SALT to taste

Paul Blanchard
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It was quite a week, even for a seasoned traveller like me. London to New York; New York to Los Angeles; LA to Las Vegas; Vegas to Los Angeles; then, eventually, home, happy but exhausted. I’ve crossed the Atlantic countless times, and it always makes me excited and full of anticipation; the US really can be the land of opportunity, if you play it right.

One of the many stops in my trip was to the SALT Conference 2019, invited by my good friend Anthony Scaramucci, who’s created an extraordinary community and buzz at the SALT conferences. It’s a global thought leadership forum, designed to unlock the potential at the nexus of finance, economics, entrepreneurship, public policy, technology and philanthropy, which puts it squarely in the field of interest of my clients at Right Angles. And the Mooch – yes, he really does like to be called that – has built up the event since its inaugural gathering in 2009 to a position where the speakers, and the networking opportunities, are genuinely international and genuinely top-tier.

This year, you couldn’t escape that fact that we’re staring down the barrel of a presidential election – it’s only 18 months away. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley was there - she’s not running, of course, or so she tells me! Also present was Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaiian representative with a fascinating backstory, who could emerge from the growing pack.

The list of business and political heavyweights was enormous: Jeff Sessions, until recently the US Attorney General; Dr Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor; General David Petraeus, the Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and later Director of the CIA; Richard Bradley, the editor-in-chief of Worth magazine, for whom I’m privileged to write; and Howard Levkowitz of BlackRock. Everywhere you turned, there was someone you wanted to talk to! If I hadn’t had the Mooch as my personal sherpa, I’d have been totally lost. As it was, I came home with my phone crammed with contact details and virtual business cards.

One speaker who fascinated me was General John F Kelly, who acted as President Trump’s White House chief of staff for nearly 18 months. General Kelly is a no-nonsense, straight-talking US Marine, and his reputation was as one of the very few ‘adults in the room’ who could impose his will on the court of King Donald. Eventually, though, or so the rumours say, he couldn’t take it any more, and decided his future lay outside the current administration. He now sits on the board of Caliburn International, has renewed his interest in the policy sphere of immigration and detention, and is very happy, thank you very much.

SALT is a fascinating place to mingle, talk and listen. You get hardcore DC suits like Ambassador Ryan Crocker, a much lower-profile figure than David Petraeus, but who worked hand-in-glove with him in Iraq; then you have casually dressed young entrepreneurs like my friend Scooter Braun who’s used to the company of music figures like Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen. But that’s the great thing about the SALT conference. It brings together this broad selection of high-profile and high powered individuals, and helps them to see how their worlds interact and overlap, where the synergies are and what are the fault lines; what opportunities for collaboration and co-operation might exist; and, let’s be brutally honest about it, how there might be money to be made.

And that, in turn, is what made SALT such a perfect gathering for me. Unlike some firms, Right Angles has a very eclectic mix of clients from a number of disciplines, so I was fascinated to see this kind of cross-industry dialogue, people coming together with different approaches to problems, but all with an eye on the ultimate goal. The Mooch said that one of his ambitions for this year’s conference was to try to heal some of the divisions in public discourse and find ways for people with passionately-held views to break bread together and see if they can find common ground: I very much hope it worked, but I, certainly, felt encouraged.

The 10th anniversary SALT conference was a roaring success, and I take my hat off to Anthony Scaramucci and his colleagues at SkyBridge Capital for the quality of guests and the slickness of the organisation. It ran perfectly, I learned a lot, and, most importantly, I had the time of my life. If the Mooch lets me, I’ll be back next year; you never know, maybe I’ll be speaking in the next few years. If you’re a businessman or policy professional in any of the fields the conference covers, all I can say is: get there. Bring your address book. You won’t be disappointed.

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