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Here comes the Sohn: big names battle over conference music

Melissa Yeo
The Australian
Dec 2, 2021

For all that heavyweight finance names Michael Walsh, David ­Paradice, Matthew Grounds and Gary Weiss have in common professionally, one thing they can’t seem to find consensus on is music.

With just days to go before Friday’s annual Sohn conference, it’s usually time to finesse the playlist for the event, including which songs will feature as speakers make their way to the stage.

Compiling the playlist falls to Weiss, Grounds and the latter’s Barren­joey Capital offsider, Guy Fowler.

“In the first year we noticed there was something missing as each speaker took to the stage, and it wasn’t until we went to the Sohn conference in New York the next year that we realised what it was,” Weiss said on Wednesday when Margin Call found the four men at Sydney diner Bambini Trust.

“Matt did try for a long time to get a few particular songs onto the list … eventually we had to give in and let him have it.” That pick, ­apparently, was Guns N’ Roses.

An easier sell, and one Grounds was happier to share, was The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun for renewables advocate Ramez Naam. (The former Microsoft executive was a Sohn speaker in 2017.)

It’s not just the playlist that has a do-it-yourself vibe. Grounds reckons “everyone is hustling in some way”. Solomon Lew, a backer of the annual charity stockpicking event, used his contact book to land Michael Milken, a significant medical philanthropist. Weiss played a role in luring professor of psychology and behavioural economics Dan Ariely.

For the most part, however, speakers are the domain of the well-connected Walsh, whose day job as head of family offices at UBS gives him access to some of the more obscure fund managers, a key pillar in the event’s success.

“It has got to a point now where we have to rotate the speakers, and for this year in particular we’ve given some offshore names priority who we might not be able to get if they had to travel,” Walsh told Margin Call.

He recounts scoring Oaktree Capital’s Howard Marks for the first event in 2016, helped by former UBS colleague Edward Hartman (brother of reformed inside trader John), who knew the Marks family closely. “As it turned out he agreed, but he could only come out if we made it in November …. we moved it to November and that’s why it’s been at that time of year.”

Never mind the fact Marks is a neighbour to Lew in the US, too, while Hartman’s obstetrician ­father Keith delivered both of Grounds’s children.

A small world indeed.

This article was originally posted by The Australian here.

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