NEW YORK CITY — A dozen or so technology executives filed into a conference room on the 25th floor of Trump Tower on Wednesday wearing suits not usually seen in Silicon Valley. Their combined net worth — at least $136 billion — was gilded even for the likes of Trump Tower. After months of acrimony that at times felt personal, they had come to make nice with President-elect Donald Trump.
And make nice they did. As they went around the room introducing themselves one by one, Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, once the target of Trump's attacks, said he was “super-excited to talk about innovation in this administration.” Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg was also “excited to talk about jobs,” according to a pool report from the opening moments of the meeting. (Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)
Trump was also on his best behavior during the roughly two-hour meeting. “There's nobody like you in the world. In the world. There's nobody like the people in this room," he said. He added that his team would be there to help them. "And you'll call my people, you call me. It doesn't make any difference. We have no chain of command around here."
But behind the cordiality was a sense of trepidation. While technology companies were among the most critical of Trump on the campaign trail, many understand that he will soon hold power over issues critical to them and their shareholders, including government contracts, high-skilled immigrant visas, Chinese imports and trade deals. Trump, both as candidate and president-elect, has used his perch to shame companies, and the consequences haven't been trivial. When Trump tweeted this month that he wanted to cancel Boeing's $4 billion contract to build Air Force One, Boeing's stock price took a hit. Trump has targeted Apple and other companies for manufacturing their products in China, and has called to raise tariffs on Chinese goods, a crucial issue for Silicon Valley companies that import widgets and other hardware components from China.
At the meeting, which also included Google’s parent company, Alphabet, as well as Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, IBM, Cisco and Tesla, the discussion mostly focused on how to bring jobs back to the United States, immigration and China, according to a person briefed on the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the event was private. Also in attendance were Trump’s children Ivanka, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., as well as Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Department nominee.
Trump seemed willing to back down from a signature campaign promise to end free-trade deals. Rather than raising barriers to trade, which he said he would do against countries such as China, Trump promised executives he would ease the flow of goods. “We’re going to make fair-trade deals,” he told them. “We’re going to make it a lot easier for you to trade across borders.”
Last month, Trump negotiated with equipment maker Carrier, a division of United Technologies, to avoid losing 800 jobs to Mexico in exchange for $7 million in government subsidies. In the days leading up to the meeting, staff for the companies tried to parse whether the image-conscious Trump would try to use his leverage with them to do something similar. After the CEO roundtable, Trump met privately with Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Apple chief executive Tim Cook. Tesla manufactures its vehicles in California but purchases components from China. Apple hardware largely comes from China.
Trump made cracking down on illegal immigration a central campaign promise, and called for an end to the high-skilled visa program during a presidential debate, though he later backtracked. Technology companies are some of the heaviest users of such visas.
At the meeting, Trump seemed open to keeping the high-skilled visa program, a person familiar with the discussion said.
Other topics discussed at the meeting include cybersecurity, improving the nation's infrastructure, taxes and technology in schools, according to a press release.
The president-elect also heaped praise on Facebook board and transition team member Peter Thiel, shaking his hand and calling him a “special guy.”
Trump made a point of saying that Thiel, who convened the meeting, nixed companies that were too small from attending. But one relatively small company with ties to Thiel made the cut: Palantir. Unlike the other companies in attendance, the data-mining start-up, which Thiel founded in 2004, is private and had revenue last year of less than $300 million, according to a person familiar with the matter. A large portion of Palantir's business involves contracts with federal agencies, and the company is currently engaged in a lawsuit with the Department of Defense over the right to compete for more contracts.
The group of technology executives agreed to meet with Trump every quarter, according to a person briefed on the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity because the event was private.
The executives left as they arrived — wordlessly and quickly, striding through the lobby and ignoring press questions. Some smiled; Oracle's Safra Catz flashed a brief thumbs-up when asked how the meeting went.