The Hottest Bash You Never Heard Of

Will Forstmann's Aspen gala buy him "gravitas"?

Many people have heard of the glitzy business conference that's hosted by investment banker Herbert A. Allen. His annual Sun Valley (Idaho) confab generates enormous buzz and is well known as the place where media moguls gather to do deals and swap gossip.

Move over, Herb: There's another conference that may have an even higher wattage roster, with the added allure of being virtually unheard of outside of its elite attendees. Called the Forstmann Conference, it is a closed affair thrown by Theodore J. Forstmann, who runs the New York leveraged-buyout firm Forstmann Little & Co. Forstmann brings together business, political, and show-business bigwigs to discuss big ideas, while making sure his guests and their spouses have fun. He provides entertainment and sports pros, keeps the dress code casual, bans the working press, and requires that all conversation is off the record. All of which generates little media hype. But it pays off by attracting business opportunities and investors for Forstmann Little, while winning Ted Forstmann a huge ego boost and a lot of friends. "He's trying to buy gravitas," says one Wall Street banker. "You offer a hot meal, and the queen will come to dinner."

FRONT PAGE. This year's three-day extravaganza will start on Sept. 16 in Aspen, Colo. People who were scheduled to attend included chief executives, from Disney's Michael Eisner and American Express' Harvey Golub to's Jeffrey Bezos, and money managers Julian Robertson Jr. and Michael Price. Politicians included Newt Gingrich, Sam Nunn, and Nelson Mandela, South Africa's ex-president--which was front-page news in the Aspen Daily News.

Also on the list: Hollywood's Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and Oprah Winfrey, and celebrity journalists such as ABC anchor Peter Jennings, The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, and conference master of ceremonies Charlie Rose. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan planned to attend as media spouse to NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, confirms a Fed spokeswoman.

The locals were grumbling about the expected pileup of jets. But guests love the all-expenses-paid weekend at the upscale Jerome Hotel, both for the chance to unwind and the intellectual stimulation. Says first-time guest Daniel H. Case III, chief executive of Hambrecht & Quist Group: "As the Old Economy meets the New Economy on the Web, this year is particularly relevant."

Forstmann hasn't always gotten such glowing reviews. The 59-year-old financier is perhaps best known for his outlandish portrayal in the 1980s bestseller, Barbarians at the Gate, as a man obsessed with the perils of junk debt. But since 1978, Forstmann's firm has invested in 24 companies, and recently launched the Children's Scholarship Fund with a personal $50 million gift.

The conference began as a modest affair 10 years ago. When Forstmann owned Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., which he just sold in August, the shindig was a way to subtly pitch CEOs on the latest jet. Now, it gets Forst-mann in front of corporations with big pension funds to invest. And next time a corporate chieftain has a division to sell, he just might just call Forstmann.

The blowout was to begin with a Friday panel on managing risk. The scheduled speakers were Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp., retired soldier Norman Schwarzkopf, gold-medal skier Picabo Street, and money manager Paul Tudor Jones II. After a scheduled lunch with a word from George W. Bush, guests were to have a session with golf pro Jim Flick, and former tennis star Andrea Jaeger. Saturday's scheduled sessions: new medical technology, with Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio), and battling terrorism. Crooner Tony Bennett was the evening's scheduled musician, while the wrap-up lunch was to conclude with a state-of-the-world speech from former Secretary of State George P. Shultz at the Pine Creek Cookhouse, overlooking a crystal stream and snow-capped mountains. Now, about that invitation, Ted...

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