President-elect Donald Trump is expected to pick Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor nicknamed “king of bankruptcy” for buying and restructuring beaten-down companies, as Secretary of Commerce, according to a senior transition official.
The official isn’t authorised to publicly discuss the matter and requested anonymity.
If confirmerd, Mr Ross, estimated to be worth nearly $3bn byForbes, would oversee a department with a budget of $8bn and nearly 47,000 employees across the US that describes itself as “the voice of US business” within the President’s cabinet.
The billionaire is chairman of WL Ross & Co, an investment firm that specialises in corporate restructurings. While Mr Ross doesn’t have the type of banking ties that have raised eyebrows with some of Mr Trump’s other potential administration appointments, he remains a controversial pick.
Considered as a saviour of failing US companies, his admirers say he helped save jobs by snapping up distressed industrial businesses. However, workers often bore the cost in the form of pared-back retirement and health care benefits.
That has led some to label him a “vulture investor” more interested in stripping corporate assets for profit than reviving ailing companies.
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.
Mr Ross said afterwards that he knew about the safety violations but that the mine’s management had assured him that it was a “safe situation.”
“He might be the second-most complicated person in the administration to vet, behind the president-elect himself,” Norman Eisen, a Brookings Institution visiting fellow who once served as President Barack Obama’s chief ethics lawyer, told Politico.
A long term Democrat who turned conservative, the 78 year-old billionaire backed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. He emerged as one of Mr Trump’s early supporters in the business community, having endorsed him back in March.
He went on to serve as an economic adviser for Mr Trump through the campaign.
‘‘Part of the reason why I’m supporting Trump is that I think we need a more radical, new approach to government— at least in the US — from what we’ve had before,’’ Ross told CNBC in June.
Mr Trump acknowledged he was considering Mr. Ross for commerce when the two met on November 20.
“That’s what we’re looking for,” Mr Trump told reporters.
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