ON the site of a 17th-century monastery in Cartagena, Colombia, a sort of Illuminati of the business and political worlds gathered in February for their annual winter rites.
Drawn from government, banking, technology and beyond, its members form a rare — and global — power elite. Each has been tapped, in Skull and Bones fashion, by an existing member. Each searches out and grooms new talent — people who can add to this group’s considerable wealth, knowledge and power.
But men need not apply: this exclusive club is women-only.
It is called Belizean Grove, and if you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. Founded 12 years ago, it operates mostly under the radar. The first time it received any real public attention was in 2009, when it became known that Sonia Sotomayor, now a Supreme Court justice, was among its 125 or so members. (She has since quit.)
Despite its low profile, Belizean Grove is fast becoming what could be considered the world’s ultimate old girls’ club. Perhaps that’s no surprise, as it is modeled on one of the nation’s most exclusive old boys’ clubs, Bohemian Grove. That hush-hush group, an extension of the 139-year-old Bohemian Club in San Francisco, has counted so many rich and powerful men among its ranks — including the presidents Eisenhower, Carter, Nixon and both Bushes — that it sounds like something out of a Dan Brown novel. Indeed, in 1942, the men of Bohemian Grove, who meet each summer under a canopy of redwoods in Monte Rio, Calif., dreamed up the Manhattan Project.
Some members of Belizean Grove are working on a mission of their own: the White House Project. Its goal is to have a woman elected president.
“Grovers,” as the members are known, tend to be in their 50s and 60s, and though most are not household names, they represent a rare confluence of wealth and influence. They serve as directors of companies including Xerox, Procter & Gamble, NYSE Euronext, Nasdaq, Nordstrom, DSW, PetSmart and REI. Some previously held high-level positions at blue-chip companies but then left to form their own businesses.
Members also include a Canadian senator and the chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church. Many are Americans, but others are from countries including Colombia, Ecuador, Iceland and New Zealand.
Grovers have capitalized on their network by cutting deals, making multimillion-dollar investments and hiring and mentoring up-and-coming businesswomen. Along the way, the group has become a model for a growing number of women’s business networks.
Members say they have worked and invested together and helped one another join corporate boards, but they are hesitant to reveal details of specific deals. Above all, Grovers protect one another’s privacy.