Inside Donald Trump’s private equity circle of influence

WSJ Pro Private Equity has profiled nearly a dozen dealmakers and former dealmakers with ties to the Trump campaign who could be poised to help shape the next administration’s agenda. This first of a two-part series spotlights five of those individuals.

Wilbur Ross
Chairman and chief strategist of WL Ross & Co
Wilbur Ross, 78 years old, earned the nickname “King of Bankruptcy” by restructuring distressed companies across a swath of industries from steel to textiles. The billionaire founded private equity firm WL Ross & Co. after heading up Rothschild’s bankruptcy advisory team for more than 20 years. Ross, who is reportedly a candidate for commerce secretary, sits on the president-elect’s economic advisory council.

He has opposed trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and criticised government regulation, once asserting that it was the biggest concern for investors. Throughout Trump’s campaign, Ross has been an advocate for Trump’s economic plans to lower business taxes and cut regulations.

Ross has built a long career of investing in financially strained assets. In 2002, the financier combined various struggling steel businesses to form International Steel Group, and took it public in 2003 before it sold to Mittal Steel Co. for $ 4.5 billion in 2005. Fresh off of that deal, Ross began building up coal assets by bailing Horizon Natural Resources Co. out of bankruptcy. He sold what later became International Coal Group for $ 3.4 billion to Arch Coal.

Mitt Romney
Executive partner and chairman at Solamere Capital
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who headed Bain Capital but now acts as executive partner and chairman at private equity firm Solamere Capital, is reported to be under consideration by Trump for secretary of state. The overture marks a turn from the public friction between the two men after Romney sharply opposed Trump’s candidacy.

Romney, who ran as the Republican nominee for president in 2012 and vied for the nomination in 2008, has more than three decades of experience in private equity. He started his career at Boston-based management consulting firm Bain & Co. before co-founding Bain Capital. His presidential bid thrust his work at Bain Capital and the private equity industry under intense scrutiny.

Solamere Capital was founded by his son Tagg Romney, Eric Scheuermann and Spencer Zwick. Zwick serves as the finance chairman of Paul Ryan’s political organisation and previously served as the finance chairman of Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, according to the Solamere website.

The firm said in April it co-led an investment in Blackstone-backed Vivint, alongside Peter Thiel.

Stephen Feinberg
Chief executive of Cerberus Capital Management
Stephen Feinberg, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Cerberus Capital Management, is part of Trump’s economic advisory council, a panel tasked to fix the economy.

Feinberg has been at the helm of private equity and distressed investment firm Cerberus since 1992. Before his time at the New York firm, Feinberg managed pools of capital for Gruntal & Co. He began his investing career at Drexel Burnham Lambert.

Robert Grady
Partner at Gryphon Investors
Robert Grady leads the general industries group at Gryphon Investors, a San Francisco private equity firm he joined in 2015, and reportedly has been floated for top positions in the Energy Department and Department of the Interior. He spent nearly a decade at Carlyle, where he was global head of venture and growth capital and had a hand in investments from online learning company Blackboard to drug-screening company eScreen.

A former senior policy adviser to George H.W. Bush’s presidency and ally of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Grady chaired the New Jersey State Investment Council between 2010 and 2014, overseeing some $ 80 billion in pension money for the state.

Grady, in a Wall Street Journal column in 2013, argued that President Barack Obama economic policies were driven by a “misguided obsession with inequality”. He said that spurring growth, rather than the redistribution of wealth, should be the cornerstone of economic policy. Grady in 2009 also panned proposed fuel efficiency standards for the auto industry. During private equity’s boom-era years of 2006 and 2007, he chaired the National Venture Capital Association.

Peter Thiel
PayPal Holdings co-founder and Facebook board member, partner, Founders Fund
Peter Thiel has established himself as a successful venture capitalist in Silicon Valley through building a solid record over the past two decades. The 49-year-old billionaire co-founded PayPal in 1998 and was the first outside investor in Faceboo. Thiel will be part of the executive committee of Donald Trump’s transition team led by vice President-elect Mike Pence.

The billionaire venture capitalist was the lone wolf of Silicon Valley in endorsing Trump during the presidential campaign. Thiel, who asserted Trump has been the only one to be honest about the nation’s economic decline and income disparity, donated about $ 1.25 million for the real estate mogul during the election cycle.

The investor known for his contrarian views also made headlines earlier this year by funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media.

He also co-founded software maker Palantir Technologies and invested in LinkedIn and Yelp, among others. Thiel—who launched investment firms Founders Fund, Valar Ventures and Mithril Capital Management after selling PayPal to eBay in 2002—sits on the Facebook board and is an adviser at investment firm Y Combinator.

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