Why Davos CEOs Think They Have Control Over Trump

While President Trump chose not to attend the elite extravaganza in Davos last week, choosing instead to lambast the great-est and good-est of the world's executives in their crony capitalist safe space, the cognitively dissonant CEOs reassured each other by saying 'ignore the tweets', confident that "if [Trump] knows the facts, he’ll respond according to the facts." It depends whose 'facts' those are, of course.

As Bloomberg so eloquently noted, executives gathered in the Swiss resort for the World Economic Forum this week keep repeating, like a soothing mantra, that Donald Trump is at heart a pragmatist who will avoid trade wars and regulations that make it harder to do business.

Everywhere you looked, and everything you were told confirmed that nothing has changed in the minds of the world's elite community organizers... (as Bloomberg summarizes)

“What somebody’s saying is not necessarily what they’re going to do,” said David Cote, chief executive officer of Honeywell International Inc. He should hope so: Honeywell is a global manufacturing giant with far more employees outside the U.S. than in, and it has made major bets on projects like supplying parts for China’s first commercial jet.

 

“In the end if he knows the facts, he’ll respond according to the facts,” said Hideaki Omiya, chairman of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

 

Companies shouldn’t sweat the president’s “one-liners” and instead should focus on Trump’s cabinet nominees, said Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. “I think that these very rational people will be very thoughtful when they go about the actual policy.”

 

Foreign companies say they’re similarly relaxed; Nissan Motor Co.’s co-CEO, Hiroto Saikawa, said he doesn’t believe Trump has any intention of severing trade ties that benefit the U.S.

With stock markets nearing record highs and business-friendly figures like billionaire investor Wilbur Ross named to the cabinet, a conviction has set in that a man who came to power as an anti-establishment populist might in fact usher in a golden age for business. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, is however puzzled by the shifting views on Trump and cautions against “enabling” the new administration.

“I’ve been very troubled by the attitude of business people from the U.S... People who were terribly afraid of what this would mean for America’s place in the world are now hailing those who surround Donald Trump as great geniuses.

Executives shouldn’t entirely discount what Trump says, warns Phil Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and adviser to former President George W. Bush, noting that "usually when somebody who’s been elected president makes threats, people take it seriously."

Some Davos attendees were prepared to concede that optimism about Trump is built, at least in part, on wishful thinking.

“I don’t think anyone likes the unpredictability he brings to the table,” said Martin Eurnekian, a director at Buenos Aires-based conglomerate Corporacion America.

 

“Everybody wants to believe,” he said, “that it’s mostly for show.”

Still, the herd remains convinced that everything will be 'business as usual' under Trump... judging by the first two days, however, we suspect a rude awakening looms.