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Trump Taps Billionaire Investor Wilbur Ross For Commerce Secretary

Wilbur Ross, the president-elect's choice for commerce secretary, tips a "Make America Great Again" cap in the lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday.
Evan Vucci
Wilbur Ross, the president-elect's choice for commerce secretary, tips a "Make America Great Again" cap in the lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday.

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Wilbur Ross Jr., a billionaire investor and turnaround specialist, as his commerce secretary.

Ross announced his selection Wednesday during a joint CNBC interview with longtime Wall Street banker Steve Mnuchin, Trump's pick for Treasury secretary.

"Wilbur Ross is a champion of American manufacturing and knows how to help companies succeed," Trump said in a statement announcing his choice.

"Wilbur knows that cutting taxes for working families, reducing burdensome government regulations and unleashing America's energy resources will strengthen our economy at a time when our country needs to see significant growth."

Ross, 79, is a donor and longtime associate of Trump's, having helped him resurrect his casino company after it went bankrupt in the early 1990s.

Over the years, Ross has grown rich by buying troubled companies in industries such as steel, textiles, auto parts and coal and restructuring them, often with significant layoffs and budget cuts. He is said by Forbes to be worth $2.9 billion, making him the country's 232nd richest person.

In 2002, he cobbled together several troubled steel companies to create the International Steel Group. He later sold the company to Mittal Steel in the Netherlands.

As The New York Times reported, "Some businesses where he has invested, like textile mills, have struggled. But other investments have salvaged industry and jobs while providing a lucrative payday."

In 2008, Ross told NPR's Steve Inskeep:

"One of the problems with industries that have been in relatively long-term declines is that very often, the managements in those industries develop a kind of loser mentality. And when you ask them what's wrong with the business, they'll point to extraneous forces.

"It'll be the fault of the unions, or it'll be the fault of China or the fault of the government or the fault of the class-action people. So rather than dealing with the things that may be within their own control, they kind of sit around sulking about things that are fundamentally out of their control."

Ross is the chairman and chief strategy officer, as well as the founder, of the private equity firm WL Ross and Co. He later sold the company to Invesco but is still involved with it.

Among the darker chapters in his career was his involvement with the Sago Mine in West Virginia. Shortly after his company purchased the mine, an explosion there killed 12 miners.

A former Democrat, Ross has been a loyal Trump supporter who shares his skepticism about trade agreements and said in a June interview with CNBC that the U.S. needs a "more radical, new approach to government."

His second of three wives was former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, who authored several articles widely thought to have helped kill off Hillary Clinton's attempt at health care reform in the 1990s.

In Wednesday's statement, Trump also announced that he's selected Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts for the job of deputy commerce secretary.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.

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