Herb Allen’s Sun Valley Conference – 2013
Herb Allen always makes Day 2 into an adventure.
Last year was the disastrous Acid Trip.
The year before was the disastrous Mogulympics.
And the year before for that was the disastrous Burning Mogul.
This year, Herb decided to focus on team building. And what better way to do that than by building a bunch of bikes for underprivileged kids in the Sun Valley area (which probably means those kids whose parents earn less than $1 million).
My initial reaction was exactly the same as Sheryl Sandberg’s who said: “What kind of crappy ass bullshit is this waste of goddamned fucking time?!”
After a morning with Roger Goodell talking about how great the NFL is and a presentation by Larry Page talking about how great Google is (the only negatives seemed to be that both the NFL and Google have an extraordinary number of head injuries) – we now have to build bikes.
Bikes are a big part of Herb’s Sun Valley gatherings. We all ride around on them all week looking like dorks.
Bikes were even a part of the very first Herb Allen gathering – presumably with Herb Allen’s grandfather (Sr. minus 1) – back in the early 1900s (see right).
But seriously, we’ve all made our fortune building very successful teams. You don’t get to the top of the media world without a little bit of knowledge on how build a winning team.
So nearly everyone complained when we all gathered in the Great Hall of the Moguls and saw a big pile of bike parts in the middle several round tables.
Kazuo Hirai’s “Fuck this!” was probably the loudest one I heard in the room (and there were many).
But as we got into the exercise, I began to realize the value and learning how difficult it is for a room full of arrogant pricks to actually work together and produce anything at all. Maybe there was a lesson to be learned here.
See, we moguls don’t have to do anything by ourselves. We are driven everywhere, our food is prepared for us, everything we own is always taken care of by others… if you do something yourself, you are weak and a loser. Some of us even have our own ass wiped (I promise not to mention any names, Harvey).
But we weren’t just going to be building bikes (and this is where the genius of Herb Allen really shines through), we were going to be building bikes with people we hate.
Michael Eisner was put on the same team with Jeffrey Katzenberg (and, just for fun, Michael Ovitz)…
Rupert Murdoch was teamed with his sons James and Lachlan…
Barry Diller was teamed with Leslie Moonves and John Malone…
I could go on and on with hateful matching – but, basically, if one person was known to hate another person, they were put on the same team.
Because Herb knew that I would probably either not show up or not want to participate, he made me a facilitator . I just had to walk around the room and make sure people were completing their task.
Each team had 30 minutes. Herb Allen banged the Great Gong of the Moguls (left) and everyone started to build their bikes.
The first table I stopped at was with the team of Thomas Tull, Brian Roberts, Steve Burke and Jeff Bewkes. Tull and his new Comcast NBC Universal brethren seemed to be working together pretty well – with Jeff Bewkes disengaged, looking at his phone.
[For the record, Manka Bros. officially passed on a deal with Legendary weeks ago after Mr. Tull requested (on top of an insultingly low theatrical distribution fee of 8%) my parking space, complete access to my executive spa and vomitorium and a further demand that I call him “Lord Thomas.” The distribution fee I could stomach but the other things – all non-starters.]
After a few moments of harmony, things started to break down and Thomus Tull got really frustrated that he wasn’t being allowed to build the bike all by himself. So he decided to go to an unassigned table and build another bike himself. The Comcast guys tried to get him to stay by saying: “Lord Thomas, please, let’s give it another shot… you can put the wheels on… we won’t interfere… etc. etc.. (Humorous anecdote: When he tried to ride his bike at the end, the wheels fell off.)
I then moved over to Rupert Murdoch’s table. Rupert was yelling at his son James “Righty tighty! Lefty loosey, you idiot!” Lachlan then repeated what he dad said but with less enthusiasm. “Chase Carey knows how to screw on a bolt!”
Things were really heated at the Barry Diller, Les Moonves and John Malone table. Definitely no love loss there. No one had budged an inch to start the process. Finally, Barry Diller said: “Whatever, let’s just fucking put this thing together and get to the bar.”
Les Moonves got right up in Barry’s face: “I hope you brought one of the little antennas, the TV in the bar ain’t free for you.”
Barry Diller: “I definitely brought enough little antennas for your mother! I think it’s adorable how you defend something so old as broadcast television. Like helping an old lady across the street.”
Les Moonves: “Yeah, I’d like to help your mother across the street!”
Barry Diller: “That’s not even an insult.”
John Malone got involved: “Frankly, I don’t care what you do to broadcast – but if you come after cable, Diller, I’m gonna have a problem with that. And you don’t want me or my karate friends in cable to have a problem.”
Barry Diller: “Oh my God, the testosterone of old media is so pathetic.”
I intervened before a silly slap fight broke out and reminded them of the task at hand.
I continued on. Most in the room were just talking or looking at their phones. There was one young group of Silicon Valley guys doing hacky-sack.
Then I heard one group finish because Sumner Redstone yelled “Bingo!”
Everyone looked over to see Sumner and Sergey Brin and Larry Page (with King Abdullah II of Jordan thrown in for good measure) posed in front of a gleaming new bike. They were all wearing Google Glass. (I don’t think Sumner remembered that the Google guys were also the YouTube guys and that he was suing them for $1 billion.)
There was a non-caring disappointed groan in the room and then a non-caring round of applause for the winners.
And that was it – another Day 2 disaster at the Sun Valley conference.
The Build-A-Bike technicians came in at the end and finished all the bikes.
They actually turned out so cool that we all decided to keep the bikes for ourselves.
Because of my bad back, I passed on the river raft ride (there’s nothing more pathetic than a couple of hundred CEOs acting like they know how to white water raft).
I’m at the The Drankin’ Hole dictating this blog and then off to a BBQ hosted by Bobby Flay.
What will tomorrow bring? More bullshit. More crap. Don’t envy us. Our lives suck just as much as yours.
Khan Manka, Jr. – Chairman & CEO – Manka Bros. Studios – The World’s Largest Media Company