(Bloomberg) -- The superyacht Night Howl, all 164 lustrous feet of it, pulled into Nantucket harbor.

The new owner of this floating palace, Rich Handler, wasn’t aboard. He’d taken a faster route, via air, for what amounted to a brief, not-so-hostile takeover of a place that’s a summer playground for the ultra-wealthy.

Along the cobblestones of Nantucket Town, the whaling port immortalized in Moby Dick, Handler and his team from Jefferies Financial Group Inc., were hoping to land a catch of their own. For two days, they courted top executives from Walmart, Macy’s, Hilton and consumer companies weighing going public. Money managers from firms including Wellington Capital Management, Fidelity Investments and T. Rowe Price Group grilled CEOs and CFOs about their margins and back-to-school projections in a Wall Street blowout like no other.

Media moguls have Sun Valley, Idaho. Central bankers have Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Here on Nantucket, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) off the coast of Massachusetts, consumer giants and their investors return like bluefish for an annual invite-only conference. In a place where new money has remade old ways, at times to the consternation of Nantucketers, this year’s gathering added one more exclamation point to the wealth percolating through this elbow of sand in the Atlantic. 

Navy blue doormats emblazoned with Jefferies greeted guests at the waterside White Elephant, the grey-shingled grand dame of hotels. Outside, three circus-like white tents were planted on the lawn overlooking the harbor for the Wall Street-equivalent of speed-dating with executives who might be looking for Jefferies services. 

Not that a room — or dinner reservation — could be found just about anywhere downtown without planning in advance. One evening Handler personally hit 15 different restaurants where his bankers and their guests were rubbing elbows, Nantucket-style, over oysters, shrimp, and lobster rolls. Others gathered around food trucks, sipping IPAs at Cisco Brewers.

This was the 14th time Jefferies has hosted the conference since 2010, though two were held virtually during the pandemic. Handler was blunt about the allure of Nantucket. “People are trapped here,” he joked between meetings at the hotel. “Once you’re here, you’re captive and you’re bonding.”

The Jefferies conference defies categorization: it’s a boondoggle but also a family affair where children frolic on the beach at the closing lobster bake. It’s a pain to get to relative to the more ubiquitous conference destinations in cities such as New York and Las Vegas, but demand is high — the bank had to turn people away for the first time this year. 

In Nantucket Harbor, the Night Howl, an homage to Handler’s wife’s contribution to the Wolf Conservation Center, was fresh off its 12-hour journey from Manhattan. Handler stayed on the boat, and would have traveled by water from New York if it weren’t for prior work commitments that caused him to fly. It was docked next to Tireless, a boat that belongs to a tire-company executive who was also in town for the Jefferies event. 

Handler’s was the site of a cocktail party for a group of private companies mulling public offerings. In one of the key features of the week: lawyers from Latham & Watkins, Jefferies bankers and traders and the firm’s ESG advisers hosted an IPO boot camp.

Prior participants include Mediterranean fast-casual chain Cava Group Inc. and Wingstop Inc., said Michael Bauer, a managing director in Jefferies’ equity capital markets group. Jefferies had a hand in both of their public listings. Marc Jaffe, a Latham & Watkins’ partner, said on average, he’s gotten at least one deal every year from the conference. This will be his seventh time attending. 

Unlike many investment bank conferences, this one doesn’t offer fireside chats or focus on formal presentations. The goal is to foster quick, candid conversations — between companies and would-be buyers and investors. During a lunch break, an investor from Wellington chatted with a counterpart at Ashler Capital about margin outlooks and the impact of new apparel launches from one retail company in attendance. At a dinner in town, executives from dining and food companies compared notes on successes and challenges.

The conference has a long and colorful history. It traces its roots back to the 1980s when a salesperson who had a house in Nantucket convinced his firm, which ultimately became Wachovia Corp., to host an event catering to wealthy investors who also had residences on the island. When the US government forced the sale of Wachovia in 2008 to prevent the bank’s collapse, the rights to the conference (along with the rest of the company) ended up with Wells Fargo & Co.

The financial crisis wasn’t a great time to inherit a Nantucket conference and so the event would have been yet another casualty of that period of banking turmoil but for the efforts of Jim Walsh, now vice chairman of Jefferies. Walsh, who joined the bank in 2007 from Wachovia, convinced his new employer to take over the conference and a fresh era began — for Jefferies and for Nantucket. 

“The CEOs feel the conversations are more engaging and relaxed because of the backdrop of being by the water,” Walsh said. 

The Wachovia conference had a rowdier reputation. Back then, the financiers seemed to take over the island, and if you didn’t see them, you could certainly hear the fireworks they set off from Jetties Beach. The Jefferies conference-goers these days stay relatively under the radar. 

Nantucket doesn’t typically host large, national conferences “for obvious reasons,” said Peter Burke, executive director of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce. “Overall hotel space and our remote location both create logistical challenges.” But tourism hasn’t yet reached the peak of July or August, so local vendors have more capacity for group events, he explained. 

For the send-off dinner, Jefferies offers a family-style clam-bake at the popular beach-side restaurant Sandbar. This year, a full-size circus tent and rows of tables accommodated more than 600 attendees and their families. Guests cracked claws and dipped lobster in butter, wearing “Jefferies Nantucket 2024” bibs. A smaller adjacent tent was filled with beach toys and a color-your-own clam shell station for kids. 

But the true finale, for those able to continue, is a late-night party at the Chicken Box. Years ago, Handler felt something was missing: pizza. So he arranged a last-minute delivery. Now, the greasy snack is a staple at the music venue. Jefferies plans ahead with a request for 40 pepperoni and cheese pies from Sophie T’s Pizza directly across the street.

As for the main venue, Jefferies is already preparing for next year to make sure the White Elephant is again available in 2025.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.