Michael Milken, who once wanted to be an astronaut, isn’t ready for private space travel.
“When we eliminate cancer as a cause of death, I’ll see what I can do on how to travel at the speed of light,” Milken, 67, said in an interview last night.
We were outdoors standing in the rink-turned-party space at Rockefeller Center, attending a fundraiser for the Melanoma Research Alliance. A grand fountain bubbled, waiters offered miniature cheeseburgers and lobster rolls on brioche buns, random tourists looked down from the plaza, and the shiny gold Prometheus and a few guests who identified themselves as Milken fans hovered.
With the exception of a brief chat about his fine suit with a men’s store manager from Bergdorf Goodman (a supporter of the Alliance) and his delight at spending time with his eight grandchildren, Milken wouldn’t stray from his favorite topic.
Was he rooting for the Rangers?
He’s more into baseball, he answered, between June 1st and Father’s Day to be specific. That’s when he tours Major League Baseball stadiums to raise money for cancer research.
Would he ever consider owning a sports team?
“People that used to work for me own a lot of teams,” Milken said of Drexel Burnham Lambert alumni including Joshua Harris, lead owner of the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia 76ers, and Tony Ressler, who has a minority stake in the Milwaukee Brewers.
Rather, Milken said he’s “excited to have our young investigators’ teams, our dream teams.”
He was referring to early-career cancer researchers who receive funding, mentorship and help collaborating through the Prostate Cancer Foundation (which Milken founded in 1993 after his own battle with the affliction) and the Melanoma Research Alliance (which Leon and Debra Black created in 2007, guided by Milken, who lost his father to skin cancer).
The business model to fight cancer, according to Milken, is similar to the one he deployed arranging non-investment-grade debt for small- and medium-sized companies.
“Between 1970 and the year 2000, 62 million jobs were created,” Milken said. “Essentially, we go out and support young scientists, the same as young companies. The idea is providing capital to people with ability.”
The benefit, titled “Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma,” was evidence of the affinity between the industry and the cause. The guest list was made up of about 1,000 professionals working in leveraged finance, including lawyers, accountants and investment bankers. Tickets were $300. The event raised $1.4 million, and 900 guests attended, Michael Wichman, a spokesman for the Alliance, said.
Event co-chairman Jeffrey Rowbottom, KKR & Co.’s head of North American capital markets, said the event benefits the financier guests as well as scientists.
“You can avoid 30 lunches,” Rowbottom said. “If you haven’t seen someone in a while, here you’ll bump into someone. ‘I wanted to call you, we’re working on a deal we want to bring you into’ -- there’s a real connection point.”
The event, he added, “is bigger than rivalries between billionaires. In theory Leon Black and Henry Kravis are formidable competitors, but the thing is Henry has personally supported me and the industry in this event.” (Kravis spoke last year, and his daughter Kimberly attended last night.)
Black, chairman, CEO and co-founder of Apollo Global Management LP, was also praised.
“Leon has a calm and gentle demeanor, as long as you’re not negotiating debt,” said Rushin Shah, a senior credit analyst at Apollo.
Black said he encourages his employees to be involved in philanthropy, and his own interests include art and education. “They can choose whatever they want to give back to. If they want to contribute to melanoma, that’s fine. I don’t think Apollo should be about melanoma.
‘‘I didn’t even know what melanoma was seven years ago, frankly,” Black said, referring to when his wife was diagnosed and successfully treated for the cancer. “We’re fortunate that we’re in a position to try to help do something. And you can make a difference.”
“I think what’s happening in the field is amazing,” he said, referring to immunotherapy and tailored drug treatments based on individual biomarkers.
The event’s other co-chairman was Brendan Dillon, the U.S. head of leveraged finance syndicate at UBS Securities LLC. Black’s sons Joshua, who works at Apollo, and Benjamin, a first-year associate at Sullivan & Cromwell, also attended.
Ronald McDonald House New York also held a fundraiser this week, on Monday night, to support the residential facilities it provides so children can stay with their families during cancer treatment. The event at the Waldorf Astoria raised $3 million, about a quarter of the organization’s annual budget, William T. Sullivan, its president, said.
“When I got involved 20 years ago, 80 percent of the kids would not go home,” said Kenneth Langone. “Now 80 percent of the kids go home and live normal lives.”
“I couldn’t say no to Ken Langone,” said Jimmy Lee, a vice chairman at JPMorgan Chase & Co., who was honored.
During cocktail hour, Lee said his boss, Jamie Dimon, set a good example of giving. As for the value of philanthropy in his career: “The essence of really good relationships, which are the foundation of your working life, is the notion of giving,” Lee said.
George Clooney joked about his engagement to London lawyer Amal Alamuddin last night during a dinner for the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, which presented him with the Arts for Humanity Award.
“I find we all have something very much in common, besides the fact we’re in shock that I’m getting married,” the 53-year-old bachelor told guests. “We’re all doing the best we can to try to stop violence, and our efforts often come up short.”
Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, and Clooney first met lobbying the United Nations Security Council to send peacemakers to Darfur.
On Sunday, a Holocaust education center opened in Wiesel’s pre-war childhood home in Sighet, Romania.
On Tuesday, Clooney’s “The Monuments Men,” about a team that worked to rescue art from the Nazis, was released on DVD.
Clooney used the event at the Morgan Library and Museum to announce an expansion of the Satellite Sentinel Project he co-founded three years ago. In addition to using satellite imagery of Sudan and South Sudan to detect human rights abuses, the organization will “follow the money and find out how these atrocities are funded, who enables them, and what the smart tools are to counter these activities more effectively,” Clooney said in a statement issued after the event.
“The world is not perfect yet,” Wiesel said in a telephone interview. “There’s still too much violence, too much hatred. Something must be done; the problem is, there’s too much, where you do you begin? When I was very young, my teacher said you begin anywhere.”