By Lieba Nesis
“If you want to be successful you need to possess five traits: maniacal work habits, visionary genius, a photographic memory, great interpersonal skills, and excellent salesmanship,” said Mike Milken colleague Don Engel, “Mike has all five.”
Many know Michael from his days at Drexel Burnham, but to say he has “burnished” his image is an understatement. In a November 2004 cover article Fortune magazine called him “The Man Who Changed Medicine” for his groundbreaking approach to fighting cancer. Milken sponsors investigators who find innovative ways to treat cancers by discovering new medicines.
One of those investigators, Jim Allison, who attended The Prostate Cancer Foundation’s (PCF) annual gala at the Parrish Museum in the Hamptons this past Saturday, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 2018. Allison regaled the evening crowd with his adept harmonica playing and obvious musical talent.
The crowd also contained 90-year-old hedge funder Larry Leeds, Stewart Rahr, Bonnie Pfeifer Evans, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Tiffany Trump, Peter Brant Jr. and nearly 250 others. Leeds said the secret to his longevity was working 8-12 hours a day and doing exercise five times a week. He called Milken, who did a hostile takeover of his Company Manhattan Industries in 1989, “the greatest creative force for good in the world.”
Leeds who has attended this dinner for years was one of many who enthusiastically paid the $2,500 per person with the evening being sold-out weeks in advance and more than 250 people being turned away. The dinner which began with cocktails at 6:30 PM on August 24, 2019 contained an abundance of doctors and scientists who have made critical contributions to the field of cancer research. PCF was founded in 1993 by Michael Milken and has since raised over $800 million for cancer research with 2,200 scientists in 220 cancer centers throughout the world. Milken’s results oriented focus has reduced the death rate by more than 52% and saved over 1.5 million men’s lives.
Moreover, PCF hosted an annual weekend tennis tournament in conjunction with the dinner where billionaire friends from around the world schlepped their private planes into the East Hampton airport to join Milken in his fight against the dreaded disease. This year’s tennis hosts included moguls Leon Black, John Paulson, Bill Mack, Steve Cohen, Bill Ackman and Artie Rabin-with only Rabin attending the dinner. Few are aware that Milken has mentored nearly every Wall Street powerhouse including Leon Black, Bill Ackman, Steve Schwarzman and Steve Cohen.
David Koch, who recently passed away from prostate cancer, had also been an avid participant at past events. Despite Koch’s death, there was an abundance of hope in the air as medical oncologist and CEO of PCF Dr. Jonathan Simons told me that the acceleration of precision medicines for many cancers that share common genomic targets, would cure currently intractable cases within the next 5 to 10 years. This Simons remarked was “not just hope, but actual fact.” The notion that all forms of cancer might be obliterated within the next decade was astounding and encouraging-to say the least.
Anyone who has attended a Milken dinner knows the drill: some quizzes, a five minute fundraising portion, updates on the program breakthroughs, and phenomenal entertainment. The evening began with queries which led me to discover that Zip Code was the lead determinant in a person’s health prognosis, there were 5,000 Kentucky Fried Chickens in China, and half of all Chinese people were pre-diabetic.
As predicted, Milken then raised nearly $5 million in under 5 minutes resulting in the sponsorship of 10 investigators. Rarely seen billionaire, Stewart Rahr, joined the dinner for the first time in years and donated $500,000 to sponsor two investigators for 3 years, with Milken matching the donation. One attendee only agreed to donate to the cause if the money went to a woman which Milken rightly called “discriminatory.” It was also announced that a new Precision Oncology Program would be started to educate nurses on veteran care with over 18 centers being created within the next year.
After the serious business had concluded, guests were treated to a mini concert by none other than Canadian superstar Bryan Adams. He sang some of his greatest hits including “Run to You,” “Summer of 69” and “Everything I Do I Do it for You.” The female attendees went wild joining Adams on stage for his finale as they danced uproariously. The dinner’s enormous success had guests discussing the exhilarating entertainment days later-an undeniable achievement during a busy Hamptons social season.