Four Silicon Valley leaders are whispering into Donald Trump’s ear
Most of Silicon Valley did not vote for Donald Trump. Some tech leaders even publicly expressed their distaste for the Republican candidate, like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, while others, like LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, threw their support behind Hillary Clinton.
But now that Trump is president-elect, the tech industry will set aside its differences with him — in fact, Silicon Valley is already making inroads into Team Trump.
To advise him, Trump has picked a decorated group of tech luminaries, including CEOs of some of Silicon Valley’s most important companies, like Tesla’s Elon Musk, Uber’s Travis Kalanick, and IBM’s Virginia Rometty, to name a few.
Peter Thiel, Trump’s closest confidante in the tech world, was a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in companies like Facebook and Palantir. But Thiel has made headlines for months as the ideologically dyspeptic, openly gay billionaire from Silicon Valley who had a prime-time speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.
Other Silicon Valley names who plan to work with Trump are a more varied bunch, with their own individual motives, political beliefs, and corporate interests. We’ve assembled a list of some names to know below; these are major tech executives who Trump has named to his Strategic and Policy Forum, an informal group of business leaders on whom he plans to lean as advisers, or who have joined the leadership of Trump’s transition team.
One more thing: If Silicon Valley was so vocal about its distaste for Trump’s hateful remarks and policy proposals, why did they make the voyage to Trump Tower in mid-December for a photo op and a brief meeting?
Recode’s Kara Swisher has a list of seven smart reasons why, but the most important deals with taxes. Pushing for what’s known as “repatriation,” tech companies want to bring a bunch of money they’ve earned abroad into the U.S., but they don’t want to pay higher corporate tax rates on that income. If Silicon Valley plays nice with Trump, the thinking goes, maybe they’ll be able to save billions of dollars collectively that they otherwise would have had to pay in taxes.
Trump is already on board with the idea and has put out a repatriation plan of his own that looks favorable to corporate America and investors — but not so much for people looking for work.
Onto the list:
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick
Who he is: Travis Kalanick is co-founder and CEO of Uber, which at $66 billion, is the most valuable venture-backed private company in the world. He was named in mid-December to Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum.
As far as political beliefs go, once upon a time Kalanick talked about his love for Ayn Rand (which he has since backed away from), and his Twitter profile picture is a headshot of Alexander Hamilton from a $10 bill.
Previously, Kalanick came out as a big supporter of Obamacare, which makes sense because independently contracted Uber drivers don’t get employer-based health care. Though Federal Election Commission data show Kalanick hasn’t made any substantial individual political donations to candidates or PACs, Uber has a team of lobbyists (including ex-Obama adviser David Plouffe) to advocate its interests in Washington and elsewhere in the U.S.
What he wants: Uber generally wants as little regulation of its self-driving car program and other businesses as possible. The company recently tussled (and lost) with regulators in California because it put self-driving cars on the road without approval. For both Uber and its rivals, the next few years in the space will be pivotal as more companies hit the road with autonomous driving technology.
In a statement provided to VICE News at the time of Kalanick’s appointment to Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, Kalanick said that he looks forward “to engaging with our incoming president and this group on issues that affect our riders, drivers, and the 450+ cities where we operate.”
Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz
Who she is: Safra Catz is one of two CEOs of the respected and fabulously successful corporate software company Oracle. In mid-December, Oracle announced that Catz had joined the executive committee of the Trump transition team.
In proper one-percenter fashion, the Israeli-born business executive has donated thousands of dollars to both Democratic candidates (Senator Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo) and Republicans (Senator Rob Portman). Her predecessor and Oracle’s founder, Larry Ellison, is a prolific Republican donor and a big Marco Rubio supporter during the election.
Catz, however, is apparently already facing internal pressure. Longtime Oracle executive George Polisner quit his post at Oracle shortly before Christmas and cited Catz’s cooperation with Trump as why he left the “once great company.”
What she wants: Representatives for Oracle didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment, but in a statement from earlier this month, Catz said that she believes if “[Trump] can reform the tax code, reduce regulation, and negotiate better trade deals, the U.S. technology industry will be stronger and more competitive than ever.”
IBM Chairwoman, President and CEO Virginia “Ginni” Rometty
Who is she: Ginni Rometty runs IBM, a legacy tech conglomerate that used to make products like Thinkpads but has shifted to focus on artificial intelligence (like Watson, the robot that destroyed human competitors in Jeopardy!) and corporate software and services. She was appointed to Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum at the beginning of December.
Rometty has worked for IBM since 1981, when she joined as a systems engineer. FEC records indicate that she hasn’t made major political donations to candidates of either party.
What she wants: A week after Trump was elected in November, Rometty wrote an open letter to him explaining that IBM was committed to employing Americans and that she would support efforts to repatriate American tech companies’ income from abroad after Trump reforms the “outdated and punitive” tax system. Less than a month later, Trump tapped her to join the team. Representatives for IBM did not return a request for comment.
The estimated 14,000-plus workers that IBM either has already laid off or plans to lay off, however, might complicate her relationship with Trump; IBM has said it’s hiring a similar number of people. Worldwide, the company has nearly 400,000 employees.
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk
Who he is: Elon Musk is the flashy billionaire who founded Tesla and turned it into a multibillion-dollar electric car powerhouse. He also built a scrappy space-flight startup, SpaceX, that is successfully doing battle with legacy giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Before the November election, Musk criticized Trump for not having personal character that reflected well on the U.S. Though he doesn’t weigh in on politics often, he is close with Peter Thiel; both men made their first huge fortunes from starting PayPal.
What does he want: Though a representative for Musk didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, Musk’s self-interest appears pretty clear. He’s the lone clean technology guy in an administration run by someone who wants to move the U.S. back onto coal and other fossil fuels. That makes him the closest thing the environmental movement has to an ally with Trump’s ear. For example, Musk reportedly urged Trump not to pull out of the Paris Accords.
He has previously talked about expanding Tesla’s and SpaceX’s “manufacturing footprint” in the U.S., but the company already develops much of its technology in places like Los Angeles and rural Texas.