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Trump Tries to Soothe Tech Chiefs With Pledge He’s an Ally

Dec. 14, 2016
Jobs, immigration and China were major topics, while infrastructure, education and repatriation of technology companies’ overseas cash were also discussed.

Technology industry leaders including Facebook Inc.’s Sheryl Sandberg and Inc.’s Jeff Bezos met with Donald Trump on Wednesday, seeking to persuade a man whose presidential bid many of them opposed to avoid policies they believe would hurt their companies.

“I’m here to help you folks do well,” Trump told the executives as the meeting began on Wednesday.

Jobs, immigration and China were major topics, while infrastructure, education and repatriation of technology companies’ overseas cash were also discussed, according to a person briefed on the summit. The atmosphere was friendly, added the person, who asked not to be identified speaking about a private meeting.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence wrote on Twitter that the summit was "productive," and focused on job creation and innovation.

Trump has a prickly relationship with the industry. He differs with many tech CEOs on immigration, internet security and regulation and on government investment. This summer, more than 140 tech industry executives published an open letter denouncing his candidacy and declaring that he "would be a disaster for innovation."

Oracle Corp. co-CEO Safra Catz, who like most other CEOs at the Trump Tower meeting did not sign the letter, said that trade would be at the top of the agenda. Trump has promised to unwind the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement President Barack Obama negotiated with 11 other Pacific Rim nations. He’s also said he would seek to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement.

"This is a very important meeting," Catz said beforehand. "Better trade deals are tremendously important to us. We are net exporters. Over 60 percent of our sales are overseas. So better trade deals are very much in our interest."

Trump told the executives at the meeting that he would make “fair trade deals. We’re going to make it a lot easier for you to trade across borders."

The meeting also included Alphabet Inc.’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Intel Corp. CEO Brian Krzanich, Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella, Cisco Systems Inc. CEO Chuck Robbins, Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook, Palantir Technologies Inc. CEO Alex Karp and International Business Machines Corp. CEO Ginni Rometty. Rometty also serves on a panel of CEOs advising Trump on business and economic matters. Bezos is Amazon’s CEO; Sandberg is Facebook’s chief operating officer.

Catz, Nadella, Sandberg, Page and Schmidt all exited via the lobby of Trump Tower, where they declined to speak to reporters staking out the building. Catz gave a thumbs-up when asked how the meeting went.

Campaign Donations

Employees of internet companies donated far more money to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign than to Trump--$5.6 million compared with $54,472, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks money in politics.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, some technologists debated whether invitees should even attend. A few top industry executives that were invited, including Uber Technologies Inc.’s Travis Kalanick and Airbnb Inc.’s Brian Chesky, didn’t go. Both companies said their CEOs had conflicting travel. Trump announced on Wednesday that Kalanick and Elon Musk would both join Rometty on his advisory panel, the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum.

Despite any reservations, most corporate executives would jump at the chance to press their agendas with the new leader of the world’s largest economy. And there are areas of common ground. The largest U.S. technology companies hold hundreds of billions of dollars overseas and would like to bring that money back at a favorable tax rate. Trump has called for tax reform to allow such repatriation and has said revenue from the move could fund improvements to U.S. infrastructure.

Trump noted that the U.S. stock market has enjoyed a "bounce" since his election--the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up about 5.7% since Nov. 8. "

"They’re all talking about the bounce so everybody in this room has to like me at least a little bit," he said.

Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association, said most of the disagreement between Trump and the tech industry has been over social issues rather than business.

"Trump is in a transition from running for office to serving in office. He will want Apple and other major tech companies to succeed," Shapiro said before the meeting.

Trump’s three oldest children, Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka, all participated in the meeting, as well as Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, venture capitalist Peter Thiel and Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Trump has said that Donald Jr. and Eric will take over leadership of his business while he is president; their dual roles as influential advisers to their father has raised conflict-of-interest concerns.

Trump sat at a long conference room table with Pence to his right, followed by Sandberg, Page and Bezos. To his immediate left sat Thiel, followed by Cook and Catz. Schmidt was among tech executives across the table. Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross. whom Trump plans to nominate as his commerce secretary, also participated.

Trump thanked Thiel, perhaps his strongest supporter in Silicon Valley, for helping to organize the meeting, calling him "terrific and so outstanding."

Job Moves

During his campaign, Trump criticized U.S. corporations for moving jobs to other countries, and since his election, he has threatened "consequences" for companies that send work offshore. Earlier in the year, he said that he’d aim to get Apple to make its products in the U.S. Apple has suppliers make most of its products in China; moving that work to the U.S. would likely increase the cost of iPhones and iPads.

Some big technology companies made what appeared to be preemptive moves ahead of the meeting with Trump. IBM’s Rometty unveiled a plan to hire about 25,000 people in the U.S. over the next four years. Apple may back a $100 billion technology fund that aims to invest about half the money in the U.S. and has pledged to create 50,000 new domestic jobs.

Hours before the meeting, Bezos announced Amazon’s first delivery of a consumer product by drone to a customer. The test was conducted in England because Amazon says the U.K.’s regulations are less restrictive. Trump has vowed to ease regulations across the government.

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Licensed content from Bloomberg, copyright 2016.

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