(Adds Trump's Wednesday meeting with infrastructure CEOs in
By Ginger Gibson and David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, March 8 When the bosses of some of
the world's largest pharmaceutical companies headed to
Washington in January to meet U.S. President Donald Trump, it
had all the makings of a potentially hostile meeting.
Just weeks before, Trump had sent drug stock prices
plummeting after accusing the companies of "getting away with
murder" by charging too much for medicines.
But the Trump who greeted chief executives of Johnson &
Johnson, Novartis, Merck, Eli Lilly
, Celgene and Amgen on Jan. 31 was a
surprisingly genial host who even gave them a personal tour of
the Oval Office, according to several participants in the
“There is no question that it was better than it could have
been or we thought it could be," said one industry insider
familiar with the meeting.
Trump did not repeat his public attacks on the industry.
Instead, he focused on "outdated" regulations that drive costs
up for drugmakers, according to participants interviewed by
Reuters. The CEOs left with Trump's word that he would
streamline regulations and reform the high U.S. corporate tax
Since taking office on Jan. 20, Trump has held at least nine
meetings with groups of business leaders, including automakers,
airlines, retailers and health insurers. On Wednesday, he was
hosting lunch for a group of New York real estate developers and
private equity CEOs, during which possible private-public
partnerships on infrastructure would be discussed, according to
a person briefed on the meeting.
In early morning or late-night tweets and in speeches, Trump
has lambasted many of these companies for cost over-runs, or
high prices, or foreign manufacturing, often knocking down their
share prices. (See the effects of Trump's tweets on stock prices
But Reuters interviews with nearly a dozen executives and
lobbyists who have taken part in these meetings or have been
briefed on them reveal a Trump who is very different from his
uncompromising and demanding @realDonaldTrump Twitter handle.
When he meets the nation's top chief executives in person,
he is a mix of charm and cajoling. This Trump is flexible and
inquisitive, a schmoozer who remembers birthdays and often
lavishes praise on their companies, said the people, who spoke
on condition of anonymity so they could freely discuss private
This private side of Trump sheds light on why many CEOs have
expressed confidence that the Republican president is good for
business, despite his share-denting public attacks. As recently
as Tuesday, Trump tweeted he was working on a system to increase
competition in the health industry and lower drug pricing,
sending pharma shares lower.
In the White House meetings, Trump focuses much of his talk
on cutting regulations, the sources said, underscoring one of
his administration's key priorities - getting rid of rules
imposed by his predecessor Barack Obama. He typically asks which
regulations are holding businesses back from adding new jobs and
promises to resolve the issues, executives say.
"He said one thing for the cameras and the door shuts and
then it's like kumbaya," said one person who was briefed on a
meeting between Trump and a group of CEOs.
"He likes to be seen as engaging and buddy buddy with other
big important business leaders," said this person.
A former businessman, Trump runs his closed-door meetings
with CEOs as if they were a corporate board meeting, attendees
said. In contrast to his doctrinaire tweets, he likes to seek
input from everyone at the table, and compared to former
presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, conversations are
Trump’s approach to these meetings is “one of listening and
not lecturing”, said a senior White House official who has
participated in industry meetings.
An Amgen spokeswoman said Trump made it clear that he wanted
to work with the company on U.S. job creation and biotech
innovation. Representatives of the other drugmakers declined to
SHOWING OFF THE DRAPES
Because so little is known about how Trump interacts
privately with CEOs, trade groups and company officials have
begun to swap tips on how to approach their meetings with him.
“There is this undercurrent of information sharing about
what to expect, what to do,” said one trade group official who
prepared CEOs for a recent meeting with Trump. He said he has
gotten a flurry of calls from other industries next in line for
a White House visit.
At the end of most meetings, Trump leads CEOs into the Oval
Office, showing off paintings, sculptures and the furniture, as
well as the rug and curtains he has picked out. He also points
out a bust of Martin Luther King Jr., which he inherited from
Obama. Then he takes a group photo behind the desk.
“He becomes tour guide and brings them over to the Oval
Office,” the same official said. “He’s very proud of the Oval
The White House official said Trump recognized the “awe” of
the Oval Office.
CHAIR FOR GM, BIRTHDAY WISH FOR FORD
Chief executives of Detroit's top three automakers - General
Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler
Automobiles NV - were pleasantly surprised when they
went to the White House for a breakfast with Trump on Jan. 24.
Since his election, Trump has frequently attacked the car
companies for building in Mexico and warned U.S. firms would no
longer be able to move U.S. jobs abroad "without consequences."
When Trump entered the Roosevelt Room, he greeted GM CEO
Mary Barra with a playful tap on the shoulder as he gently
prodded her to add jobs in the United States and later pulled
out her chair before the meeting started, a review of the video
transcripts of the first part of the meeting shows.
He greeted Ford CEO Mark Fields with a "Happy Birthday. It's
his birthday ladies and gentlemen." Trump said it was a "great
honor" to see Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.
Trump did not specifically ask them to build plants in the
United States - as he had tweeted he would before the meeting -
but instead listened to their complaints about regulations and
indicated a willingness to help them, people briefed on the
Ford declined to comment and referred to Fields' comments to
dealers in January that Trump had asked for a list of
regulations that automakers wanted cut or kept.
Barra said in a speech last week that Trump “really
listened” to the automakers, while Marchionne told reporters at
the Geneva auto show on Tuesday that Trump was “quite willing to
make our lives easier” in terms of compliance and taxes in order
to encourage U.S. job creation.
Trump has been complimentary of his high-profile guests -
and at times playful.
After Denise Morrison, chief executive of Campbell Soup
, introduced herself in one of those meetings, Trump
quickly responded: "Good soup."
At another, after Target Corp CEO Brian Cornell
spoke, Trump responded by pronouncing the name of the company as
“Tar-Jay,” a common joke to make the retailer sound more fancy.
(Reporting by Ginger Gibson and David Shepardson in Washington,
Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson in Washington and Emily
Flitter in New York, Editing by Soyoung Kim and Ross Colvin)