Tech Leaders Vow To Resist Trump, But They Also Hope To Find Common Ground

Nov 14, 2016
Originally published on November 14, 2016 6:19 pm

Donald Trump took direct shots at some of the biggest tech companies during the presidential campaign. When Apple wouldn't help the FBI unlock a phone used by a terrorist, he suggested boycotting the company.

In a Fox News interview, he lashed out against Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. "The politicians in Washington don't tax Amazon like they should be taxed," Trump said. "He's got a huge antitrust problem because he's controlling so much."

For his part, Bezos once tweeted he'd like to reserve Trump a seat on his commercial space rocket.

Besides the direct attacks on tech companies — Trump's protectionist trade policies, threats to impose tariffs and deport millions of immigrants, and his affiliations with groups widely seen as racist all put him at odds with most tech company leaders.

"We try as much as possible to embrace and take advantage of the fact that the diverse perspectives bring better innovation, better ideas, and this campaign very much has at times been against that set of principles," says Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box, a company that helps businesses securely share and store information.

Levie supported Hillary Clinton, and he says he will continue to work and lobby for what he believes.

"Whether that's LGBTQ rights, whether that's having fair immigration policies, whether that's racial or gender equality issues," he says, "all of these topics are incredibly pertinent and relevant to building out a technology company and those are the things that we want to ensure are protected and maintained going forward."

Jason Johnson, the CEO of August Home, which develops technology for connected homes, was alarmed at Trump's stance against Apple.

"To pressure those of us in technology to give away private information without, you know, proper process and proper procedures to get that information concerns me," Johnson says. "And we will certainly push back on anything that is shoved on us."

Yet, Johnson and others in the tech community who did not vote for Trump are looking for common ground. "I really like how he is trying to increase jobs inside the country," says Ravi Puvvala, the CEO of Savari, a company that makes technology for driverless cars.

Puvvala is aware that driverless cars are likely to put the millions of people who drive for a living out of work. But he hopes he and others in his industry can work with the new administration to create jobs.

"If we actually change our lifestyle in terms of how to become the creators of the new technology we create a completely new workforce," he says.

Puvvala says he actually admires Trump's smarts as an entrepreneur. And he isn't convinced Trump meant everything he said while he was running for office. "I think he is going to see more the practical approach of what it means to sustain the technology growth within the country," Puvvala says.

There is one Silicon Valley voice that has President-elect Trump's ear — Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook and PayPal, was a vocal Trump supporter and he will be part of Trump's transition team.

And there may be another way to get Trump's attention, Box CEO Levie says. "First, start by tweeting at him," Levie says. "That appears to be an open line of communication that he's supportive of."

Twitter does seem to be one tech company that President-elect Trump likes. In a recent interview with 60 Minutes, he had nice words to say about it and other forms social media. Trump says it's how he won the election and he will continue to use it.

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Donald Trump antagonized major tech companies during his campaign, and they overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton. Since Trump's win, some industry leaders have reached out to him with congratulations and to talk about their priorities. Those include immigration, patent reform and privacy protection. But as NPR's Laura Sydell reports, the two sides are likely to remain far apart on many issues.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Donald Trump took some direct shots at some of the biggest tech companies during the campaign. Here he is on Apple, when the company wouldn't help the FBI unlock a phone used by a terrorist.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: What I think you ought to do is boycott Apple until such time as they give that security number. How do you like - I just thought it - boycott Apple.

SYDELL: In a Fox News interview, Trump lashed out against Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: The politicians in Washington don't tax Amazon like they should be taxed. He's getting absolutely away. He's worried about me. And he's - I think he said that to somebody. It was in some article where he thinks I would go after him for antitrust because he's got a huge antitrust problem because he's controlling so much.

SYDELL: For his part, Bezos once tweeted he'd like to reserve Trump a seat on his commercial space rocket. Besides the direct attacks on tech companies, Trump's protectionist trade policies, threats to impose tariffs, deport millions of immigrants and his affiliations widely seen as racist all put him at odds with most tech company leaders. Aaron Levie is the CEO of Box, a company that helps businesses securely share and store information.

AARON LEVIE: We try as much as possible to embrace and take advantage of the fact that the diverse perspectives bring better innovation, better ideas. And this campaign very much has at times been against that set of principles.

SYDELL: And Levie, who supported Hillary Clinton, says he will continue to work and lobby for what he believes.

LEVIE: Whether that's LGBTQ rights, whether that's having fair immigration policies, whether that's racial or gender equality issues, all of these topics are incredibly pertinent and relevant to building out a technology company. And those are the things that we want to ensure are protected and maintained going forward.

SYDELL: Jason Johnson is alarmed at Trump's stance against Apple. Johnson is the CEO of August Home, which develops technology for connected homes.

JASON JOHNSON: To pressure those of us in technology to give away private information without, you know, proper process and proper, you know, procedures to get information concerns me. And we will certainly push back on anything that is, you know, shoved on us.

SYDELL: Yet Johnson and others in the tech community who did not vote for Trump are looking for common ground.

RAVI PUVVALA: I really like how he's trying to increase jobs inside the country.

SYDELL: Ravi Puvvala is the CEO of Savari, a company that makes technology for driverless cars. Puvvala is aware that driverless cars are likely to put millions of people who drive for a living out of work. But he hopes he and others in his industry can work with the new administration to create jobs.

PUVVALA: If we actually change our lifestyle in terms of how to become the creators of the new technology, we create a completely new workforce.

SYDELL: Puvvala says he actually admires Trump's smarts as an entrepreneur. And he isn't convinced Trump meant everything he said while he was running for office.

PUVVALA: I think he's going to see more of the practical approach of what it means to sustain the technology growth in the country.

SYDELL: And there is one Silicon Valley voice that has President-elect Trump's ear. Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook and PayPal, was a vocal Trump supporter. And he will be part of Trump's transition team. And there may be another way to get the attention of Trump, says Box CEO Levie.

LEVIE: First start by tweeting at him. That appears to be an open line of communication that he's supportive of.

SYDELL: And Twitter does seem to be one tech company that President-elect Trump likes. In a recent interview with "60 Minutes," he had nice words to say about it and other forms of social media. Trump says it's how he won the election and he will continue to use it. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.