If you’re the CEO of a big US company, one of your goals for 2017 has got to be staying out of Donald Trump’s crosshairs.
It will be easier for some than others. “He’s very much driven by gaining respect and appreciation,” Chris Malone, founder of consulting firm Fidelum Partners, says of the incoming president, in the video above. “He’s pursued that in a very reactive, very opportunistic and very aggressive way.”
Trump has publicly criticized companies such as Carrier (UTX) and Ford Motor Co. (F) for moving US jobs offshore or setting up new plants in foreign countries such as Mexico. He got Carrier to change its plans and keep some jobs in Indiana, while Ford tweaked its manufacturing plans to address Trump’s concerns. Since then, Trump has criticized defense contractors Boeing (B) and Lockheed Martin (LMT) for costly programs he says are ripping off American taxpayers.
Trump seems likely to continue bashing big companies, since it’s an easy way to score points with Joe and Julie Sixpack. So which companies are vulnerable? And which might be best inoculated against a Trump onslaught?
Fidelum thinks one of the most vulnerable companies is Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH), the management consulting firm, which does a lot of work for the federal government. Booz employed intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden, who many in the government consider a traitor, as well as Harold Martin III, who was arrested earlier this year and charged with stealing thousands of classified documents from the National Security Agency. “We think Booz Allen Hamilton is an easy target,” Malone says. “Trump could say, ‘you haven’t done a very good job for us. We want some rebates or some discounts.’”
Another company that should watch its back, according to Malone: Walmart (WMT), which has a huge workforce of full- and part-time employees who earn relatively low pay, with some receiving limited benefits. Walmart is already a regular target of worker-rights groups, putting it in the news frequently. If Trump were looking for a corporate villain with thousands of workers who could use better benefits or a friendlier work schedule, Walmart would fit the profile.
It’s not clear Trump would go beyond rhetorical criticism and actually try to harm a company that fell out of favor with him. Some companies tweet-blasted by Trump have suffered quick declines in their stock prices, but the shares have generally recovered. Trump may be trying to use the bully pulpit to score political victories without actually planning much in the way of action against companies that don’t treat workers the way he feels they should.
Other companies are better positioned to withstand an assault by Trump. Malone cites Apple (AAPL), Tesla (TSLA) and Starbucks (SBUX) as companies he considers “Trump-proof,” largely because they already have good public reputations and well-regarded CEOs. “These are guys who can counterpunch as well, and Donald Trump doesn’t want to take a lot of hits if he can avoid it,” Malone says. Trump has criticized Apple for making products in China, for instance, but it seems to have had no effect on Apple’s sales, reputation, stock price, or future production plans. And Trump just invited Apple CEO Tim Cook to his make-nice tech summit. Trump might make enemies in corporate America, but he needs some friends there, too.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.