|39th United States Secretary of Commerce|
|Assumed office |
February 28, 2017
|Deputy||Karen Dunn Kelley|
|Preceded by||Penny Pritzker|
Wilbur Louis Ross Jr.
November 28, 1937
Weehawken, New Jersey, U.S.
|Political party||Republican (2016–present)|
|Democratic (before 2016)|
(m. 1961; div. 1995)
(m. 1995; div. 2000)
|Education||Yale University (BA)|
Harvard University (MBA)
|Net worth||US$600 million (2019)|
Wilbur Louis Ross Jr. (born November 28, 1937) is an American investor and businessman serving, since 2017, as the 39th United States Secretary of Commerce. A member of the Republican Party, Ross was previously chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of WL Ross & Co from 2000 to 2017.
Before founding WL Ross & Co, Ross ran the bankruptcy restructuring practice at N M Rothschild & Sons in New York beginning in the late 1970s. In April 2000, Ross left Rothschild to found WL Ross & Co. Ross was a banker known for acquiring and restructuring failed companies in industries such as steel, coal, telecommunications, and textiles, later selling them for a profit after operations improved, a record that had earned him the moniker "King of Bankruptcy". Ross has been chairman or lead director of more than 100 companies operating in more than 20 different countries.
Named by Bloomberg Markets as one of the 50 most influential people in global finance, Ross is the only person elected to both the Private Equity Hall of Fame and the Turnaround Management Hall of Fame. He previously served as privatization adviser to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the board of The U.S. Russia Investment Fund.
On November 30, 2016, then-President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Ross to become the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. On February 27, 2017, the Senate confirmed him in a 72–27 vote. He was sworn into office on February 28, 2017; at age 79, he was the oldest first-time Cabinet appointee in U.S. history.
Early life and education
Ross was born on November 28, 1937, in Weehawken, New Jersey, and grew up in nearby North Bergen, New Jersey. His father, Wilbur Louis Ross, was a lawyer who later became a judge, and his mother, Agnes (née O'Neill), a descendant of Irish people, was valedictorian from Sacred Heart Academy in Hoboken and taught third grade in North Bergen for 40 years.
Ross attended Xavier High School, a Catholic school, and college-preparatory school in Manhattan. He ran track and was captain of the rifle team. He graduated in 1955. In 1959, he received a bachelor's degree from Yale College, his father's alma mater. At Yale, Ross edited one of the literary magazines and worked at the radio station. His dream was to be a writer. He enrolled in an English course that required writing a thousand words by 10 a.m. every day; after two weeks, he ran out of things to write about and dropped the course. His faculty adviser at Yale helped him get his first summer job on Wall Street. In 1961, he received a Master of Business Administration degree at Harvard Business School.
He then worked for Faulkner, Dawkins & Sullivan, an institutional securities research company, where he rose to become president of its investment banking operation. The firm was sold to what became Shearson Lehman.
In 1976, Ross began his 24-year employment with the New York City office of Rothschild & Co, where he ran the bankruptcy restructuring advisory practice. By 1998, Ross was involved in eight of the 25 biggest bankruptcies to date, including Drexel Burnham Lambert, Texaco, Public Service of New Hampshire (now Eversource Energy), and Eastern Air Lines.
In the 1980s, Donald Trump's three casinos in Atlantic City were under threat of foreclosure from lenders. Ross, who was then the senior managing director of Rothschild & Co, represented investors in the casino. Along with Carl Icahn, Ross convinced bondholders to strike a deal that allowed Trump to keep control of the casinos.
WL Ross & Co.
In November 1997, under Rothschild & Co, Ross started a $200 million fund to invest in distressed securities. In its first year, it earned a 15.2% return. In April 2000, just before the dot-com bubble burst, Ross founded WL Ross & Co and raised $450 million to buy the fund from Rothschild and make additional investments. By 2003, the fund had averaged a 30% return.
International Steel Group (ISG)
In February 2002, WL Ross & Co founded International Steel Group. He first agreed to buy the assets of bankrupt Ling-Temco-Vought for $325 million, paying $11 per ton of capacity when other firms were trading for $200 per ton of capacity. A few weeks later, George W. Bush slapped a 30% tariff on many types of imported steel. A year later, WL Ross & Co acquired the assets of bankrupt Bethlehem Steel. As part of the bankruptcy reorganizations, these companies shifted their huge pension liabilities to the government-backed Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
In April 2005, WL Ross & Co sold International Steel Group to Mittal Steel Company for $4.5 billion, half in cash and half in stock, and made 12.5 times its original investment. Ross personally made a $260 million profit on his $3 million investment and gained a seat on the board of directors of Mittal Steel.
International Textile Group (ITG)
After outbidding Warren Buffett, who offered $579 million, WL Ross & Co acquired Burlington Industries for $620 million and combined it with Cone Mills in 2004 to form International Textile Group.
In 2005, Ross acquired 77.3% of Safety Components International for $51.2 million.
In October 2006, Ross had International Textile Group acquire Safety Components International. Ross controlled both companies and in February 2014, Ross paid $81 million to settle a lawsuit brought by shareholders that Ross breached his fiduciary duty when structuring the merger. International Textile Group was acquired by private equity firm Platinum Equity in 2016.
International Automotive Components Group (IAC)
International Automotive Components Group was formed in 2006 by WL Ross & Co and investment funds managed by Franklin Templeton Investments. In 2006, the company acquired the European operations of Lear Corporation and in 2007, it acquired Lear's North American interiors operations. In 2005–2007, IAC purchased several divisions of Collins & Aikman. In September 2005, investors led by Ross invested $100 million in Oxford Automotive for 25% of the company. In 2006, Oxford merged with Wagon Automotive.
International Coal Group (ICG)
WL Ross & Co founded International Coal Group in 2004 after acquiring the assets of several bankrupt coal companies. The United Mine Workers of America protested the reorganization as it led to changes in health care and pensions for the existing employees.
In 2006, the Sago Mine disaster, an explosion in a coal mine indirectly owned by International Coal Group, likely caused by a lightning strike, led to the deaths of 12 miners. The mine had 12 roof collapses in 2005, and United States Department of Labor data showed 208 citations for safety violations in that same period, including 21 times for build-up of toxic gases. Miners and their families accused Ross of ignoring safety violations. Ross defended his company's management of the mine.
United States Secretary of Commerce (2017–present)
On November 30, 2016, then-President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Ross for United States Secretary of Commerce. On February 27, 2017, the Senate confirmed Ross in a 72–27 vote. Ross was sworn into office on February 28, 2017.
Comments on post-Brexit trade deal
Recommendation of tariffs
In September 2017, Ross traveled to Beijing as part of efforts to de-escalate the 2018 China–United States trade war. In February 2018, the United States Department of Commerce recommended an increase of tariffs in aluminum and steel imports. On March 1, 2018, Trump implemented a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum imports. In September 2018, Ross said that the Trump tariffs are meant to "modify China's behavior".
Travel to Kazakhstan
In October 2018, Ross led the first U.S. trade mission to Kazakhstan. The mission included 16 U.S. companies that concluded commercial deals with the Kazakh businesses during the visit. Ross met with President Nursultan Nazarbayev and other high-ranking officials.
Ban of Huawei
In January 2019, Ross was present with other American politicians when 23 criminal charges were announced against Huawei and its CFO Meng Wanzhou, including financial fraud, money laundering, conspiracy against the United States, industrial espionage, mail and wire fraud, obstruction of justice and violation of Sanctions against Iran. In July 2019, Ross stated that the United States will keep Huawei on its blacklist but will allow licensed sales.
Overstating of net worth
In February 2017, Forbes reported that Ross has a net worth of $2.5 billion. However, Financial disclosure of public servants forms filed by Ross after his nomination for United States Secretary of Commerce showed less than $700 million in assets, and Forbes later revised his net worth to $600 million.
Accusations of being out of touch
In May 2017, Ross accompanied Trump on his first foreign visit, to Saudi Arabia, where Ross generated controversy after heralding the president's visit as a success due to a lack of protests, unaware that the Saudis had banned public protest and demonstrations since 2011.
During the 2018–19 United States federal government shutdown, Ross was criticized as being out of touch with average American citizens after expressing bewilderment about why furloughed, unpaid workers and contractors would choose to visit food banks rather than apply for a personal loan.
In February 2019, Ross' financial disclosure was rejected by the United States Office of Government Ethics after he reported that he had sold bank stock in conflict with other disclosures he made.
Ross failed to disclose a lawsuit from ex-business partner David Storper on his financial disclosure forms. Ross settled the lawsuit for $9 million after being subpoenaed for information that he did not want to disclose.
Conflicts of interest from failure to divest
In June 2018, an investigation by Forbes found that Ross, while United States Secretary of Commerce, owned "stakes in companies co-owned by the Chinese government, a shipping firm tied to Vladimir Putin's inner circle, a Cypriot bank reportedly caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation and a huge player in an industry Ross is now “investigating" and that Ross had failed to divest his financial holdings, instead putting them in a trust for his family members, contradicting Ross's written statement in November 2017 that he had divested all his financial holdings. Ross may have broken the law in doing so. These holdings posed a conflict of interest for Ross, as the Trump administration was in a position to affect the value of the holdings.
Ross was confirmed by the Senate in February 2017 and he agreed to sell his stocks before the end of May 2017. In July 2018, it was reported that Ross divested from his stock in Invesco, originally worth between $10 and $50 million, in December 2017. Between the end of May and the sale date in December, the value of Ross's holdings in Invesco increased by between approximately $1.2 million to $6 million, depending on the number of shares he owned, which was not disclosed. Ross said that he "mistakenly believed that all [his] previously held Invesco stock was sold". On July 13, 2018 after he received a letter from the government's top ethics watchdog warning of "potential for a serious criminal violation", Ross announced that he will sell all his remaining stock.
In October 2018, documents showed that Ross had participated in a meeting with executives from Chevron Corporation where they discussed oil and gas developments, tax reform and trade issues. Ross's wife owned a stake in Chevron worth at least $250,000 at the time.
Insider trading allegations
While United States Secretary of Commerce, Ross shorted at least five stocks. In June 2018, it was revealed that Ross shorted stock after he knew of an upcoming report with information that would adversely affect the company but before the story was published. Ross later closed out the position at a substantial profit after the story was published. Ethics experts said that the shorting was alarming given that federal office-holders are prohibited from profiting on nonpublic information. Ross denied that he had engaged in insider trading. Ross had shorted two additional stocks in June 2018 and two additional stocks in July 2018.
In December 2017, Irish politician and Member of the European Parliament Luke Ming Flanagan accused Ross of insider trading as part of a 2014 sale of shares in the Bank of Ireland by WL Ross & Co.
Overcharging of fees
In August 2016, Ross agreed to reimburse investors $11.8 million and pay a fine of $2.3 million to settle a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probe into the overcharging of fees by WL Ross & Co. The company had self-reported the issue and did not admit any liability.
On August 7, 2018, five former WL Ross & Co. employees and investors claimed the firm was charging its investors fees on money it had lost, including allegedly charging fees on one investment that was essentially worthless.
2020 Census citizenship question
New York solicitor general Barbara Underwood led a lawsuit filed by 18 states and many cities to attempt to stop the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The Department of Justice supported the Department of Commerce. United States federal judge Jesse M. Furman ruled against the Department of Justice and Wilbur Ross, stating that if the trial is delayed the appeals process may not be done by summer 2019, the printing deadline of the census. Furman blocked the census question proposal on January 15, 2019, saying Ross had violated a "veritable smorgasbord" of federal rules, asserting Ross and his aides made false or misleading statements under oath.
In early June 2019, the United States House Committee on Oversight and Reform moved to hold Ross in Contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena regarding information about efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 US Census.
One June 27, 2019, the Supreme Court left the citizenship question blocked from the 2020 census, in part because of the government's explanation for why it was added.
In November 2017, leaked documents known as the Paradise Papers showed that, during his confirmation hearings, Ross had failed to clearly disclose a financial interest in Navigator Gas, a shipping company which transports petrochemicals for Russian gas and petrochemicals company Sibur. Ross had failed to clearly disclose ties to Russian interests during his confirmation hearings. While his confirmation was pending, Ross promised in a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics to cut ties "with more than 80 financial entities in which he has interests". This letter played a key role in securing his confirmation. However, according to the leaked documents, while he did divest some holdings, he did not disclose the full extent of those he retained.
Speaking about his financial ties to Navigator, Ross said the media was making "a lot more out of it than it deserves" and "There is nothing wrong with it. The fact that it happens to be called a Russian company doesn't mean there is any evil in it." A spokesman for Ross stated that Ross has never met Shamalov, Timchenko or Mikhelson and that Ross "recuses himself from any matters focused of transoceanic shipping vessels, but has been generally supportive of the administration's sanctions of Russian and Venezuelan entities".
Dysfunction of the Department of Commerce
Politico has reported that there has been significant dysfunction within in the Department of Commerce. An outside source, as well as multiple senior staffers, claimed in July 2019 that Ross is allegedly "seen as kind of irrelevant. The morale there is very low because there's not a lot of confidence in the secretary." Ross allegedly left his department leaderless due to the large amounts of time spent in the White House trying to win support from President Trump. Also, Ross allegedly tends to fall asleep in meetings to the extent that senior staffers have avoided putting him in critical meetings where he could fall asleep. Reports of Ross' inability to stay awake have gone back as far as May 2017, where in a meeting in Riyadh with the Arab-Islam-American Summit during President Donald Trump's speech, Ross appeared to have been completely asleep.  
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
On September 9, 2019 The New York Times reported that, on September 6, Ross had threatened to fire high-level staff of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) unless the agency fixed its contradiction of President Trump. Previously on September 1, Trump claimed that Hurricane Dorian may hit Alabama, while minutes later the Birmingham, Alabama branch of the National Weather Service (under the NOAA) stated that Alabama was not at risk. The New York Times also reported that Ross' threat led to the September 6 NOAA statement from an unidentified spokesperson endorsing Trump's position and declaring that the Birmingham, Alabama branch of the National Weather Service's contradiction of Trump was incorrect. The Commerce Department's Office of Inspector General is investigating the incident. The Commerce Department later issued a partial denial, saying "Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian." Later reporting said that Ross had made the call from Greece, where he was traveling, after being told to "fix the problem" by Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, reportedly on Trump's orders. The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which oversees NOAA, is investigating Ross's role in the issuance of the NOAA statement, saying in a letter to him that they want to see all communications between the White House and Commerce on the subject.
Asked on 30 January 2020 if the Covid-19 outbreak in China would threaten the U.S. economy, Ross said, "I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America." In the interview, by Maria Baritoromo of Fox Business, he said, "I don't want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease ... the fact is, it does give business yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain."
Order of Industrial Service Merit
American Irish Historical Society Gold Medal
Ross began working with Ireland and Irish-American causes starting in 2011 with an investment in the then-struggling Bank of Ireland. In recognition for his efforts on November 6, 2014 Ross was awarded the American Irish Historical Society Gold Medal at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York. The medal is awarded to "individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to Irish American Life".
Order of the Rising Sun
On February 2, 2015, Ross was awarded the medal of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star in recognition for strengthening the bonds between Japan and the US (including his service as Chairman of the Board of New York's Japan Society, his work to promote and strengthen the Japanese economy, and his relief efforts after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
Ross is a hall of fame member and past director of the Turnaround Management Association. Ross has been the vice-chairman of the board of Bank of Cyprus, the largest bank in Cyprus, after he and his investors invested €400 million in the bank in 2014. As of January 2012, Ross was the leader (or "Grand Swipe") of the secret Wall Street fraternity, Kappa Beta Phi. Ross served on the board of trustees of the Brookings Institution. He is also on the board of advisors of Yale School of Management and is a former board member of the Yale University Art Gallery. He served as International Counsel Member of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and President of the American Friends of the René Magritte Museum in Brussels. Ross has been on the board of directors of Navigator Gas since March 2012.
Support for Democratic Party and switch
Although he was an early supporter of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, Ross was previously a registered Democrat, served as an officer of the New York State Democratic Committee, and held fundraisers for Democratic candidates at his apartment in New York City. He served under President Bill Clinton on the board of The U.S. Russia Investment Fund.
In January 1998, he funded $2.25 million in seed money into the campaign of his then-wife, Betsy McCaughey, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York. Since at least 2011, Ross has donated to Republican candidates and organizations.
Ross became a registered Republican in November 2016.
In the 1990s, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani appointed Ross as his privatization advisor. He helped push to privatize the city's public broadcasting stations and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and worked to sell off empty land lots to businesses.
Ross has described himself as "pro-sensible trade" and said that the U.S. government "should provide access to our markets to those countries who play fair, play by the rules and give everybody a fair chance to compete. Those who do not should not get away with it – they should be punished." Initially in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Ross has said that after examining the agreement, he found it was "not consistent with what was advertised".
At the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Ross responded to concerns of a trade war by noting that "There have always been trade wars. The difference now is U.S. troops are now coming to the ramparts."
Ross married Judith Nodine in 1961. They divorced in 1995. After the divorce, Nodine sued Ross for failing to transfer stock by the agreed-upon deadline and Ross counter-sued. They had two children, Jessica Colby Ross (b. 1962) and Amanda Colby Ross (b. 1965). Amanda attended the French Culinary Institute and founded a baking company, while Jessica worked for Sotheby's. In 1995, Ross married his second wife, Lieutenant Governor of New York Betsy McCaughey. They divorced in 2000. On October 9, 2004, Ross married his third wife, Hilary Geary Ross, a society writer for Quest magazine.
In December 2016, Ross purchased a 10,000 square foot house in the Massachusetts Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. from Adrienne Arsht for $10,750,000. In 2018, he purchased a $3.2 million house in The Berkshires. He also owns two multimillion-dollar properties in Palm Beach, Florida.
Ross owns an art collection valued at $150 million that includes pieces ranging from Western surrealists to contemporary Eastern sculptures. Ross owns 25 works by René Magritte, valued at $100 million, including some of the artist's most valuable paintings, such as The Pilgrim.
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- "Three Yale alums among Trump's Cabinet picks". Yale University. December 5, 2016.
- "Wilbur L. Ross, Jr". whitehouse.gov.
- Mcintire, Mike; Chavkin, Sasha; Hamilton, Martha M. (November 5, 2017). "Commerce Secretary's Offshore Ties to Putin 'Cronies'". The New York Times.
Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, retained investments in a shipping firm with business ties to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's inner circle.
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- Israel, Josh (December 5, 2016). "Who is Wilbur Ross?". ThinkProgress.
- "Mr Protectionism's riskiest call". The Economist. January 22, 2004.
- Ellyatt, Holly (January 24, 2018). "Wilbur Ross: Trade wars aren't new but 'US troops are coming to the ramparts'". CNBC.
- Rush, George; Molloy, Joanna; Baram, Marcus (May 31, 1998). "War of the Rosses: What's Value of Splitsville Stock?". New York Daily News.
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- Andrews-Dyer, Helena (December 13, 2016). "Incoming commerce secretary buys home across the street from the current commerce secretary". The Washington Post.
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- Delk, Josh (March 31, 2018). "Wilbur Ross buys $3.2 million home in the Berkshires". The Hill.
- Chen, Liyan (October 8, 2013). "Billionaire Art Collector Wilbur Ross Loves Magrittes, Paid $100 Million For His Own". Forbes.
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| United States Secretary of Commerce
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
as Secretary of Agriculture
| Order of Precedence of the United States
as Secretary of Commerce
as Secretary of Labor
|U.S. presidential line of succession|
as Secretary of Agriculture
| 10th in line
as Secretary of Commerce
as Secretary of Labor