President-elect Donald Trump is expected to select as commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor who became known as the “king of bankruptcy” for buying, restructuring and selling off steel-makers and other fading industrial companies.
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump is expected to select as commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor who became known as the “king of bankruptcy” for buying, restructuring and selling steel-makers and other fading industrial companies, officials on the transition team said Thursday.
After choosing national-security hard-liners for some of his earliest appointments, Trump is turning to a group of ultrawealthy conservatives to help steer administration policy.
In addition to Ross, a generous contributor to his campaign, Trump is likely to choose Todd Ricketts, a Republican megadonor who is an owner of the Chicago Cubs and whose father founded TD Ameritrade, to be the deputy commerce secretary, the officials said. And Wednesday, Trump said he would name Betsy DeVos, a school choice activist and GOP fundraiser, as his education secretary.
Ross, 78, an adviser to Trump’s campaign whose fortune is estimated by Forbes at $2.9 billion, is aligned with Trump on trade. He says the U.S. must free itself from the “bondage” of “bad trade agreements,” and he has advocated threats of steep tariffs on Chinese goods. Ross, chairman of the private equity firm WL Ross, has also pressed for cutting the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, from 35 percent, and reducing taxes and regulations on energy companies.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- Down-ballot Democrats move to distance themselves from Sanders
- 'A new day': Harvey Weinstein convicted, led away in cuffs VIEW
- A small bookstore pondered its future after a day without a sale. After a tweet, it became overwhelmed with orders.
- YouTuber campaigns against 'climate alarmism,' drawing comparisons to Greta Thunberg
- Sports on TV & radio: Local listings for Seattle games and events
Ross would represent the interests of U.S. businesses domestically and abroad as Commerce head. His department would be among those tasked with carrying out Trump’s stated goal of protecting U.S. workers and challenging decades of globalization that largely benefited multinational corporations.
With a Florida home down the road from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat, Ross played a role in crafting and selling Trump’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.”
Despite his embrace of populist rhetoric, Ross has enjoyed a patrician lifestyle. He maintains an art collection worth more than $100 million. 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 W.L. 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 work abroad.
He buys distressed or bankrupt companies at steep discounts and 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.
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 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 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.