(Bloomberg) — Michael Milken wants to teach people about the harsh realities of an unforgiving world — balanced with some doses of techno-optimism and playtime with puppies.
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The 1980s junk bond king turned 21st-century philanthropist is once again taking over the Beverly Hilton in California, bringing together 3,500 bankers, investors and government leaders for four days of presentations and parties starting Sunday.
This year’s theme of the Milken Institute Global Conference is “Advancing a Thriving World,” though it takes place in clearly troubled times, including potential recessions in the US and Europe, war between Russia and Ukraine and unabated climate change.
Located in the heart of Beverly Hills, where palm trees sway and luxury cars line the streets, the conference is often described as Davos West, a California version of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps. The cheapest ticket comes as part of an annual membership package that starts at $25,000, though some attendees can get discounts.
But behind the the glitz and glamor, this year’s confab is expected to strike a particularly dour tone. Financial firms have collapsed, First Republic Bank is teetering, property defaults are climbing and dealmaking — the bread and butter for many attendees — is in the doldrums.
“Last year, the pipes got clogged,” said Rishi Kapoor, co-chief executive officer of Investcorp, who will speak Monday on a panel about capital markets. “That has been exacerbated this year by the tightening of financial conditions due to bank fallouts.”
An early session will feature the International Monetary Fund’s Kristalina Georgieva, who’s expected to address geopolitical tensions and financial distress, and NATO Admiral Rob Bauer will offer an update on Ukraine.
Headliners from finance include Wells Fargo & Co. CEO Charlie Scharf, Citigroup Inc.’s Jane Fraser and Citadel Securities chief Peng Zhao.
Patrick McHenry, the Republican chairman of the US House Financial Services Committee, and Maxine Waters, the top Democrat on that committee, will both appear Monday — albeit on separate stages.
But for almost every anxiety-provoking economic and political subject, the conference offers a dash of hope, reflecting many of Milken’s current obsessions. He just published a memoir, Faster Cures: Accelerating the Future of Health, about his journey helping to drive medical breakthroughs.
Topics include longevity, while comedian Seth Rogen and spirituality icon Deepak Chopra plan to explain the benefits of mindfulness for brain health.
With more than 280 sessions overall, Milken, 76, will personally host about a dozen. He’ll also interview Todd Boehly, CEO of Eldridge Industries and co-owner of Chelsea Football Club, enduring their own crisis.
After making a fortune as a financial innovator of leveraged buyouts and hostile takeovers, Milken pleaded guilty in 1990 to securities fraud and tax violations. His reputation in the financial world had long recovered before he was pardoned in 2020 by President Donald Trump.
Beyond the panels, dealmakers are expected to hobnob in suites at the Hilton and the neighboring Waldorf Astoria.
After dark, many will dine at private parties in the palatial villas of Bel-Air, where the talk of transactions is likely to be lively, even if the economic backdrop is uncertain.
The mood is “pragmatic” Kapoor said. “Neither overly cautious nor overly rosy.”
Participants looking for a healthier and more relaxing escape can attend yoga and Pilates sessions in the “wellness garden” at sunrise, experience a sound bath, or learn more about Ayurveda medicine, an ancient holistic approach to healing.
Monday through Wednesday afternoons, guests are encouraged to embrace their inner child at Puppy Playtime, where they can frolic in a pen with little dogs.
To cap it off, singer Diana Ross will end the conference with a performance of her greatest hits.
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