U.S. President-elect Donald Trump faced strident opposition from some Silicon Valley leaders during the election campaign. Many in the tech industry are still quite concerned that Trump will work to curb innovation, stop the hiring of computer-savvy immigrants and infringe on consumers’ digital privacy—among other worries. Earlier this week, however, Trump met with many of those executives and others to smooth over the past and talk about future plans. The meeting was expected to center on economic issues and focus on shared priorities, sources said.
“There’s nobody like the people in this room, and we want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. Anything we can do to help this go along, we’re going to do that for you,” Trump told the executives. “You call my people, you call me, it doesn’t make any difference. We have no formal chain of command.”
The CEOs at the table in the conference room included Apple’s Tim Cook, Alphabet’s Larry Page, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, Oracle’s Safra Catz and Cisco Systems’ Chuck Robbins. Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, attended instead of its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. The CEOs of Airbnb and Uber were invited but did not attend the meeting. Uber’s Travis Kalanick is traveling in India all week, according to a person familiar with his plans.
Trump and tech leaders openly, and repeatedly, clashed during the presidential campaign. Indeed, in an open letter published in July, more than 140 technology executives, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists called Trump a “disaster for innovation.” Trump’s disparagement of Mexicans, his pledge to deport millions of immigrants now living in the U.S. illegally and his vulgar remarks about women were widely seen as racist, authoritarian and sexist by an industry that prides itself on its tolerance. Industry leaders are also worried because Trump has been a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s “net neutrality” rules barring Internet service providers from obstructing or slowing consumer access to web content, and there are industry fears Trump will try to undermine the regulation.
For his part, Trump has been open and vocal in his disdain for tech executives. He has, for example, been a harsh critic of Bezos—who is also owner of The Washington Post—for the Post’s election campaign coverage, and he repeatedly suggested that Amazon could face antitrust scrutiny after his election. Trump also on the campaign trail urged his supporters to boycott Apple products over the company’s refusal to help the FBI unlock an iPhone associated with last year’s San Bernardino, California, shootings.
Be all that as it may, and despite any reservations, most corporate executives would seize an opportunity to discuss their agendas with the new leader of the world’s largest economy. After all, there are areas of common ground. For one thing, as a Bloomberg article points out, the largest U.S. technology companies hold hundreds of billions of dollars overseas and executives 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.
Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association, notes that much 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,” Shapiro said before the meeting. “He will want Apple and other major tech companies to succeed.”
It’s difficult to know what transpired in the meeting since reporters were allowed to witness only the first moments, and executives who attended the meeting generally aren’t talking. However, Vice President-elect Mike Pence did tweet that the summit was “productive,” and focused on job creation and innovation.
What are your thoughts on the summit? Do you think that now that the election is over, Trump and tech executives can work together and focus on job creation and innovation?