For global companies founded in the U.S., Donald Trump’s election has the potential to dishearten and even divide their employees working overseas.
This sentiment doesn’t necessarily show up on Facebook or Twitter or other public forums. Instead, it’s water cooler chatter and emails, wondering if their company’s character will take on the hue of Donald Trump.
After a couple discussions with leaders in our Asia Pacific operation, I sent out the following email to our AP team:
It was good to see many of you earlier this month as part of the 20-year celebration.
But the reason for the note involves another topic —
The election of Donald Trump as the U.S. President.
This is when I cue the sound effect, “gasp.”
This election triggers so many questions:
- How will this impact the global economy and specifically business in Asia?
- Should we anticipate that U.S. companies will reduce their efforts in Asia, especially in China?
- Do Americans agree with Trump’s campaign rhetoric about Asia?
- How does he get that unique hair color? (Yes, a little levity.)
And the list goes on.
Obviously I’m not an expert in world economics or geopolitical issues. Still, I’d like to share my perspective.
I spent many weeks in Asia this year. Everywhere I went staff members would ask me about Trump and what his popularity says about America. I would try to explain that candidates running for U.S. president will say things — sometimes illogical or even crazy things — trying to appeal to the emotions of certain audiences with one objective in mind: win votes.And I would always end my talk with these words, “All the hoopla around Trump doesn’t matter because there’s no way in a million years he’s going to win the election.”
Of course, Nov. 8 proved otherwise.
I’ve often said that Silicon Valley is not the same as the U.S. The election serves as the perfect proof point.
Still, it’s important that we don’t interpret Trump’s rhetoric to win votes as a change in how Americans see the world. Trump won the election because a large percent of Americans felt that the government has forgotten about them. These same voters didn’t necessarily agree with his rhetoric, especially the words attacking minorities. Instead, their attitude was to put his rhetoric aside and conclude that a Trump administration would care about them more than a Hillary Clinton administration (representing the establishment).
So what does this mean moving forward?
First, it’s important to understand that the words to capture votes will differ from the actions to run a country. Again, it’s easy for a candidate like Trump to tug at people’s emotions by shouting that he’ll increase jobs by bringing back ones that have migrated overseas. Yet, the reality is that a healthy U.S. economy depends on a complex network of touch points across the global economy. I also think it’s fair to say that the tech sector is a key — if not THE key — growth driver for the U.S. economy, and we all know the tech sector has a critical tie to Asia.
As Trump acquaints himself with the pragmatic side of the job, you’ll see his decisions and actions often don’t align with his campaign rhetoric. While he will never say it publicly, he needs Asia. An individual like Trump is already thinking about reelection in 2020. An underperforming economy will undercut this effort.
This isn’t to say that his presidency will be business as usual. No doubt, there will be bad decisions, chaos and even weirdness over his term. It’s just unlikely that he’ll act on campaign promises to bulldoze existing trade agreements. As one Harvard professor put it, “In an age of global supply chains, you cannot take a chain saw to trade agreements and not end up cutting your foot off.”
I believe Mr. Trump prefers to walk on the business front with both feet.
Bringing this back to our humble operation, I don’t think we’ll see American companies reduce their efforts in Asia this coming year. Of course, it’s inevitable that at some point Trump will try to curry favor with part of the American public with some type of trade sanction (tariff) with the likely target being China. In such a scenario, we’ll see China respond with a trade sanction against the U.S. While this tit-for-tat situation will make headlines, companies understand the marathon nature of building a profile in China and across Asia.
Our Agency comprises individuals around the world from different cultures, religions and races. We have always respected our colleagues. We care about each other’s success. In a sense, this is the foundation of what I consider our “secret sauce,” our collaborative nature that transcends geography.
That will never change.
I welcome your thoughts and questions.