Washington area businessmen such as Ted Leonsis, Evan Jones, Jimmy Reyes and David Rubenstein decamp for Nantucket for at least part of the summer. So do media types such as Luke Russert and his mom, Maureen Orth; Chris and Kathleen Matthews; Barbara Harrison; Greta Van Susteren; and David and Beth Gregory. The list goes on.
But Washington native and entrepreneur Tom Scott is hoping to bring some of the island vacationers back in October for some intellectual stimulation.
Scott, a Chevy Chase native who made a fortune building Nantucket Nectars, has created the Nantucket Project, a downsized version of the Aspen Ideas Festival and TED Conferences.
It’s heady stuff. Businessman and investor Eddie Lampert talked last year about the disconnect in the way society views business profitability and philanthropy. There was a presentation by Tony Award winner Julie Taymor on the risk and sweat that go with innovation. Investment manager Mellody Hobson talked about the importance of financial literacy to a person’s independence. Poet Sarah Kay read “Montauk,” her work about the “in-between” moments in life.
But the Nantucket Project is also about civic activism at work, and how the rich and influential used business smarts and neighborly arm-twisting to keep the local economy humming when the summer crowd has departed.
One way to do it is to try to move some of big-city wealth from places like Washington up to the island, even if for a long weekend.
Scott, 46, and co-founder Kate Brosnan, 53, are targeting Washington, with its persons of influence and decision-makers, as a big source of speakers and customers.
This confab is expensive and exclusive. Tickets run $3,400 each. Even if you can afford it, you must be invited. The ticket includes the food and lectures, but patrons must find their own transportation and lodging. This year’s theme is collective intelligence.
The lucky few hundred who go to the four-day event (Oct. 5-8) rub elbows with the likes of hedge fund bigwig Lampert (also chairman of Sears), Rubenstein, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff (really), former senator Bill Frist, David Gergen, Henry Louis Gates, former Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond, former NBC Universal chairman Bob Wright, Ken Mehlman, Eric Schmidt, scientist Carolyn Porco, investor Peter Thiel, former Thomson Reuters chief executive Tom Glocer and former Treasury secretary Larry Summers.
There were 325 participants at last year’s event, with 290 paying customers and 35 speakers.
“We do three things,” Scott said. “The presentations are 20 minutes. Panels are 45 minutes.”
For those who think 20 minutes on economics is a long-winded room-emptier, the “third thing” is seven-minute “interstitials” by musicians, comedians or even poets, designed to give the brain a rest.