Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Milken Time: Wall Street jets west for 'Davos with palm trees'

Ken Griffin
Source: The Milken Institute

If Wall Street's masters of the universe can make it to the Swiss Alps, they're definitely going to Los Angeles.

The financial community will once again figure prominently at the Milken Institute's Global Conference next week—sometimes called "Davos with palm trees"—just like they did at the World Economic Forum in January. (Tweet This)

Private equity billionaires Steve Schwarzman (Blackstone), Leon Black (Apollo) and David Bonderman (TPG) will rub elbows with former Treasury secretaries Tim Geithner, Bob Rubin and Hank Paulson in and around the Beverly Hilton. Swaggering corporate activists Keith Meister (Corvex), Jeff Smith (Starboard Value) and Cliff Robbins (Blue Harbour) will be alongside master algorithmic investors David Harding (Winton) and David Siegel (Two Sigma).

Conference namesake Michael Milken—a high-yield fixed income pioneer—gives speaking slots to today's bond masters, such as Jeff Gundlach (DoubleLine), Steve Tananbaum (GoldenTree) and David Warren (DW).

Major macroeconomic thinkers will be in the mix too, including Mohamed El-Erian (Allianz) and Nouriel Roubini (NYU). That's not to mention hedge fund heavyweights Ken Griffin (Citadel), Alan Howard (Brevan Howard), Steve Cohen (Point72) and Boone Pickens (BP Capital).

The conference's purpose is to bring "leading thinkers in disparate disciplines" to "exchange ideas and solve some of the world's toughest challenges," according to marketing materials.

Many of the 3,500 participants and more than 650 speakers hail from the financial world—perhaps to be expected given that most tickets for private-sector attendees cost between $10,000 and $12,500 apiece. Both price points are sold out.

Financial firms also represent about half of the 85 listed sponsors. Many of the sponsors are led by executives that worked at Milken's old firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert, including Crescent Capital (Mark Attanasio) Apollo (Black and Josh Harris), Jefferies (Rich Handler), Canyon Partners (Mitch Julis), Leonard Green (Jon Sokoloff) and LWPartners (Leon Wagner)

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Other Wall Street sponsors include Guggenheim (the underwriter), plus groups like Goldman Sachs, Point72, W.L. Ross and Citadel.

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The conference features so many VIPs—including Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and actress Patricia Arquette—that billionaires don't always get star treatment.

Last year, for example, Blackstone CEO Schwarzman had trouble getting in a panel discussion on the future of Wall Street after arriving slightly late.

Read MoreNo special treatment for Milken billionaires

But the conference also allows for Wall Street's elite to make some unusual connections. Cohen, for instance, had drinks with New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez at a nearby hotel bar and chatted with with hotel magnate Steve Wynn in between sessions at the last go-round.

Update: An earlier version said Kenya's president was attending, however, his trip was canceled Friday, according to StarAfrica.