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Jared Kushner's 'innovation' office will get advice from Bill Gates, Tim Cook and Elon Musk

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer
President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner will head a new White House office focused on “innovation.” Source: AP

On Monday, President Donald Trump will announce a new White House office led by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner that will be charged with reforming aspects of the federal government using lessons from the business world.

The office will be called the “White House Office of American Innovation,” and it follows up on the Trump campaign’s assertion that the country be run by more like a business—with Trump should as its CEO, putting the “executive” back in the executive branch. According to the Washington Post, which first broke the news on Sunday, the office will be like a “SWAT team of strategic consultants, and will be staffed with former business executives.”

Joining Kushner to advise are a cast of the tech world’s usual suspects, including Apple’s (AAPL) Tim Cook, Microsoft’s (MSFT) Bill Gates, Salesforce’s (CRM) Marc Benioff, and Tesla’s (TSLA) Elon Musk, many of whom could see their companies’ products implemented as “solutions,” as technology and data are of particular interest to the new office. About 100 others are involved as well.

The agency will be staffed full-time by aides Chris Liddell and Reed Cordish. Liddell has had roles at Microsoft, International Paper, and General Motors, according to the Wall Street Journal. Cordish has worked as a real estate developer and his family is close to the Trumps. Gary Cohn and Dina Powell, two ex-Goldman Sachs (GS) executives who are now director of the National Economic Council and deputy national security advisor, respectively, will be contributing.

By looping in tech giants like Gates, Cook, Musk, and Benioff, Kushner hopes to utilize these present and former tech CEOs for their experience in software that has shaped business and individuals’ workflow, productivity, payments, and many other activities. Trump is putting faith in the ability of modern technology and innovation to solve the problems of bureaucracy, and the group will first look at modernizing IT and in particular the Veteran’s Administration. Before assuming his present role, Kushner worked as a real estate investor, running his family’s company, and was publisher of the New York Observer.

Reached for comment, a Gates Foundation spokesperson told Yahoo Finance, “Bill was briefed on the creation of the office during his meeting with administration staff last week. We look forward to learning more about the goals and priorities of the office, and how they fit into the administration’s policy and budgetary priorities.”

In a statement to Yahoo Finance, a Salesforce spokesperson said, “Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff doesn’t have a formal role in the Trump Administration but offers his thoughts and ideas when they are sought on topics on which he can be helpful.  He recently suggested a moonshot of 5 million apprenticeships by 2020 at a recent White House roundtable on workforce development with President Trump, German Chancellor Merkel and a few other CEOs.”

Requests for comment from Cook, and Musk went unanswered.

The timing of this initiative is curious; it comes on the same day as reports that Kushner has volunteered to speak with the Senate Intelligence Committee over meetings between Russia and members of the Trump campaign and a Russian bank’s acknowledgement that Kushner had met with the bank in 2016. Monday, It also comes just after Trump attempted and failed to use his dealmaking skills to cajole an unwilling legislature to pass an unpopular bill replacing Obamacare. As the former CEO and owner of a private family company, Trump’s previous position could not have been more unilateral or executive, requiring far less oversight and cooperation than the office of the president of even CEOs of public companies with shareholders and boards.

The vote or “I’m gonna come after you” approach, which Trump used unsuccessfully on Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), may not be the type of business leadership that can work in Washington, but the pivot to new tactics like management consulting has the potential to produce results through more achievable wins in the realms of technology and streamlining a bureaucracy.

“The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens,” Kushner, who is officially senior advisor to the president, told the Post.

Benioff told the Post that Kushner “does remind me of a lot of the young, scrappy entrepreneurs that I invest in in their 30s.” But it may be tricky to lead a suite of chief executives used to leading themselves. To make matters trickier, the group, which is proud of its lack of government experience, will be auditing a government about which they must learn and master.

“In my experience: Jared will give people who have experience in an industry he’s never worked in advice re: how to do their jobs,” tweeted Elizabeth Spiers, who worked under Jared Kushner as editor-in-chief of the New York Observer from 2011 to 2012. “And I appreciate the value of ‘fresh eyes’ but you generally don’t assign a layman heart surgery bc you need a fresh perspective.”

Updated 4:53 p.m.: A statement from the Gates Foundation added.

Updated 3/27: A statement from Salesforce added.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, tech, and personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann. Got a tip? Send it to tips@yahoo-inc.com.

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