Milken, Mnuchin Join Blankfein in the Hamptons to Fix World

(Bloomberg) -- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, complimented Michael Milken on his midnight blue jacket Saturday night in Water Mill, telling him she’s encouraged her husband to wear brighter colors.

Milken, Mnuchin Join Blankfein in the Hamptons to Fix World

She should have checked out Milken’s socks: the pair he wore to Steve Cohen’s house on Friday for a panel on the business of sports featured split avocados.

Fashion was hardly the point of Milken’s whirlwind four-day stay in the Hamptons, during which he oversaw about 20 power sessions put on by the Milken Institute and hosted by billionaires at their homes. Because when the wealthy go back to school on a late summer weekend, they do it by the pool, with views of the ocean, chef-curated cheese plates for afternoon snacks, and classmates in the upper echelons of business, finance and government.

The conversations, in their fifth year, are much more private and under the radar than the Milken Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, attended by 4,000 people. They’re sort of a secret society branch of the conference.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talked foreign policy. Nobel Prize winning biologist David Baltimore, former president of Caltech, weighed in on fighting an influenza pandemic.

Milken, Mnuchin Join Blankfein in the Hamptons to Fix World
Milken, Mnuchin Join Blankfein in the Hamptons to Fix World

Affordable Housing

Mnuchin addressed affordable housing and opportunity zones, giving guidance to the very wealthy in the room on how to defer capital gains tax by investing in low-income urban, suburban and rural communities.

For Richard LeFrak, the panel at his home in Southampton had him rethinking his SoLe Mia development in Miami. Some of the biggest potential returns may be found in building office space and relocating companies into the zone, he said in a telephone interview after the meeting.

“It’s not about the zone, it’s about the opportunity,” LeFrak said. Mnuchin liked the phrasing so much, he repeated it, with attribution, in a brief interview at the gala. The Internal Revenue Service will be providing guidance on investing in the zones “shortly,” Mnuchin said. Aron Betru of the Milken Institute said it was expected in about two months.

Lloyd Blankfein took part in the panel on education where Merryl Tisch told him he should run the New York City school system when he steps down as Goldman Sachs CEO.

‘Too Young’

Other offers are coming. “We’re going to try to recruit him,” Milken said. (Later, a spokesman for Goldman Sachs said Blankfein is “too young to retire and is thinking about a next chapter but he has a few more pages left in his current one.”)

WorldQuant founder Igor Tulchinsky hosted a panel on predictions, and Mike Novogratz of Galaxy Investment Partners hosted one on blockchain. His takeaway: “Buy Bitcoin.” Tony Ressler of Ares Management, Joshua Harris of Apollo Global Management and Tony Yoseloff of Davidson Kempner participated in other sessions.

Milken, Mnuchin Join Blankfein in the Hamptons to Fix World
Milken, Mnuchin Join Blankfein in the Hamptons to Fix World

Mark Ein, owner of the Washington Kastles of World TeamTennis, was looking into buying an eSports team after the session at Cohen’s house featuring Noah Whinston, the 24-year-old founder of the Immortals. Ein also won the elite division of the doubles tennis tournament benefiting Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Yep, in addition to the deep dives on the world’s toughest problems, there was also a lot of tennis over the weekend, with amateur players paying $25,000 to play with professionals. The first round of the matches were held at people’s homes, with John Paulson, Bill Ackman and George Walker playing on their own courts, Beth Kojima at Jane Lauder’s and Amy Griffin at Thomas H. Lee’s. The tournament is a stop on the Charles Evans PCF Pro-Am Tour.

Milken, Mnuchin Join Blankfein in the Hamptons to Fix World
Milken, Mnuchin Join Blankfein in the Hamptons to Fix World
Milken, Mnuchin Join Blankfein in the Hamptons to Fix World

Caviar Pizza

Milken’s schedule started Thursday at Howard Marks’s East Hampton home, where Marks talked about market cycles, the topic of his upcoming book, and Milken wrote down an algebra problem for John Griffin’s son Jack. Then there was caviar pizza at Larry Gagosian’s, an auction at Marc Leder’s house to support dogs that can sniff for cancer, and a performance by John Fogerty Saturday night that had Milken dancing in front of the stage. The finale was around 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Shinnecock Tennis Club, when the four winning teams collected their trophies. The tournament and gala raised $3 million.

Milken, Mnuchin Join Blankfein in the Hamptons to Fix World

Milken kissed a baby and encouraged the winners to make remarks. Ein thanked David Rubenstein for the job out of Harvard Business School that gave him enough time to play tennis. Amy Griffin, in her third year of winning, said her husband had stolen victory from her in another year. Larry Leeds of Buckingham Capital Management, who turned 89 in June, declared a wish for Milken.

“Mike, I want you to run for president," Leeds said.

"I’ll run as your VP," Milken replied.

Milken, Mnuchin Join Blankfein in the Hamptons to Fix World

At the gala Saturday, Milken called for a moment of silence as he announced the death of Senator John McCain, citing his “commitment to our country and his commitment to cancer research over the years.”

Washington Plans

In about two years, Milken will open the Center for the American Dream in Washington, which will focus on education, bioscience and medical research, entrepreneurism and financial markets and access to capital -- areas where the Milken Institute is already involved. Admission will be free, and a highlight of a visit will be watching taped interviews of notables discussing the American dream. A few dozen interviews were filmed in Southampton over the weekend. Milken is aiming for 10,000 total.

“We have to make sure the American dream is alive and well, whether you live in Atlanta, Georgia or China,” Milken said in an interview, sitting on a turquoise couch by a saltwater pool, and wearing the avocado socks. “They have to see it as clearly as I do. This isn’t a dream just for Americans, this is about opportunity regardless of where you live, your religion, your gender, or the school you went to."

Milken, 72, said he’s been working on the idea of the center for 53 years. It will be located on Pennsylvania Avenue, across from Treasury and diagonal from the White House, in former bank buildings he purchased before the 2016 election.

As for whether President Trump will give Milken a pardon, neither Milken or Mnuchin, who’s reportedly been pushing for it, would comment, though Mnuchin expressed admiration for the man. “He’s beyond remarkable,” Mnuchin said. “His focus on not only prostate cancer, but what he’s done to focus on all the critical issues affecting our world, is really extraordinary.”

Pollster Frank Luntz didn’t mince words when he mused on the legacy of the man who built the junk bond business before going to prison for 22 months and being barred from the securities business, after which he has devoted much of his time to his institute and cancer foundation.

“Ask me, who’s going to cure cancer? Ask me who’s going to save capitalism?” Luntz said. “Mike Milken. He was a victim of the system and now he is the savior.”

Luntz’s take on a pardon for Milken? “I think he’s on his way to sainthood, which is hard to get if you’re Jewish.”

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