News hit this morning that Trump’s “Manufacturing Jobs Initiative” will feature two tech CEOs: Intel’s Brian Krzanich, who nearly hosted a Trump event during the primaries, and Tesla’s Elon Musk, who appears to be pragmatically — and, I assume, reluctantly — steering the president on issues like climate change.
The list of Silicon Valley somebodies willing to work with the president now tops out around five, a rather low number, counting Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who’s on Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum with Musk; Oracle CEO Safra Catz, who joined Trump’s transition team; and contrarian investor Peter Thiel, who spoke at the RNC.
All this underscores a problem for Trump: Hardly anyone in Silicon Valley will work with him. Yet, in Tech Land, the list of executives willing to disparage him publicly at this point is almost as short.
One exception there is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who said yesterday that Trump’s anti-abortion policy “could have terrible consequences for women and families around the world.”
Beyond Sandberg, I ask: How is an industry so hell-bent on “making the world a better place” so quickly silenced by Trump and the threat of controversy? What’s going on?
Here’s one explanation, from Musk in an impromptu interview with Gizmodo.:
The more voices of reason that the President hears, the better. Simply attacking him will achieve nothing. Are you aware of a single case where Trump bowed to protests or media attacks? Better that there are open channels of communication.
Translation: The CEOs working with Trump all want something from him. Those who won’t collaborate probably haven’t figured out what to ask for yet.
For Thiel, his $20 billion data company, Palantir, depends on government contracts. For Catz, she’s after tax reform.
Musk has made clear what he wants: a carbon tax. And he wants former ExxonMobil CEO (and likely next Secretary of State) Rex Tillerson to make it happen.
For the few big-company CEOs willing to collaborate with the current administration, we’ll see if this brand of pragmatism works. Without it, Trump doesn’t stand a chance of making friends in idealistic Silicon Valley.
If Musk’s strategy works, the controversy may indeed hit tech companies right at the bottom line — already protesters are lashing out at Uber for Kalanick’s willingness to work with Trump, and at Twitter for its refusal to silence his stupid tweets.
Peter Thiel, on the other hand, has little to worry about. If things go south, there’s always the “backup country: New Zealand.”