It was in 1972, three years after Milken began a legendary career on Wall Street, when his wife told him her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. That marked the beginning of his search for medical solutions, which has played as large a role in his life as his well-known innovations in finance. Decades after he began parallel careers in philanthropy and finance, Fortune magazine wrote, "No one had ever really pulled together the full picture of how - and how much - (Milken) has shaken up the medical establishment and saved lives." Fortune corrected that with a 2004 cover story under the headline The Man Who Changed Medicine. Fortune stressed the changes he wrought, not just the checks he wrote. "Now thousands are living longer - and leaders everywhere are taking notice."At the peak of his financial career in 1976, Milken was devastated to learn that his father's previous diagnosis of melanoma was considered terminal. He immediately started making plans to move from the East Coast to Los Angeles so that his two young sons could get to know their grandfather in the time he had left. After many months of bi-coastal commuting, he moved his business to new offices in Los Angeles.
In 1982, Milken formalized his previous philanthropy by co-founding the Milken Family Foundation, which was to be endowed with several hundred million dollars. The Foundation has worked closely with more than 1,000 organizations around the world. Over a third of a century, it has supported extensive programs to help address difficult inner-city issues, assist families of children with life-threatening diseases and build youth programs. It has also supported worldwide research on pediatric neurology, nutrition, leukemia, brain cancer and breast cancer. The MFF's most acclaimed program, the Milken Educator Awards, was established in 1985 and is now the largest teacher-recognition program in the U.S., operating in partnership with state departments of education across America. Dubbed the "Oscars of Teaching" by Teacher Magazine, it has awarded tens of millions of dollars to honor thousands of K-12 teachers and principals. Each educator receives an unrestricted $25,000 prize and participates in an annual professional-development conference.
The Milken Scholars program, which was established by Mike and Lori Milken, has provided support and lifetime mentoring for more than 400 outstanding college-bound students who have excelled academically, served their communities, and triumphed over obstacles.
In recognition of this leadership, Forbes magazine showed Mike on a 2014 cover along with other education philanthropists, calling them "Best in Class - The Visionaries Reimagining our Children's Future." Noting Mike's four decades of working on education, Forbes highlighted the Milken Scholars program, the Milken Educator Awards, Mike's Math Club and the National Institute of Excellence in Teaching.
In 2016, Mike and Lori Milken became Founding Donors of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the newest Smithsonian Institution museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The NMAAHC is "a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience … and how it helped shape this nation." This follows more than four decades of Milken’s support of minority entrepreneurship.
In the mid-1980s, Milken endowed a chair at the Harvard Medical School/Dana Farber Cancer Center, was the primary benefactor of the Venice (Calif.) Family Clinic (which serves tens of thousands of people), and gave his time and resources to a wide range of medical causes. The Milken Family Medical Foundation provided grants to keep many young researchers in their labs when they were tempted to pursue more-lucrative clinical practices. Milken has said, "Of all the programs we've supported over the last generation, the biggest payoff in terms of social benefit has come from the awards to young investigators."
Among those who received awards in the 1980s were Dr. Dennis Slamon, who later discovered Herceptin, a revolutionary breakthrough in the treatment of one type of breast cancer; Dr. Steven Rosenberg, who reported a major breakthrough in the development of successful gene therapy that for the first time in history harnesses the body's own immune system to shrink tumors; Dr. Bert Vogelstein, who did pioneering work on the incalculably important p53 gene whose mutant form is believed to be involved in more than half of human cancers; Dr. Owen Witte, whose subsequent work provided the basis for the development of the breakthrough drug Gleevec, now used as a frontline therapy for patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia; Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, the developer of a highly successful chemotherapy regimen for testicular cancer; Dr. Philip Leder, a pioneer in molecular biology who contributed to the deciphering of the genetic code; and many more.
Two decades ago, Milken began urging pharmaceutical companies to devote more resources to cancer, a disease that kills more than two million people annually. Traditionally, these companies had little incentive to research cancer cures precisely because so many people die from the disease. Chronic diseases like diabetes, atherosclerosis and arthritis are much more lucrative because people often live with them for decades. But eventually, Big Pharma came around. In 1998, only one of the top 30 prescription drugs treated cancer; a decade later, that had increased to five.
In 1995, Milken hosted the first Cancer Summit, an event that led to a 1998 March on Washington in support of increased funding of biomedical research. Over the five years following the March, Congress increased the resources of the National Institutes of Health from $14 billion per year to $27 billion. To date, that incremental increase represents approximately $210 billion in additional public funding above the 1998 baseline. The yield on that investment is accelerated scientific discovery that has saved, enhanced and extended millions of lives around the world. When funding increases slowed in 2003, Milken founded FasterCures, which works to remove bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to progress against all life-threatening diseases. Based in Washington, D.C., FasterCures evaluates the entire research process, identifies roadblocks, engages people and organizations, and proposes economic incentives and regulatory efficiencies to accelerate scientific discovery. Through Congressional testimony, conferences, reports and research, it is helping shape public policy on a broad range of health issues.Because federal budget pressures threaten continued life-saving investments, Milken has called for a renewed national commitment to biomedical research and public health. In 2012, FasterCures hosted A Celebration of Science in Washington to honor scientific achievement and draw attention to its profound human, social and economic benefits. Senior members of Congress, from both parties, joined more than 1,000 leaders in medical research, bioscience, patient advocacy, industry, philanthropy and public policy. In 2014, he testified before the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives in support of the 21st Century Cures Act.
On November 29, 2016, the lead op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal was written by Milken under the headline "Three Ways to Find More Disease Cures." Among other recommendations, the article urged Congress to pass the Cures Act, legislation he had discussed with a bipartisan coalition on Capitol Hill for more than two years. The next day, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the Act by the overwhelmingly positive margin of 392-26. The Senate then passed the bill 94-5 and sent it to President Obama, who signed it into law.
Milken's article also advocated expanded digitization of health data held by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) so researchers can develop more effective therapies faster for those who have served the nation in the military. On the same day the article appeared, Milken joined VA Secretary Robert McDonald in Washington to announce a $50 million partnership between the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the VA that will speed development of cures and provide better access to the most advanced treatments for all veterans.
Milken also founded the Prostate Cancer Foundation, whose competitive research grants to more than 1,600 programs at 200 research centers in 20 countries make it the world's largest philanthropic source of funds for prostate cancer research. Those grants have led to major breakthroughs. One example is seen in the work of Dr. James Allison. In the mid-1990s, with a combination of federal and private foundation grants, Dr. Allison – then a professor of immunology at UC Berkeley – had been studying the process by which cancer spreads by turning off the body's normal immune-system response. At a crucial point in his research, when an NIH grant had run out, his very promising research on a new antibody might have stopped. But Milken was convinced it was worth pursuing. An award from the Prostate Cancer Foundation kept it going long enough for him to demonstrate market potential to a commercial partner. After further development, Berkeley received an initial licensing payment of more than $87 million from Bristol-Myers Squibb for Allison's antibody. These funds were plowed back into further research.
In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration approved Yervoy, which had been developed from Allison's "immune system off-switch blocker," after clinical trials showing dramatically extended survival times for many patients with advanced melanoma. And because today's precision medicine can identify the specific sub-type of a tumor anywhere in the body, Yervoy and similar immunology drugs, such as Keytruda and Opdivo, are now being used against several other types of cancer. As a result of this work, Allison won the 2015 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medicine Research Award, popularly known as the "American Nobel."
A BusinessWeek cover story surveyed Milken's "quest to cure cancer," reporting that scientists "are convinced they're close to unraveling [its] biological details. And Milken 'has done more to advance the cause' than anyone." Charles Myers, M.D., president of the American Institute for Diseases of the Prostate, says simply, "Milken revolutionized the field." The late Dominick Dunne wrote in Vanity Fair that one doctor told him Milken's support "had advanced the study of the disease by 40 years." In addition to raising hundreds of millions of dollars directly from the public for research, the PCF's advocacy has produced many times that amount in government, academic and pharmaceutical industry programs.
In his 2005 publication, Dr. Peter Scardino's Prostate Book, the eminent New York surgeon writes, "Through the Herculean efforts of Michael Milken and his dedicated colleagues at the Prostate Cancer Foundation, private research funding has made great strides...This remarkable organization with Milken at the helm has worked tirelessly and effectively to promote public awareness of the disease." In the Foreword to A Call to Action, a book documenting the history of the PCF, the former Director of the National Cancer Institute says that "few people have done more to advance the fight against serious diseases than Mike Milken." A 2004 article in Forbes said, "Prostate cancer, once a research backwater, is suddenly sexy thanks to the work of one patient: Michael Milken...'Milken is probably the single most effective layperson advocate for cancer research,' says former National Cancer Institute director Samuel Broder...(his) foundation had a crucial early role in numerous drugs." Milken has worked hard to raise awareness: In 1993, it was rare for men to get life-saving prostate-cancer screening tests; today, about 60 percent do. Partly as a result, the five-year survival rate increased from about 70% in 1993 to almost 100% today.
A 2012 article in Life Science Leader magazine said, "With its strong science-drive focus, tight research timelines and unique role as a community of academic and industry researchers, the PCF stands as a new model for other funding agencies in the life sciences."
In 2007, Milken helped launch the Melanoma Research Alliance to accelerate research progress against fatal skin cancers. Soon after, Vanity Fair magazine called Milken "a force" against disease when they listed him as part of "The New Establishment." The MRA has awarded approximately $80 million to medical investigators in 15 countries. These research programs are accelerating new therapeutic approaches for melanoma, improving existing treatments, developing new biomarkers and advancing understanding of melanoma risk factors. This MRA-funded research has played a key role in the development of 10 drugs and treatments approved by the FDA.
During a meeting of philanthropists at the 2014 Milken Institute Global Conference, former California Governor Gray Davis said, "No private citizen on the face of the earth has done more to advance the life sciences than Mike Milken."
Summing up Milken's long involvement in medical research, CNN's Larry King told his broadcast audience, "When they cure this disease [cancer] they'll have to call it the Milken cure." But Milken's work is not limited to cancer - more than 50 disease-specific organizations, everything from Alzheimer's Disease to Vascular Cures, are part of the FasterCures network.
As important as research is to finding medical solutions, Milken believes that it's equally important to pursue prevention and wellness initiatives because preventing disease in the first place is as good as a cure. He convened national and international public health leaders at a 2014 conference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That same year, the Institute announced the naming of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Click here to read about Milken's lifetime of working on public health initiatives.
In 2016, the Milken Institute hosted the first-ever Public Health Summit in Washington, convening 500 deans of schools of public health, philanthropists, global health leaders, corporate CEOs, international diplomats, members of Congress and the Administration, disease-specific organizations, health providers and insurers. The goals? To increase bi-partisan collaboration among public health institutions; raise public awareness; demonstrate the social and economic benefits of public health; and reaffirm a global commitment to protecting and preserving health. Later in 2016, philanthropists Lynda and Stewart Resnick announced a $25 million gift to what was renamed the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Center for Public Health at the Milken Institute.
POLICY RESEARCH LEADERSHIP
Milken is also chairman of the Milken Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan economic think tank that seeks to create a more-informed public, more-thoughtful policymaking and improved economic conditions. The Institute's research areas include global capital markets, regional and demographic studies, human capital and job creation, access to capital, intellectual property studies, health economics, energy security and enhanced understanding of economic issues. Institute scholars have held dozens of major conferences and published hundreds of influential books, monographs and research reports. More than 4,000 thought leaders and decision makers from some 50 nations attend the Institute's annual Global Conference in Los Angeles. For more information, see globalconference.org. (The Institute also holds major annual conferences in New York, Washington, London, Singapore and more than 200 other yearly events around the world.)
Speaking at the 15th annual Global Conference,, former President Bill Clinton said:
At the 2013 Global Conference, Milken was joined by Bill Gates, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, in bringing a new focus to progress in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Michael Milken asked me to come, so I'm honored to be here. I want to thank Mike and all the people who work with him for the wonderful work that's been done in these last 15 years. For the focus that's been put on bioscience and its promise to expand the length and quality of our lives. For providing a forum where people who have all different kinds of perspectives to know that that is not an overstatement - come together and talk about these things in a space where people feel actually free to say what they think."
A study by Weber Shandwick said the Global Conference is "one of the most sought-after speaking engagements in the world."
Conferenza, a leading newsletter covering executive conferences, called the Global Conference a "must-attend event for companies on the leading edge of medical research and innovation in delivery of medicine and healthcare on a global basis." It further noted that "like the World Economic Forum at Davos, it was impossible to walk away from the Global Conference without a better understanding of the problems plaguing our world. Unlike Davos, however, there was a strong focus at the event on actually trying to come up with ways that many of these problems can be solved, and some steps in 'real time' to facilitate doing so." Following the 10th anniversary Global Conference in 2007, a comment in Conferenza read:
"The Global Conference has developed a reputation as a fast-paced jaunt in simultaneous panel sessions through some of the globe's most challenging issues -healthcare, financing structures, politics, security threats, economics, investment, philanthropy and the like. This year's anniversary session demonstrates convener Michael Milken's energetic efforts to jolt the status quo to help find solutions. Despite plenty of discussion of troubling issues like global terrorism and nuclear proliferation, the overall temperament is constructive and optimistic. Literally rubbing shoulders with colleagues who may have been working on a problem in another level is a fabulous opportunity."
Following the 2011 Global Conference, an article in RedHerring magazine said that "the event deserves its reputation as one of the most amazing platforms of the year. Hard economics and financial matters, public policy and trade, the role of China and Asia stand among the global-shaping topics addressed by the conference's cadre of exceptional speakers. In less than a few years, the Milken Institute Global Conference has truly become the place to be."
Barron's calls the Global Conference "the equivalent of a three-day university with multiple seminars every hour." The Los Angeles Times adds, "the conference is about expanding minds as well as wallets." It is, says The Wall Street Journal, a "big-name confab" while The New York Times simply calls it "Davos with palm trees." The Irish Times said it is is "like a star-studded Davos without the snow."
A 2014 Huffington Post article on the best YouTube channels for leaders listed the Milken Institute ahead of the Clinton Global Initiative and the World Economic Forum.
ACCESS TO CAPITAL
As a financier, Milken is often said to have revolutionized modern capital markets, making them more efficient, dynamic and democratic by expanding access to capital for thousands of smaller companies and by pricing and rewarding risk more efficiently. This financed much of the early growth of cable television, homebuilding, cellular phones and other industries. In a 2004 speech, Sir Harold Evans, author of the book, They Made America, said, "Michael Milken is a formidable innovator and we'll all be in his debt for a long time." In The New York Times, author Charles Morris wrote that Milken "helped blow away a corporate old boy network that had proved unable to cope with competitive challenges from Asia and Europe." Without this, wrote Morris, "it is hard to imagine how America could have become the lean, mean, competitive machine that dominated the industrial world of the 1990s." A Washington Post column said Milken "helped create the conditions for America's explosion of wealth and creativity" in the late 20th century, a process that BusinessWeek said, "shook America's defeatist establishment out of its gloom." The Sunday Times of London said, "The restructuring job started by Mike Milken has been completed by the globalisation of many markets." And Richard Lowry wrote in The National Review, "Financial innovators like Michael Milken punished inefficiency and stoked competition."
Starting in 1969, when he joined the firm that would become Drexel Burnham Lambert, Milken helped finance thousands of companies. By 1976, the financial theories he developed in the 1960s had been proven in the world's markets and now are considered mainstream. The Economist said his financial innovations "are credited with fueling much of America's rampant economic growth by enabling companies with bright ideas to get the money they need to develop them." He and his colleagues developed more than a dozen securities types at all levels of the capital structure to help thousands of entrepreneurs grow their businesses and create jobs. High-yield bonds – which some started calling "junk" in the 1970s – were often part of the mix, but rarely the entire story. He has noted that they are not always the right way to finance a growing company. Success through good times and bad depends on building a strong capital structure that limits risk where business conditions are volatile. In industries with predictable and stable revenue, higher levels of debt may be appropriate. But other businesses, such as technology, should finance growth primarily with equity. Getting the right balance requires deep understanding of social and regulatory trends, management competence, industry conditions, capital markets cycles and the economy.
Milken's use of convertible bonds, preferred stock, high-yield bonds, collateralized loans, equity-linked instruments, securitized obligations and derivatives, among other instruments, helped create millions of jobs, leading a Time bureau chief to write, in 1997, "Milken was right in almost every sense." This view was echoed by a December 2001 article in The New Yorker, which concluded, "In the end, Milken was right." A Wall Street Journal editorial referred to "Mr. Milken's contribution to the explosive economic growth experienced by the U.S. in the past 20 years." Canada's Globe and Mail called it "one of the greatest achievements of modern capitalism."
Writing in the June 2005 issue of The American Spectator, the former senior economist of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, Stephen Moore, wrote: "Michael Milken and Drexel easily created more wealth for American shareholders single-handedly than all the trustbusters in American history combined."
In his book How the Markets Really Work (Crown, New York, 2002), former Harvard Business Review editor, the late Joel Kurtzman wrote:
"Milken's real contribution was far greater than simply to sell portfolios of bonds. His real contribution was to get investors to understand that the stock and bond markets were not really separate markets. Milken created a tremendous pool of liquidity and guided its use with surgical precision. He did it in a way that took an often bloated and ailing American economy and made it lean, mean and resilient. Much of the strength and resilience of the economy today - including its ability to rebound in times of adversity - is due to the way people using Milken's financing vehicles remade ailing companies or put their entrepreneurial zeal to work."
Unlike many financial institutions in recent years, Milken's organization did not use excessive leverage. Commenting in a 2008 television interview, Milken said, "There are several reasons we are in this financial crisis, but two issues have arisen periodically over the past 200 years. One is credit ratings, which don't necessarily reflect credit risk. Second is the false belief that you can build a successful financial business through leverage instead of through unleveraged spreads. Hundreds of securities were rated triple-A that actually were never triple-A quality. But their ratings enabled the leverage that created the problem. People got comfortable with the rating rather than doing their own homework on credit quality."
Milken's most important work was financing entrepreneurs who had good ideas for building companies that became engines of job creation. These entrepreneurs had a great need for capital, but little access to bank financing. With Milken's help, they became drivers of employment.
Based on his studies during the 1960s and his practical experience in the early 1970s, Milken was determined to focus, first, on future cash flow rather than the past as reflected in book value and reported earnings; and second, to consider human capital part of the balance sheet. He played this out by backing such pioneers as Bill McGowan (telecommunications), Ted Turner (cable television), Craig McCaw (cellular telephones), Steve Wynn (resorts), Len Riggio (book retailing) and Bob Toll (homebuilding) among many other leaders of the 3,000+ companies he financed. They earned Milken's respect and backing because they had greater vision than the risk-averse managers who historically had counted on banks for financing. When banks ran into problems in the 1970s and turned off the capital spigot, Milken stepped forward and made capital available for thousands of dynamic, growing companies that created jobs and shareholder value. This was an epic decision that helped make the U.S. economy the envy of the world in the last quarter of the 20th century. A 2008 New York Times article said, "Mr. Milken helped create a new generation of companies and an entirely new way to finance nascent ideas that have helped fuel the global economy."
Milken and his colleagues created what is today a major part of the structure of global finance based on their innovations in the 1970s. These innovations - now taken for granted and taught in business schools worldwide - powered job growth in America for a quarter century and are now moving around the world through the efforts of the Milken Institute. Before Milken, fixed income was essentially a binary world: investment-grade securities and everything else. Milken created a spectrum of risk matched to the needs of individual companies and investors.
In 1989, the government charged Milken with securities/reporting violations in a case that continues to engender controversy. He admitted conduct that resulted - during a brief period in his 20 years on Wall Street - in five violations. Although such conduct had never before (nor has since) been prosecuted criminally - a fact rarely mentioned in press reports - he resolved the case without a trial to prevent further impact on his family. After paying a $200 million fine and serving a one-year-and-10-month sentence, he resumed the philanthropic work he had begun in the 1970s. A few years later, 98 brokerage firms and banks charged with conduct similar to that in the Milken case were simply fined in civil actions.
MOVING TO A WORLD STAGE
Milken graduated from Birmingham High School, a Los Angeles public school, where he was on the basketball, tennis and track teams, and was president of the Service Honor Society. He was voted "friendliest" in his class by fellow students. Foretelling his future charitable initiatives, he received the Outstanding Young Man award from the Encino (CA) Junior Chamber of Commerce for greatest service to the community. He was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was president of his fraternity and graduated with highest honors. Milken earned his master's degree in business administration from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where he was a Joseph Wharton fellow. He has received honorary degrees from business, medical and public health schools; he writes frequently about public policy issues in major publications; and he is a widely sought-after speaker at conferences around the world. He and his wife, Lori, who have three children and nine grandchildren, have been married since 1968.
Milken has been welcomed by heads of state around the world, including six U.S. presidents (Trump, Obama, G.W. Bush, Clinton, G.H.W. Bush and Carter) and the leaders of the United Kingdom, Russia, Georgia, Israel, Singapore, Mexico, Rwanda, Iceland and Albania. The Duke of York hosted a dinner in his honor at Buckingham Palace. He has known President Trump for decades.
Mike and Lori Milken have joined with Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in The Giving Pledge, which commits them to give the majority of their assets to philanthropic causes during their lifetimes. Read their pledge letter.
In 2016, Milken joined with leaders of the International Finance Corporation (IFC – a member of the World Bank Group) and the George Washington University (GW) to create the IFC-Milken Institute Capital Markets Program at GW. The goal of this first-of-its-kind initiative is to create a network of practitioners – IFC-Milken Institute Fellows – in Africa and other emerging regions who will lead capital-market development in their countries. The Fellows who compete for admission to the program represent the brightest mid-career professionals from financial and regulatory institutions across developing and emerging economies. The first cohort of program Fellows are completing rigorous coursework at GW and obtaining hands-on work experience in the U.S. before returning to their home countries to implement what they’ve learned. "Investing in their knowledge and skills,” said Milken, "will plant the seeds for robust capital markets and job growth. Our goal is to bend the arc of history toward greater progress by helping the Fellows to become agents of change producing economic expansion and meaningful lives for a rising population."
Summing up the reason for Milken's profound impact in multiple fields, New York Times columnist David Brooks said (on CNN, April 24, 2011), "I was with Michael Milken recently and he's one of those guys who just soaks you in. He just wants to learn everything from every single person he meets. That is a pretty valuable trait."
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