Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor considered the ‘king of bankruptcy’ for buying beaten-down companies with the potential to deliver profits, is president-elect Donald Trump’s choice for commerce secretary, a senior transition official said.
The official isn’t authorized to publicly discuss the matter and requested anonymity.
Reputed by Forbes to be worth nearly $3 billion, Ross would represent the interests of U.S. businesses domestically and abroad as the head at Commerce.
His department would be among those tasked with carrying out the Trump administration’s stated goal of protecting U.S. workers and challenging decades of globalization that largely benefited multinational corporations.
Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor considered the ‘king of bankruptcy’ for buying beaten-down companies with the potential to deliver profits, is president-elect Donald Trump’s choice for commerce secretary
With a Florida home down the road from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat, the 78-year-old Ross played a role in crafting and selling the president-elect’s tax-cut and infrastructure plans.
Ross has suggested that much of America is disgruntled because the economy has left middle-class workers behind and says Trump represents a shift to a ‘less politically correct direction.’
‘Part of the reason why I’m supporting Trump is that I think we need a more radical, new approach to government — at least in the U.S. — from what we’ve had before,’ Ross told CNBC in June, referring to Trump’s blunt tone and sweeping promises to reinvigorate economic growth.
Wilbur is the head of a lucrative private equity fund that specializes in rescuing failing businesses and turning them around. He’ll replace Penny Pritzker – another billionaire – as Commerce secretary if he accepts the job and is confirmed by the Senate.
Pritzker was easily confirmed to the position in 2013, but Ross could face additional scrutiny because of his investments in the steel and natural gas industries, Politico reports.
Ross has suggested that much of America is disgruntled because the economy has left middle-class workers behind
‘He might be the second-most complicated person in the administration to vet, behind the president-elect himself,’ Brookings Institution visiting fellow Norman Eisen told the news publication.
Eisen was an ethics lawyer in President Barack Obama’s administration.
Ross is on the boards of directors for the Bank of Cyprus, EXCO Resources, Sun Bancorp, Nexeo Solutions and DSS Holdings in addition to managing his investment firm, WL Ross and Co., Politico reported.
The SEC fined him $2.3 million in August for charging his investors management fees he improperly disclosed. Ross voluntarily offered to repay the fees, the SEC said, with interest.
Ross is viewed by industry experts as someone who would be a strong defender of U.S. workers and would push for stricter enforcement of U.S. trade laws.
‘If America’s trading partners continue to cheat, a President Trump will use all available means to defend American workers and American manufacturing facilities from such cheating, including tariffs,’ he said of the Republican’s economic plan in a white paper.
Despite his embrace of populist rhetoric, Ross has enjoyed a patrician lifestyle. He frequently commutes between his offices in New York and home in Palm Beach, Florida, according to Haute Living magazine.
He maintains an art collection worth more than $100 million that includes works by the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. A graduate of Yale University, he pledged $10 million to help build its management school.
For 24 years as a banker at Rothschild, Ross developed a lucrative specialty in bankruptcy and corporate restructurings.
He founded his own firm, WL Ross, in 2000 and earned part of his fortune from investing in troubled factories in the industrial Midwest and in some instances generating profits by limiting worker benefits.
That region swung hard for Trump in the election on the promise of more manufacturing jobs from renegotiated trade deals and penalties for factories that outsourced their work abroad.
A specialist in corporate turnarounds, Ross buys distressed or bankrupt companies at steep discounts, then seeks to shave costs and generate profits. Some of those cost reductions have come from altering pay and benefits for workers. Since 2000, his firm has invested in more than 178 companies.
President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence greet Ross as he arrives at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse last Sunday for an interview
Ross most prominently created four companies through mergers and acquisitions that focused on steel, textiles, autos and coal.
In some cases, Ross has sold the companies he packaged to even larger globe-spanning companies. In 2005, he sold the International Steel Group, which included the former Bethlehem Steel, to the Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal.
And while his investments appear to have proved generally lucrative, they have also at times brought troubling publicity.
In early 2006, the Sago coal mine owned by Ross exploded, triggering a collapse that killed a dozen miners. Federal safety inspectors in 2005 had cited the West Virginia mine with 208 violations.
Ross said afterward that he knew about the safety violations but that the mine’s management had assured him that it was a ‘safe situation.’
‘Oh, my God, it’s the worst week of my entire life,’ Ross told ABC News days after the collapse.
If confirmed by the Senate as commerce secretary, Ross would oversee nearly 47,000 employees and a budget of roughly $8 billion.
Wilbur is the head of a lucrative private equity fund that specializes in rescuing failing businesses and turning them around. He’ll replace Penny Pritzker – another billionaire – as Commerce secretary if he accepts the job and is confirmed by the Senate. Pritzker’s is seen above on Wednesday in China
Among its responsibilities, the Cabinet department provides data on the economy through the Census Bureau and monitors the environment through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
One former commerce secretary, Donald Evans, noted that a prime responsibility is opening up markets around the world for U.S. companies and workers.
‘What you are is ambassador to the world from America,’ said Evans, who served under President George W. Bush. ‘It’s critically important when you go to other countries that, first and foremost, you care about them, the citizens of their country.’
That advice clashes somewhat with the promises made by Trump, who campaigned on the doctrine of putting ‘America first.’ The president-elect told voters that Mexico, China and other countries had played U.S. trade negotiators for fools.
‘Under a Trump administration, no American citizen will ever again feel that their needs come second to the citizens of foreign countries,’ Trump said in April.