-the-works deal for PolyGram at $10.6 billion.

A former Ovitz client, Oscar-winning director-producer Sydney Pollack ("Out of Africa"), who's one of the only creative types invited from Hollywood, agreed it was about time that women and business were finally being recognized.

"Women have been making progress slowly and still need to make more, so this is a step in the right direction," said Pollack, who's numerous screen credits include the groundbreaking gender-bending comedy "Tootsie," as well as "The Way We Were," "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and more recently "Havana" and "The Firm."

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As for Hollywood, "There are a lot of good women in the entertainment business who are becoming leaders," said Pollack, pointing to some of the industry's top female executives including United Artists' Lindsay Doran, Columbia Pictures' Amy Pascal and Fox 2000's Laura Ziskin. Not to mention Paramount Pictures Chairwoman Sherry Lansing--currently the highest-ranking female executive in Hollywood--outspoken TV producer Marcy Carsey and Pearson chief Marjorie Scardino.

Maybe someday they and other high-profile, successful businesswomen, such as maverick marketer Martha Stewart, will have their day in Sun Valley.

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SUN VALLEY CONFERENCE 1998

Here is a list of invited guests to the 16th edition of the annual Allen media conference in Sun Valley.

America Online

Stephen M. Case

Robert W. Pittman

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Artisan Entertainment

Mark A. Curcio

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Ascent Entertainment Group

Charles Lyons

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Berkshire Hathaway

Warren E. Buffett

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Bet Holdings

Robert L. Johnson

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Bloomberg L.P.

Michael R. Bloomberg

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Brillstein-Grey Entertainment

Brad Grey

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Canal+

Pierre Lescure

Alex Berger

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CBS

Michael H. Jordan

Mel Karmazin

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Cecchi Gori Group

Vittorio Cecchi Gori

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Cendant

Walter A. Forbes

Henry R. Silverman

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Century Business Services

Michael G. DeGroote

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Chase Manhattan Bank

James B. Lee, Jr.

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Chris-Craft Industries

Herbert J. Siegel

William D. Siegel

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Cisneros Group

Gustavo A. Cisneros

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CMG Interactive

David S. Wetherell

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Coca-Cola

M. Douglas Ivester

James E. Chestnut

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Comcast

Ralph J. Roberts

Brian L. Roberts

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Computer Associates International

Charles B. Wang

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Contrarian Group

Peter V. Ueberroth

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Cox Enterprises

James C. Kennedy

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Diane Von

Diane Von Furstenberg

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Digital Bandwidth

David B. Weinberg

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DreamWorks SKG

David Geffen

Jeffrey Katzenberg

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Eastman Kodak

George M. C. Fisher

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Gateway

Theodore W. Waitt

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GEICO

Louis A. Simpson

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IBM

Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.

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Impac Hotel Group

Robert S. Cole

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Independent Sound

Peter Buffett

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Intel

Andrew S. Grove

Avram C. Miller

Ronald J. Whittier

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International Creative Management

Jeffrey Berg

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Islandlife

Christopher P. Blackwell

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Joseph E. Seagram & Sons

Edgar Bronfman, Jr.

Frank J. Biondi, Jr.

Ronald M. Meyer

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Mattel

Jill B. Barad

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Mediaone Group

Charles M. Lillis

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Meredith

William T. Kerr

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Microsoft

William H. Gates

Nathan P. Myhrvold

Pete Higgins

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Miller Industries

William G. Miller

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Mirage Enterprises

Sydney Pollack

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Motion Picture Assn. of America

Jack J. Valenti

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National Basketball Assn.

David J. Stern

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NBC

Robert C. Wright

Tom Brokaw

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News Corp.

Rupert Murdoch

Peter Chermin

David F. DeVoe

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Nike

Philip H. Knight

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Nokia

Jorma Ollila

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Omnipoint

Douglas G. Smith

George F. Schmitt

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Orca Bay Capital

John E. McCaw, Jr.

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Partnership for a Drug-Free America

James E. Burke

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Pixar Animation Studios

Steven P. Jobs

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Pleasant Co.

Pleasant T. Rowland

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Polygram Holding

Alain M. Levy

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Protrust Capital

John M. Lang

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Rastar Productions

Ray Stark

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Republic Industries

H. Wayne Huizenga

Steven R. Berrard

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RRE Investors

James D. Robinson, III

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Saban Entertainment

Haim Saban

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Sony

Nobuyuki Idei

Howard Stringer

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Starr & Co.

Kenned I. Starr

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Suntrust Banks

James B. Williams

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Tele-Communications inc.

John C. Malone

Leo J. Hindery, Jr.

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Ticketmaster Group

Fredric D. Rosen

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Time Warner

Gerald M. Levin

Richard D. Parsons

Robert A. Daly

Terry S. Semel

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Tribune Co.

John W. Madigan

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United Asset Management

Norton H. Reamer

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United News & Media

Clive Hollick

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USA Networks

Barry Diller

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Viacom

Sumner M. Redstone

Jonathan I. Dolgen

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Vulcan Ventures

Paul G. Allen

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Walt Disney

Michael D. Eisner

Thomas S. Murphy

Sanford M. Litvack

Robert A. Iger

Joseph Roth

Diane Sawyer

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Washington Post

Katharine Graham

Donald E. Graham

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World Group

John Heyman

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