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This is Sun Valley, the summer camp for billionaires that ‘Succession’ satirized

The famous conference on business and economy that is being held these days in Idaho is usually an excuse to close deals in a relaxed manner, while high-profile guests, from Jeff Bezos to Bill Gates, fly fish and play golf

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos during the 2017 Sun Valley conference. The Amazon founder went viral for his casual outfit, with a black polo shirt and a light vest.Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

In the sixth episode of season two of Succession, the entire Roy family attends an imposing retreat for media, technology and banking moguls called Argestes, where they intend to close a deal with the Pierce family, the owners of Pierce Global Media, another media giant that is a direct competitor of Waystar Royco. The episode opens with the family flying in their private jet, waiting for the airport to grant them permission to land, while an impatient Logan Roy declares that he will kill whatever tech entrepreneur who lands before them.

The first similarity between the successful HBO series and Sun Valley, the billionaires conference that kicked off its 38th edition this Wednesday, July 12, is evident: during these talks about business and economy, which usually feature the top tier of the world of technology, media and finance, the airspace of Sun Valley, Idaho, a small resort town with just 1,500 inhabitants, tends to collapse as the private planes of big businessmen begin to arrive at Friedman Memorial Airport. According to Variety, this year’s attendees include Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger; Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos (and probably its executive chairman, Reed Hastings, too); Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. According to the same publication, the topics of this year’s talks could be artificial intelligence and climate change.

The competition for airspace is neither the first nor the only detail that the HBO series satirized of the so-called “summer camp for billionaires,” organized by the private investment firm Allen & Company every July since 1983. Just like the fictional Roys, many businessmen use this opportunity to close important merger and acquisition deals, while the paparazzi who hang around the area struggle to get a picture that can capture the beginning or the end of an important negotiation. Some of the most memorable and high-profile deals that have been conceived in Sun Valley have been the talks that led Lowell McAdam, the chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications at the moment, to the Verizon-AOL merger; Comecast’s purchase of NBC Universal (which began in the golf courses of Sun Valley); or the time in 2013 when Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post after two meetings with Donald Graham.

Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference
The private jets of Sun Valley attendees parked at Friedman Memorial Airport in 2021.Kevin Dietsch (Getty Images)

The annual event is held at the Sun Valley Lodge, a historic resort that opened its doors in 1936 and has 108 luxury rooms, a 20,000-square-foot spa, a gym, a yoga studio, an outdoor pool and a café, as well as numerous restaurants, lounges and rooms for conferences and events of all kinds. The hotel’s classic rustic-looking stone entrance was another of the nods we saw in Succession, as it is the only area of the entire resort to which photographers are allowed access and where it is common to see attendees get out of their black cars upon arrival while the hotel staff welcomes them.

Another notable detail, which was also replicated in the show, is the relaxed dress code. If the HBO series was characterized by portraying the trend of silent luxury (the way of dressing of the 1%, with clothes made of exquisite materials that, however, go unnoticed by the inexperienced eyes due to their austere appearance), in the episode they dedicated to the ins and outs of Sun Valley, the Roys dressed casually, with lightweight puffer vests, shirts and T-shirts. At the Sun Valley retreat, guests have been gifted Patagonia fleece vests – the top aesthetic choice for casual Fridays on Wall Street before Silicon Valley made sweatshirts trendy. In 2017, images of a very relaxed Jeff Bezos walking around the grounds of the resort wearing a black polo shirt and a vest went viral.

What goes on inside the resort, however, remains a mystery. For five days, in addition to listening to talks and participating in round tables on politics, technology or economy, attendees are also invited to relax with various recreational activities, ranging from long walks in the mountains to golf. In a nutshell, this is networking for billionaires. “The Sun Valley conference is primarily known as a place where tech and media moguls gather to do a little fly fishing and strike multibillion-dollar merger deals, while various members of the financial press flit about the periphery of the resort like a bunch of tabloid hacks desperate for a snapshot of Mark Zuckerberg in the season’s latest fleece vest,” wrote journalist Hamilton Nolan in The Guardian in 2021. “More fundamentally, the conference is, like Davos, a mechanism for the concentration of wealth, dressed up as something friendlier.”

Facebook Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg in his usual casual look, pictured in Sun Valley on July 8, 2021.Kevin Dietsch (Getty Images)

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