Last week, I attended the exclusive, invitation-only 21st annual Milken Global Conference at the Beverly Hilton Hotel-home of the Golden Globes. This year's theme was "Navigating a World in Transition." For three days, attendees heard 740 entertainment, Wall Street, philanthropic, economic, scientific and world political leaders address everything from longevity, philanthropy, gun violence, diversity, politics, investment in Africa ... well, you get the idea.
Imagine a scene where guests from all over the world bask in the warm L.A. sunshine from outdoor lounges decorated with plush sofas, cushions monogramed with the Milken Institute logo, and a jumbo TV screen live-streaming some of the panels, while enjoying plentiful food and drink and unlimited celebrity sightings. Security is tight, with a badge and scannable facial ID required for admittance. CNBC, Fox News, Facebook and Bloomberg all broadcast their morning programs from the hotel lobby. And nearly 2,000 people move quickly from one session to the next. Fortune 500 CEOs, heads of state and celebrities all mingle without entourages, giving the event a certain buzzy vibe. And although the conference states the dress code as business casual, most men wore suits and women wore their best boardroom attire.
Several people have asked me to share what I learned.
The most successful people in the world have a story.
Because I'm in the people business, I'm always curious what makes for a great leader. What is their background? How did they get to where they are now? What were their challenges? How are they using their gifts? Here are four people who surprised, educated and even inspired me about tough times, leadership and impact. In a later blog I will discuss other important discoveries and lessons.
Jane GoodallJane Goodall is a British primatologist and anthropologist who is the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. Goodall is best known for her more than 55-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees since she first went to Tanzania in 1960. She has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues. At 84 years old, Goodall is charming and energetic, yet she projects a calm and Zen-like presence. Goodall gave much of the credit for her success to her mother, who "didn't yell when I brought spiders to bed with me and who bought me books on animals." Goodall said she realized from her work in Africa that one has to help African people so they could help the animals. "The most important thing we can give is hope. We can each make a difference every day and, in so doing, make the world a better place."
Tom BradyFor you football fans, Brady plans to play for the Patriots next year and well into his forties. He respects coach Bill Belichick and acknowledges how much he has learned from him, although he admits Belichick is not an easy coach to play for. And in the manner of a true politician, Brady danced around questions of why cornerback Malcolm Butler was benched-saying he didn't realize he was benched until after the game and still didn't know, which many of us found hard to believe.
Brady talked about how it "sucked" to lose the Super Bowl, and that after the game his three children were crying. He told them "Dad doesn't win them all," and taught them that part of life was learning to roll with disappointment. I found Brady to be most vulnerable and open when talking about his father, the most important influence in his life: "He taught me so much about working hard for his family-incredible determination, humility, and love-that's what he was all about."
Brady also gave some hints about his second career as a motivational coach, helping people in every career maximize their potential. "How can you, if you commit to the right things, be the best you can be?" he asked. And went on to say, "What I am learning as I get older is that it comes from within-joy, motivation, happiness-it comes from the inside." He was quick to add that in the meantime he wants to "inspire people through his actions and performance."
Alex RodriguezI wasn't surprised to hear that legendary athlete Alex Rodriguez was speaking at the conference. After all, he is considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, appears regularly on ESPN and Fox Sports, and has started A-Rod Corp, an integrated investment firm that manages internal and external capital. What did surprise me was the panel on which he participated (along with Kevin O'Leary of Shark Tank): "How to Be A Man in 2018". The panel's theme was how men are defining their roles in the march toward gender equality. I was surprised that a man whose success was earned through athletic prowess was so candid about what he considered greater measures of success, such as building great cultures and advocating equality and diversity. But one of the benefits of the Milken Global Conference is that you learn not to make snap judgments about people, and that every person can have a second act.
Rodriguez also talked about the influence his mother had on him-how she worked numerous jobs to enable him to pursue a baseball career-as well as the benefits of having strong women in his life including his daughters and "Jennifer" (a reference to current girlfriend Jennifer Lopez).
I was impressed that when talking about why some men take a long time to admit a mistake or vulnerability, he openly discussed his ban from baseball. He committed to apologize to everyone he had wronged and, even though it took him a long time, in doing so he learned the power of being forgiven and was able to use that time to turn inward.
George TakeiAttendees of the Milken Global Conference are encouraged to attend panels featuring ideas and people with whom they are not familiar. I had seen Star Trek many years ago, but it was not my thing, nor is the Howard Stern show where Takei is a regular guest. Takei appeared on a panel discussing the intersection of culture, art and politics.
Takei, a youthful-looking 81 year old, opened by saying, "We live in a great country." He then shared the emotional and captivating story of how he and his family were put under curfew, stripped of their bank accounts and then shipped off to a Japanese internment camp in Arkansas during World War II for no other reason than that they were of Japanese ancestry. "At five years old, I was labeled an enemy alien by my government ... Yet, in one lifetime, because of the ideals of our democracy, I can sit here and discuss the intersection of culture and art and politics." Takei concluded by saying, "We as artists have a duty to use our sensitivity and creativity to reflect the time we live in." The other panelists (actress Sophia Bush, playwright Sarah Gubbins, and screenwriter Damon Lindelof whose credits include "Lost" and "The Leftovers") also shared how they chose or developed scripts that aligned with their core values, and how films and stories could change the world; but no one was impactful as Takei, who had suffered unspeakable cruelty yet so deeply loves his country.