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April 25, 2007

Milken: Ten Years of Powerpoint and Trend-Spotting

There is some irony in the location for the annual Milken Global Conference, which this year celebrates a decade of meetings. The Beverly Hilton, a plush walled garden on busy Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills, used to be the site of Milken's high-80s meetings of buy-out funds and takeover specialists. As the LA Times noted in a front-page profile this week:

There are a few echoes of the past: The four-day conference is held at the same hotel where Milken in the 1980s presided over what became known as the Predators' Ball — a gathering of corporate takeover artists who used his high-yield junk bonds to finance their hostile bids. And the predominant attire is still the Wall Street power suit — dark and tailored, shirt preferably white or light blue (all the better for that hallway interview with Bloomberg Television or face time with CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo).

Mike_milken This year, in a crowd of boldface names that includes Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner, Sumner Redstone, John and Theresa Heinz Kerry, Boone Pickens, Michael J. Fox, Andre Agassi, Kirk Douglas, Sydney Pollack, Frank Gehry, Sherry Lansing, Quincy Jones, Mort Zuckerman, and Eli Broad among others, it's Milken himself who stands out.

After all, his is a remarkable story of personal renovation - at 61, Milken has gone from the notorious junk bond king of two decades ago to a leader in innovative economic views, changing capitalism, and American philanthropy.

The Global Conference is a product of the Milken Institute, a 40-person think tank with staff in Los Angeles and Washington DC, which focuses on broad economic issues that affect change; it aims to accelerate that change by bringing together economists with government types, business leaders, financiers, and philanthropists. Oh, and Hollywood celebrities, of course. Milken clearly knows the value of a well-known face, and he easily salts the Institute's work with connections to a who's who in the entertainment world.

There are other projects, including the Milken Family Foundation; through the Milken National Educator Awards, the MFF has awarded a total of about $54 million to more than 2,000 teachers. And there's FasterCures/The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions - a non-profit "action tank" formed under the auspices of the Milken Institute with a mission to identify and implement global solutions to accelerate the process of discovery and clinical development of new therapies for the treatment of deadly and debilitating diseases.

But the Milken Global Conference is Mike Milken's public face on the powerful world of insiders, world leaders, and CEOs - its success gives Milken even more entree than he enjoyed before; its platform allows deals to happen, deals that are increasingly philanthropic in nature. It was no accident that this year's conference was the first to feature a full philanthropic track, and that leaders in the social entrepreneurship area were very much in evidence.

It's become one of the top three or four conferences in the world for serious economic discussion - the kind with real-world repercussions. The LA Times summed it up well:

The event has grown into a confab of Hollywood heavyweights and political and academic stars — even the occasional Olympian. Milken sets the agenda, and it's an eclectic one, from the future of K-12 education to the future of prostate cancer treatment to the future of capitalism. (Luckily for the high-net-worth gathering, the conclusion of Monday's panel of three Nobel laureates in economics was that the free-market system had one.)

Think the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, without the skiing and antiglobalization protesters and with better shopping. (Which is why some have dubbed this Davos West.) Or the Clinton Global Initiative without the presidential invitation and the $15,000 annual membership fee.


A 'Younger' Redstone Makes a Commitment

Michael Milken introduced Sumner Redstone, the 84-year-old media mogul behind Viacom and CBS, as a younger man than the one he'd known 20 years ago. And at a conference where philanthropy clearly came to the fore, it was appropriate that Redstone used this 10th annaul Milken Global Conference to announce a major charitable commitment - and to urge the audience of 3,000 movers and shakers to exercise and consume anti-oxidants.

Redstone - not previously well-known for his philanthropy - announced his commitment of $105 million in charitable grants to fund research and patient care advancements in cancer and burn recovery at three major non-profit healthcare organizations. The cash contributions of $35 million each will be paid out over five years to Milken's own FasterCures/The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions; the Cedars-Sinai Prostate Cancer Center in Los Angeles and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

In introducing Redstone, Milken noted that "70 percent of healthcare spending is related to lifestyle," and recalled how Redstone - a hard-charging CEO - adjusted his lifestyle in terms of diet and exercise more than a decade ago, and still remains fully in charge of his empire. Said Redstone:

"Advancements in research and medical science are creating a better world and a higher quality of life for all of us. Like many, I have personally benefited from these advancements and have been an active contributor for many years to help speed their development. But I also know that there is so much more to be done and with the right resources in the right hands, we can make even more rapid progress and literally change the world."

FasterCures/The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions is a non-profit "action tank" formed under the auspices of the Milken Institute with a mission to identify and implement global solutions to accelerate the process of discovery and clinical development of new therapies for the treatment of deadly and debilitating diseases.

According to the official announcement, funds provided by Redstone's foundaton will support and expand The Research Acceleration and Innovation Network (TRAIN), a program created by FasterCures in 2004. TRAIN coordinates the work of more than two dozen non-profit, disease-research organizations and aims to improve their effectiveness by sharing best practices, standardizing data collection, and enhancing dialogue with philanthropic and investment communities. FasterCures, which believes collaboration is essential to successful innovation, convenes the TRAIN network to accelerate medical solutions by uncovering the best approaches to get patients connected to treatments. The TRAIN groups say they are making significant strides in getting treatments to patients with diseases as diverse as prostate cancer, breast cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, autism, brain cancer, HIV/AIDS, malaria, epilepsy, MS, Parkinson's, heart disease, ALS, cystic fibrosis, and multiple myeloma.

The grants will be used to bring other disease groups into TRAIN and take these non-profit disease research organizations into new areas of collaboration, including accelerating clinical trial enrollments, identifying and implementing best practices for research, and increasing the use of information technology to study and treat diseases.

The TRAIN Program will be renamed The Redstone Acceleration and Innovation Network.

April 24, 2007

Fame as Currency: Celebrities and Moguls Trade Success for Global Change

The halls of the Beverly Hilton are draped with elegant black and white photographs of stars from Hollywood's golden age. Among the 3,000 attendees of the 10th annual Milken Global Conference - the philanthropists, media titans, private equity chiefs, and economists - mingle the tastefully-framed images of Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, and Lauren Bacall. And there among them is Kirk Douglas - not a portrait at all, but a living man, smaller and frailer perhaps at 90, but as forthcoming and eloquent as any speaker at this 21st century confab of the monied and powerful.

The confluence of celebrity and philanthropy has very much been a central them at this year's Milken conference, and no one personified that collision as much as Kirk Douglas. In a softer voice slightly slurred by a stroke, Douglas was open about his life as an actor, missed opportunities, and the challenges of fame and fortune and aging.

Kirk Douglas

"You know, a stroke is a very difficult thing. You get depressed. Do you know what my wife told me when I was laying there moaning about my condition? She said 'get your ass our of bed and go see the speech therapist.' And what I found was this: the cure for depression is to think of others, to do for others. You can always find something to be grateful for."

A much younger man but as visibly affected by a medical malady as Douglas, Michael J. Fox spoke bluntly to a crowded ballroom throng last night during a panel on celebrity and philanthropy.

"I always tell people," he said, "that I didn't volunteer for this job, was recruited."

"This job," of course, is the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which is dedicated to ensuring the development of a cure for Parkinson's disease within this decade. Fox's Foundation has raised and distributed more than $100 million toward research into Parkinson's and related conditions, and the still-youthful actor has become a vibrant spokesperson for increased Federal funding of medical research and for stem cell research.

"When I was diagnosed with Parkinson's back in 1991, I was 29 years old and it was like being hit by a train," he said. "But eventually I realized that I was part of a community and I felt a responsibility to use my energy, to use my profile to garner some attention, to draw some attention to this situation."

Celebrity helps, but it doesn't make things happen - that's been a central theme among the Hollywood types here at Milken.

"You can have a passion but things don't just fall out of the sky. It really is a matter of making it happen," said Fox. That meant creating a "fast-track" foundation, staffing it up, working with scientists, and hitting the political trail to change minds and open budgets.

Eli Broad and Sherry Lansing

A couple of years ago, Sherry Lansing was the all-powerful CEO of Paramount Pictures, and the first woman to head a major movie studio. But as she approached 60, Lansing told her bosses she was opting out - changing her life.

"I think you have a genetic need to give back," she said during a panel discussion on second careers in philanthropy. "There are people who think you are mentally ill - they just cannot understand that you don't want to get more, that you can walk away when you're 60. But I must tell you, I've felt younger than I have ever felt - I feel like when I was 22 with the whole world before me. And in nonprofit community I've met the purest, most decent people I've ever met in my life. I get up every day with total joy. The expression I use is that I'm rewired and not retired."

Lansing's new passion is philanthropy: the Sherry Lansing Foundation works to improve educatiom, fight cancer, and get older Americans more involved in voluntary projects and philanthropy. Lansing's Older Adult Civic Engagement movement seeks to rally Americans over 60 - a "demographic powerhouse that is larger, healthier, more successful and better educated than any other in history" - and empower them to contribute their strengths and expertise to community improvement.

"You know, in my generation, we're all supposed to retire. But believe this is the prime time of your life, and I want to build a movement to put these people back to work to make the world a better place. I want to change the world."

Two over-60s who have changed paths - Eli Broad and Ted Turner - talked about the amount of energy they now put into their second, post-billions careers.

"You know, this country has been very good to me, my children have more than they'll ever need, so I asked myself, what can I do now," said Broad, whose foundation works in secondary education, medical research, the arts, and redeveloping Los Angeles. "You know what? I'm working harder than I've ever worked and I'm getting more satisfaction than I did running a Fortune 500 company."

The always-iconoclastic Turner discussed his United Nations Foundation, where he has committed more than $1 billion toward international relations and arms control. And he wasn't always optimistic during his talk here.

"You know, in order for humanity to make it through the next 50 years, we're going to have to solve a whole lot of problems in a hurry," he said. "We're going to need another renaissance."

He suggested that American philanthropy could have had more success in Iraq than American military might: "If we'd have sent a bunch of doctors and teachers to Iraq, we'd have changed things for the better and they'd still want to be our friends."

Actors Bradley Whitford and his wife Jane Kaczmarek founded Clothes Off Our Back as a reaction to the glitz of awards ceremonies in Hollywood. But Whitford said that part of his role in the charity has been discussing philanthropy with his fellow celebrities.

"You know, you sometimes feel like you're on the receiving end of the suffering Olympics," he said. "You didn't ask for this, you didn't expect this when celebrity hit you. I try to help them get over their self-consciousness about it. It's that bitch-slapping against activism that you hear in the media that sometimes makes people in Hollywood wary. We've got a bad reputation for activism."

But he suggested that more celebrities are looking for ways to "spend" their fame wisely. And they're finding g their own, sometimes unexpected dividend. Said Kaczmarek:

"I started tithing, and when I did I started doing research on charities I was giving to, and I was inspired, as
an antidote to so much of the cynicism you see around us. I think maybe I like myself a lot more."

Red Carpet Philanthropy: How Hollywood Threads Help Charity

You probably know Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman on The West Wing and Jane Kaczmarek as the mom on Malcolm in the Middle - but to their friends in Hollywood, they're the clothing people. As the founders of Clothes Off Our Back, Kaczmarek and Whitford (who are married) are deliberately trading the glitz and fame of the entertainment world for the rewards of charity fundraising.

Bradley Whitford at Milken

"Hollywood gets such a name as being so selfish and so self-serving," said Kaczmarek during a panel at the Milken Global Conference. "But in most cases - not all, I'll admit - this is an incredibly generous community."

The Clothes Off Our Back Foundation hosts charity auctions "showcasing today's hottest celebrity attire." Items are put up for bid to the public with proceeds going to benefit children's charities. The idea came from the couple's desire to give something back, said Whitford.

"My wife and I have been incredibly lucky in show business," said Whitford, who also stars in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. "After 9/11 there was this whole question whether awards shows were appropriate. So we thought why can't celebrities use their voice for children. We wanted to spend our celebrity responsibly."

The foundation literally takes the clothes from red carpet types after they've worn them, and auctions the pieces online. Proceeds go to the  Children's Defense Fund, Cure Autism Now, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Save The Children, and Friends of the World Food Program. So far, nearly 450 celebrities have participated in Clothes Off Our Back auctions since its inception in 2002, helping raise over $1 million for various children's charities.

The program began in a small way, with the pair driving around Los Angeles picking up used clothing and hitting up their friends. Now, there's a staff and a growing roster of corporate partners.

"Around awards show time people in this town are both overwhelmed and completely narcissistic," said Whitford. "We started very naively - we just thought this would be a good idea, and now as it's grown, we have to figure out what we're doing...Part of what we're aiming to do is mainstreaming the idea of philanthropy among celebrities."

Kaczmarek recalled racing around Hollywood looking for just the right color handbag for an awards show - when she suddenly stopped to wonder "just what am I doing" after three decades as a successful actor.

"This is the most self-congratulatory community I've ever been engaged in," she said. "These clothes and accessories - you never wear them again. A voice was telling me: if you have a sneaking suspicion you're wasting your life you probably are. That voice was driving me crazy. Look, you have a certain currency as a celebrity, and how you spend that currency is up to you."

Now, she said, the organization has picked up some steam among the entertainment crowd:

"It was pretty cool when Helen Mirren picked up the phone and said would you like the dress I won the Golden Globe in."

April 23, 2007

Capitalism and Philanthropy: the Milken View

If there can be said to be a single organizing principal of this Milken Global Conference, you'd have to choose this one: its organizers' core belief that the opening of capital markets is inherently good for human society. Applied to philanthropy, that belief in capitalism came out in what may well be the manifesto of this year's conference - that in the United States, "capitalism and philanthropy are twin expressions of an underying set of values."

That principal was laid forth in today's panel on "Entrepreneurial Philanthropy" by Don Randel, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Randel argued that public civility, an organized well-regulated society, and the rule of law expressed "a kind of trust," a common belief that allows those in the society to believe in institutions.

"The culture of philanthropy rests on the same values that the great success of American business and free markets rest on," he said.

Milken Capitalism Panel

Teresa Heinz Kerry, serving on the same panel, took that theme of civic trust a step further, arguing that American volunteerism was what spurred its philanthropic instinict.

"Because you had to cross the country, you had to band together and perservere, there is a real history of volunteerism that you don't experience in other countries, and I've lived all over the world. All the kinds of group support systems - it's an American thing, it doesn't happen anyplace else. It is the great strength of America, going beyond yourself. That is why American philanthropy is so dominant."

Mike Milken noted that "individuals give today at least four times what comes out of corporations and foundations - most of the money being given is coming from individuals." And while that's true, the economists on his Nobel winners panel at lunch focused not on individuals, but on systems; economists tend to shy away from philanthropy as a major economic driver - even though the combination of individual philanthropy and overeas remittances (money sent back by immigrants to their countries of origin) - amounts to half a trillion dollars each year.

The ecomomists Gary Becker and Kenneth Arrow tussled lightly over the role of government in the increasingly capitalist world society, but really around the edges it was an argument over just how much good light regulation could do to continue to spur capitalist growth. They approached the world's healthcare needs - from disease in the developing world to the aging population of western nations - from a purely democraphic-economic standpoint: there are more aging people, so a market for caring for aging people is of value. Malarial and other deaths from poor water will decrease when market conditions align to fix the problem. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa has discouraged investments in higher education because people who don't believe they're going to live very long don't invest in learning and aspiration.

A little cool and clear, shall we say, like the weather here in Los Angeles today.

But sometimes the truth is best served with a chilly breeze, especially in a world that celebrates its philanthropist-capitalists on the very same magazine covers increasing numbers. Becker was merely voicing a common perception when he stated that allowing markets to create social change - in their own time, of course - "is the greatest gift capitalism has provided."

While traditional philanthropy is honored here (there are any number of big-name foundation leaders here, from Milken himself to Eli Broad), it's innovation and collaboration that are the watchwords; that overlap with capitalism and creating markets. It's no accident that Milken launched its first philanthropy track this year - less than 12 months after Warren Buffett's historic gift and in cultural wash of increased media attention to giving. Still, when Carl Schramm, president of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, stated boldly that "foundations historically have been the most critical institution in the advancement of society," there wasn't a rush to agree.

Indeed, as a brand, the word "foundation" isn't particularly in favor. Here's the advice Don Randel had for the budding philanthropists of today:

"Don't go hire a bunch of foundation bureaucrats to run it for gets to be a business of self-perpetuation, with more and more layers of hoops to jump through to provide every last grant. And then grant manangers begin to think it's their money."

Milken Global Conference: Philanthropy on the Agenda

The Milken Global Conference celebrates its 10th year with an ambitious agenda here in Beverly Hills, as a who's who in busines and media gather to discuss the issues of the day. Tellingly, a new track has been added to this year's proceedings: philanthropy.

Since onPhilanthropy covered last year's Milken conference, philanthropy has become a dominant theme in the business press; even hide-bound economists are recognizing its power and theorizing about its limits and challenges. We're here again this year to bring readers "live" coverage from the  Beverly Hilton and the conference promises to put put philanthropy front and center in the wide-ranging discussions on economics, politics, media, and culture.

As I wait for the first session to begin - an overview of global warming -  a "global philanthropist" sits one table over: billionaire Ted Turner is here to speak about his work after a career building a giant media company. And so are Senator John Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, speaking at concurrent sessions (I'll try to get to both) about how everyday Americans are taking steps to improve the environment. Global climate change and the environment present a "stunning set of challenges," said Kerry.

"It's astonishing to me that there are people in the U.S. Senate who resist fact, who resist science, particuarly with regard to where we are with this planet," he said, adding that 928 peer-reviewed scientific studies concluding that global warming is caused by humans. Kerry suggests that a wide movement in business, government, and the nonprofit sector - operating in good faith internationally - is the best chance at arresting the trend.

"This administration was willing to go to war in in Iraq on the basis of one percent doctrine - a one percent chance that harm may come to the United States - and it has cost billions - but it ignores a 97 percent chance that global warming will harm us all."

"Ultimately the marketplace will decide. I don't want government picking the winners and losers, but I do want the government setting the framework for where we have to go...A bunch of business leaders are getting this fast....they're offering greater leadership than the United States Senate and Congress...It's leadership and it's having a profound impact."

Down the hall, Senator Kerry's wife talked about leveraging philanthropy - how an investment of a sum of money - even a significant sum - is not always enough to effect change. "We're not all the size of Gates, but then again they have to do what we have to do too to really create change...without collaboration, even Gates cannot leverage their money as much as they might."

Michael Milken, founder of this conference and the Milken Institute, praised "entrepreneurial philanthropy" and argued that "donor engagement" was a true force for change. If you take the thousand wealthiest people in the world, "you have about 2.5 trillion in assets," according to Forbes.

"Take two percent a year, and that's a tremendous opportunity for leverage."

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