Jeff Rosenthal: From An Empty Land to A Creative Community
Often described as one part TED conference and one part Burning Man, the Summit Series, founded by Brett Leve, Elliot Bisnow, Jeremy Schwarts, Ryan Bogeyman and Jeff Rosenthal in 2008, has set out to create a better world. Nothing more, nothing less.
Built for and by a multi-generational, interdisciplinary community, Summit events are a catalyst for entrepreneurialism, creativity, and personal development. Each Summit event puts diversity at the heart of its projects by bringing together influential actors all looking to bring about real change. From tech billionaire Peter Thiel, the co-founder of Paypal, to Dustin Moskovitz, the co-founder of Facebook, to Russel Simmons, a key player in the hip-hop industry, or even Quentin Tarantino, Kendrick Lamar or Tony Hawk, Summit picks its guests carefully, and pushes them to get out of their comfort zone. From treks to hiking on trails, diving, business conferences, giant picnics, workshops, yoga sessions and outdoor festivals, Summit initiatives surely aren’t lacking inspiration. By blending ethics with creativity, by combining art with science and culture, Summit organizes conferences around the world. And its most ambitious project is currently underway: Powder Mountain, a ski resort dedicated to the Summit community’s values and ideals. Purchased by Summit’s founders in 2013 to the tune of 40 million dollars, the Utah resort sits at an elevation of 3,000 meters, ever an epicenter for innovation. Susan Sarandon, Jared Leto, or even Katy Perry have recently visited the tiny village perched in the mountains, adding a touch of glamour to the spot that’s the talk of the town and remains full of surprises.
We sat down with Jeff Rosenthal, one of Summit’s co-founders, to talk about the importance of diversity within a community, the power of human relationships, the need for creativity in the workforce, and the absolute necessity to restore and value confidence, a major advantage that seems cruelly lacking in the work world, within today’s companies.
How did you and co-founders Ryan Begelman, Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve and Jeremy Schwartz meet? And how was Summit born?
We all met in Washington, D.C. Bret Leve and I were in college there at the same time. Elliot grew up there, and had just moved back to start his first company, and Ryan was there working for Carlyle Group. And our other co-founder and Summit Chief Creative Officer Jeremy Schwartz is Brett’s childhood best friend. We recruited him away from his band, which was on the Warped Tour at the time, to help us build Summit. Essentially, we started Summit out of necessity. It was 2008 and we were all young entrepreneurs who really lacked a peer group. Generally, when you’re young and building a business or project, you learn the most valuable lessons by making mistakes and then hopefully not repeating them. We thought, “Hey, how fantastic would it be to meet, support, and learn from other entrepreneurs, creatives, and non-profit founders building interesting things?” So we cold-called, Facebook messaged, and got introduced to different entrepreneurs and innovators whom we had read about, who were sources of inspiration for us. We explained our idea of cross-disciplinary collaboration and shared learning, and we invited them all to go skiing with us in Park City, Utah. 19 people said yes. Elliott put the entire event on his credit card, and now, almost a decade later, Summit hosts flagship events that gather the preeminent thought leaders of our time. We have over 15,000 diverse members from around the globe. We’re also building a community-centric alpine village, Summit Powder Mountain in Eden, Utah.
What have been the models that inspired your thinking about Summit?
We have a lot of inspirations! Put simply, when you gather innovative, open-minded people in a shared, intentional experience, amazing things can happen. TED, Davos, Art Basel, Aspen Ideas, Burning Man, artists’ salons like those of Gertrude Stein and Katharine Graham…are all great inspirations. We borrow from everyone, and incorporate different elements into our own immersive experiences. We’re fortunate to be able to stand on the shoulders of what came before us. There’s also a rich, modern history of physical community creators who have served as inspiration for Summit Powder Mountain.Robert Redford with the Sundance Resort, Institute and Festival, or Tony Goldman, who built Wynwood Walls in Miami and was instrumental to the development of the Soho neighborhood in New York, and maybe most influentially Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke who created modern Aspen, turning an unknown mining town into an international ski resort by bringing in Bauhaus-trained Herbert Bayer to help build what is now the Aspen Institute, and made Aspen a place of consequence in the global conversation.
Summit LA18 will take place in the heart of downtown Los Angeles in November. Tell us more about the agenda and your guests?
We believe that the greater the diversity of inputs, the more complex and impactful the outputs. Summit LA18 will gather a widely diverse set of innovators and creators, across disciplines, generations, nationalities, genders and backgrounds. We are essentially building a day and night immersive campus, consisting of hotels, historic theaters, outdoor Summit-built parks and structures, underground restaurants, concert venues, rooftops and much more, across four city blocks in downtown LA. We don’t want to give away too many of the surprises! Our speakers include Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon; Craig Venter, who mapped the human genome; Marie Kondo, author of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”; filmmaker and artist Miranda July; Futurist and philosopher Nick Bostrom; author and detective of emerging subcultures Malcolm Gladwell; Chairman David Archibald of the Standing Rock tribe, Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter; Jane Fonda, and many more archetypically incredible thought leaders and world changers. LA17 has many established and emerging artists performing – Jon Batiste & the Stay Human band, AlunaGeorge, poet Aja Monet, Rodrigo & Gabriella, Steve Lacy, LA Salami, Lil Buck, Zaytoven, Chances With Wolves and more. We have an equally intentional team of dreamers and doers building out the event environment across the entire campus, from food and beverage to impact programs that will enable attendees to contribute to the city. There’ll be opportunities for our attendees to connect through fun, dynamic shared experiences and forums, designed to increase the unlikely overlaps and connectivity that are the hallmark of Summit events. It’s kind of like if you read about dancing without actually doing it – you truly have to experience Summit to understand fully what it’s all about. Through these efforts, it’s our aim to establish Summit LA18 as the pre-eminent thought leadership event that’s happening in the world today.
Read the full interview in Swenson Mag Vol.02 by getting one of our membership here