The Business Titans of Tomorrow Are Plotting the Future and for $1,800 You Can Come, Too
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides giving a presentation at last year's WORLDZ
On Monday and Tuesday in Hollywood, some of the greatest minds in business, tech and entertainment will gather for a "cultural marketing summit" called Worldz (or WORLDZ, at its organizers prefer). Leaders from Google, Red Bull, Vice, Samsung, Lyft and 20th Century Fox will be on hand to meet, mingle and share knowledge and maybe a few passed hors d'oeuvres, alongside famous folks from the worlds of music, film, sports and social media. It'll be like Bohemian Grove without the pseudo-pagan rituals, or the World Economic Forum with the additions of Shaun White and Will.i.am. And unlike those elite, closed-door gatherings, anyone (with $1,850 lying around to drop on the registration fee) can attend.
The unlikely creator of this ambitious event is a Ukrainian immigrant and former advertising entrepreneur named Roman Tsunder. He's sitting across from me now in a stylishly minimalist conference room in one of those big co-working spaces in Culver City. Outside the glass doors, young employees for tech startups and creative agencies bustle past with micro-roasted coffees and fruit waters from the communal refreshment stand.
"Close your eyes for a second," he tells me. "Imagine you’re at a dock and you’re about to ship out. And as you’re shipping off to a new land, little by little you begin to lose sight of the shore." After a long pause, he breaks the spell with an "OK" and invites me to open my eyes. "Did you get any feelings? What do you feel?”
“A sense of freedom," I offer hesitantly. "A sense of possibilities. Venturing into the unknown.”
"Yeah," he says, obviously pleased with my response. "It’s also scary, right? It’s a little scary. You’re letting go of the known and the familiar and you're going to uncharted lands."
He's explaining to me the theme of this year's WORLDZ, which is called "Chapter Two: Losing Sight of the Shore." (Last year, the inaugural WORLDZ, was of course called "Chapter One: The Maiden Voyage.") For Tsunder, it's not enough to simply create another business summit or conference. He wants to give his participants a narrative, a sense that they are taking a journey.
“You have to capture people's imaginations before they even enter your world," he explains. He says that his inspiration behind WORLDZ is not so much other industry summits or even other "thought leader" showcases like TED Talks, but music festivals, such as Tomorrowland in Belgium. "Have you been? You gotta go!"
Roman Tsunder, left, with Quincy Jones, second from left, at last year's WORLDZ
WORLDZ grew out of Tsunder's other project, an organization called PTTOW!, which stands for "Plan to Take on the World!" (The exclamation point feels appropriate, given the impossibly ambitious nature of the endeavor.) He decided to form the invite-only group after noticing that all of the world's great private-sector leadership summits, like the World Economic Forum in Davos and the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Idaho, were dominated by old-guard companies and their Gen-X and Baby Boomer leaders.
"Sixty percent of the world is under 30," he notes (a statistic that might be slightly inflated, but his larger point is true — the world population of young people is surging like never before). "To me, the writing is on the wall that youth culture rules the world. ... The future of our world is in the hands of this next generation. Isn’t it kind of fucked up that there’s nowhere for [their] leaders to go?"
Nine years since its founding, PTTOW! has roughly 250 members, who according to Tsunder now represent leaders from what he's identified as the "top 70 industries," including everything from space travel (George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic) to media (Shane Smith, co-founder and CEO of Vice) to finance (Raja Rajamannar, CMO of Mastercard) to social causes (Deborah Dugan, CEO of RED) to entertainment (uh, Wiz Khalifa). All kidding aside, though, it's an impressive membership roster — and many of them, including Rajamannar (though not, sadly, Mr. Khalifa), will be at WORLDZ.
How a self-described "Russian Jewish immigrant" from Orange County, whose family came to America with "less than $100," convinced so many bigwigs to join his little club is all a bit mysterious — though he's charming enough to convince a jaded alt-weekly writer to close his eyes and play along with a sailing metaphor for his thought-leader summit, so he's probably charming enough to convince the chief digital officer of McDonald's to join a group that already includes Kelly Slater and Questlove — or, for that matter, to convince Questlove to join a group that includes "C-level" executives from companies like McDonald's.
"'No' means nothing" is one of his mottos in his life, Tsunder says. "My team probably thinks I’m crazy, but anytime we have a setback, that for me is like, I get energized and I get excited. ’Cause I know I’m one step closer to 'yes.'"
Once Tsunder felt PTTOW! was successfully taking on the world (sorry: taking on the world!), he decided to launch WORLDZ as "a global call for the rising stars. That’s the mission of WORLDZ: uniting today’s superstars, titans and masters with rising stars — everybody else that wants to shape the world."
WORLDZ provides access to those "masters" and "titans" — Tsunder's nomenclature for the bigwigs he invites to join PTTOW! ("Deepak Chopra is this year’s titan for mindfulness and self-development") — in a variety of ways. There are the usual keynote speeches, Q&A sessions and town hall–style discussion groups. There are also classroom-style "master courses" on topics like company values, branding and "humanizing machine learning" and even one-on-one sessions where attendees can "hang out with the masters, for pods of time," as Tsunder puts it.
Enjoying a little one-on-one pod time with Shaun White
PTTOW!'s goals are almost insanely lofty-sounding — "to help our members create the 10 most important cultural moments in the world," Tsunder says, citing PTTOW's involvement in everything from a Discovery Channel special on extinction to the Super Bowl halftime show. But with WORLDZ, Tsunder had a simpler objective in mind: to make this PTTOW! network he has created accessible to anyone who wants to learn the secrets of success from people who have clearly achieved it.
“It’s a privilege to help springboard people’s lives," Tsunder explains, "and bring this community together for them, and hand it to them to make it theirs. For them to be able to dream as big as they can and have a formula for success. So now they have a rulebook for the future. I wish I had that when I was 30 years old."
The WORLDZ summit takes place July 31 and Aug. 1 at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland. For more information and to register, visit worldz.us.
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