The USS Ponce prepares to conduct well-deck operations in the Persian Gulf in 2015. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Wyatt Huggett/Navy)

President Trump has selected longtime private equity fund manager Philip Bilden to be the next secretary of the Navy, the White House announced Wednesday.

Bilden, who ran the Hong Kong branch of the private equity firm HarbourVest Partners since 1996 before recently stepping down, was floated by the Trump transition team as a candidate for the job earlier this month, according to a report from the U.S. Naval Institute.

“As secretary of the Navy, Philip Bilden will apply his terrific judgement and top-notch management skills to the task of rebuilding our unparalleled Navy,” Trump said in a statement.

Before Bilden, Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) was a front-runner for the position. Forbes, a former chairman of the sea power and projection forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, had long aligned with Trump’s vision of expanding the Navy from its current size of roughly 270 ships to 350.

A graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard Business School, Bilden served in the Army Reserve as an intelligence officer from 1986 to 1996, eventually attaining the rank of captain. He resigned his commission upon moving to Hong Kong.

In 2013, AsianInvestor Magazine named Bilden as one of Asia’s 25 most influential people in private equity, according to a blurb on the HarbourVest website.

Bilden has served on the board of directors of the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation and the board of trustees of the Naval War College Foundation. He is also a longtime Republican donor, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2011 and 2012, he donated more than $60,000 to the Republican National Committee and $5,000 to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign. 

Pending a majority vote in the Senate, Bilden will become the 76th secretary of the Navy, following Ray Mabus’s eight-year tenure in the position. Mabus, who pushed for social and climate change initiatives within the Navy and Marine Corps, was seen as a divisive figure by some, especially those who pushed back against President Barack Obama’s decision to open all jobs in the military to women.

“Maintaining the strength, readiness, and capabilities of our maritime force is critical to our national security,” Bilden said in a statement. “If confirmed, I will ensure that our Sailors and Marines have the resources they need to defend our interests around the globe and support our allies with commitment and capability.”

Bilden’s background in finance is similar to that of Trump’s choice for secretary of the Army, billionaire business executive Vincent Viola. Potential Air Force secretary Heather Wilson, however, is a former congresswoman and heads the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.

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