Nicolas Berggruen, once tagged as the “homeless billionaire” for his lack of a permanent address, threw a party packed with politicians and business luminaries Tuesday night to promote the public policy think tank he wants to build in the mountains above Los Angeles -- and the $500 million he’s putting into it.
Guests, who included Alphabet Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt, Ariel Investments LLC President Mellody Hobson, Activision Blizzard Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bobby Kotick, Hayman Capital Management’s Kyle Bass and philanthropist Eli Broad, dined on shiitake rice cakes and lemon ricotta gnocci at the event, held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, to mark the fifth anniversary of the Berggruen Institute’s founding.
On stage, a violinist soloed along to the Eagles’ hit “Hotel California.” Governor Jerry Brown regaled the 400-or-so guests with tales from his first terms in the 1970s, when he drove a blue Plymouth Satellite and lived in an apartment. And Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti quoted philosophers Aristotle, Ernest Renan and Mencius before praising Berggruen’s decision to locate in Los Angeles. Many of the guests were in town for the Milken Institute Global Conference.
“We’re celebrating an institute that is in some ways the perfect embodiment of what Los Angeles is about,” Garcetti said, citing free speech, curiosity and diversity.
Berggruen, 54, said he acquired 450 acres along the 405 freeway just north of the Getty Center museum, where he will build a “secular monastery” for scholars to live, work and host meetings on topics ranging from philosophy to rethinking government. The Berggruen Institute offers a $1 million annual philosophy prize. Forbes puts his net worth at $1.5 billion.
“What he’s trying to do is have a place where people can have conversations,” said pharmaceutical billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, another guest at the party. “He believes you can solve problems by staying engaged.”
Technology and globalization are creating new wealth, along with anger among people hurt by the change they bring, Berggruen said. That’s leading to a rise in populism in countries from the U.S. to Europe and leaders who are unprepared to deal with the issues.
“People don’t feel that their jobs are safe, and that’s created a tremendous amount of uncertainty,” he said.