Wilbur Ross, who as Donald Trump‘s commerce secretary will be the voice of U.S. business, made a fortune spinning financial dross into gold.
In the early 1990s, Ross became a star as an adviser to stakeholders in moribund companies. As the longtime head of Rothschild & Co.’s bankruptcy advisory business in New York he helped dictate the outcomes of big bankruptcies, including that of Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He also worked on the Texaco Inc. and Trans World Airlines Inc. bankruptcies.
Striking out on his own in 2000, Ross bet billions scooping up and combining companies in U.S. industries such as steel, coal, auto parts and textiles, which were threatened by excess capacity, overseas competition and onerous labor contracts.
Now, Trump will depend on Ross to create jobs and further his agenda for trade and the economy.
“There’s trade, there’s sensible trade and there’s dumb trade,” Ross said Wednesday on CNBC, where he and former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin said Trump plans to nominate them for commerce secretary and Treasury secretary, respectively. “We’ve been doing a lot of dumb trade.”
Ross, 79, was hardly the first so-called vulture investor to feast on troubled or dying enterprises. What set him apart was an ambition to reshape entire industries.
In his seminal deal, starting in 2002, Ross bought the remnants of LTV Corp. and Bethlehem Steel Corp. — once-iconic steelmakers that faced liquidation — along with six other producers. Shedding debt, hiring back idled workers and revising pay pacts and factory operations, Ross cobbled together International Steel Group Inc., then the second largest and most efficient integrated steelmaker in the U.S.
In 2004, Ross and his backers announced the sale of Richfield, Ohio-based ISG for about $4.5 billion to U.K. steel…