Today is a very special episode with Evan Sohn, the cofounder and vice president of the Sohn Conference Foundation. The Sohn Conference foundation was started by Evan, his mother, Judith Sohn, and Ira Sohn’s friends, Douglas Hirsch, Lance Laifer ,and Daniel Nir back in honor of Ira Sohn. The conference brings the best and brightest of Wall Street to present their innovative ideas and stock picks. Money is raised to support medical research and treatment for childhood cancer and pediatric diseases. This is considered the Superbowl of Investment Conferences and it will begin April 23rd at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
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Below is the first half of our conversation and interview.
Raul Panganiban: Lets just get started with how the Sohn Conference got started and also how the Sohn Conference Foundation got started.
Evan Sohn: Thank you very much. So my brother, Ira Sohn, was a Wall Street professional who passed away from cancer at the age of 29. We were approached by his manager, Dough Hirsch, and friends, Lance Laifer and Dan Nier. They approached the family to do something really special and meaningful in his honor and that would raise money for charity. They thought about different ideas and landed on the idea of a financial conference where the speakers will give their best ideas and the audience will pay money to attend the conference. The proceeds would go to pediatric cancer and related diseases. The first conference we had about 70 people, most of whom were related to myself and those involved and now we are in 11 cities, 10 countries, and 5 continents around the world. Our flagship event in New York started off with 70 people and now we get thousands in New York City in the Lincoln center.
RP: Can you just tell me more about your brother. What was he like and his role in the Hackensack treatment?
ES: My brother was a very sweet good boy. He was older than me by 3 years. He was really friends with anyone who would speak with him. He was incredibly a soft sweet innocent individual and people really took a liking to him. In an industry not know for that sort of behavior. He really stood out as someone quite exceptional and I’m not surprised that his manager and friends said, “hey we want to do something in his memory.” Because that was really the type of individual he was. When he did his outpatient chemotherapy at Hackensack Medical Center in the pediatric wing. He was not a child though he was young and battled cancer for 5 years. He really liked being treated on the pediatric wing. In the pediatric wing he just felt that being surrounded by children was much more uplifting than being surrounded by other adults suffering from cancer. He befriended lots of children that were sick there. It really became a passion for my family in terms of working with pediatric cancer related patients.
RP: Can you tell me what he meant to his community particularly Jamaica Estates?
ES: There is really a beautiful story. About 2 years ago, I actually ran into someone; they were the parents of a friend of mine. This parent when they found out who I was actually started crying. He was from Jamaica Estates and the whole community there was really torn apart when my brother died. I will tell you a beautiful story. My brother had his arm removed, he had a lung removed, and at the time his wife was actually pregnant when he had his arm removed. He was very worried about how he would actually pick up his child, you know with one arm. The community lined up one Saturday with little children and he was practicing on their children. You know that was the type of person he really was. 20 plus years later, I run into a probably 60 year old man who started crying when he found out who I was.
RP: The conference like what you said in the early days were mostly your friends. Can you tell me the growth and what were the early days like?
ES: So you know what was really interesting was. You know I say people come back year after year for the content and they write the checks for the foundation and the charity and I think that was always the balance. The history of people speaking and we have on Youtube a highlight video. It’s T Boone Pickens. Its really a who’s who of the financial world. We were very fortunate to have not just luminaries like Carl Icahn and T Boone Pickens but also the young “up and comers” such as David Einhorn and others who got involved very early on in the conference. We really all grew up together. I remember Carl Icahn getting on stage right after David Einhorn saying I do not know who that guy was but he doesn’t really know anything about real estate. This really goes back a very long way. In the highlight video you have Steve Cohen saying that he has not spoken in front of this many people since his Bar Mitzvah. There is actually quite a scene and if you remember pre-internet days, you never really heard any of these folks speak publicly. This is just not something that they did and so it is the novelty of what we really produced. You know pre-Ted we were always 15 minutes and that format is our global format. A guy gets up and he gets 15 minutes to give his best idea presentation. We have been doing that in New York now and it is our 23rd conference. I that is also what people come to expect that I am going to here a series of speakers and they are not going to banter around for 45 minutes. They are going to give their best ideas and really tell their story. It has been really successful there in terms of how we have grown up over the years.
1:00 – How did the Sohn Conference get started?
2:25 – Tell me about your brother. What was he like? What was his role in the Hackensack treatment?
4:03 – Can you tell me about what he meant to his community particularly Jamaica Estates?
5:27 – What were the early days like?
9:16 – Is there any particular breakthroughs that are exiting you?
15:33 – Can you share some reflections
17:51 – What are your favorite books
I encourage everyone to be part of one of the most exciting days in finance. You will find more information on registration and details of the conference at http://www.sohnconference.org/.
Enjoy and thanks for the listen