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在线翻译:
szdaily -> Person of the week
From ‘king of bankruptcy’ to face of US business
    2017-March-3  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

    WILBUR ROSS, the newly installed U.S. commerce secretary, has been hailed as “the king of bankruptcy,” a nod to his legendary knack for buying troubled companies on the cheap and selling them for billions of dollars in profit.

    Ross, 79, a veteran private-equity investor whose wealth is estimated at US$2.9 billion, is now leading the charge for U.S. President Donald Trump’s get-tough trade policy aimed at discouraging U.S. factories from moving abroad, luring some back and narrowing the nation’s US$500 billion annual trade gap.

    In choosing Ross to be the face of American business for the rest of the world, Trump is turning not to a cautious corporate chieftain, but to a risk-taking speculator. Like his boss, Ross has been considered either a hero or a villain during his career. There is not a lot in between.

    In 2002, he won praise from workers when he bought the shuttered steel mills of LTV, a bankrupt company in Cleveland. Four years later, Ross was pilloried after an explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia, which his company had bought a few weeks earlier, killed 12 miners.

    The stark contrasts reflect the nature of the world in which Ross operates: distressed investing. He made his name scouring the landscape for businesses left for dead that he could sink money into and then profit from when they were resurrected.

    It is a business that requires nerves of steel and a strong stomach. The chances of failure — along with headlines about collapsed businesses and lost jobs — are balanced against the opportunity for a big reward if a turnaround strategy works.

    Some businesses where he has invested, like textile mills, have struggled. But other investments have salvaged industry and jobs while providing a lucrative payday.

    His best-known bet was in the steel industry more than a decade ago, a time when few wanted anything to do with it. Ross cobbled together the ailing assets of LTV and Bethlehem Steel into a new company called International Steel Group, which was sold in 2004 to Mittal Steel for US$4.5 billion.

    “There were no outsiders who were willing to step forward and make an investment,” said Ron Bloom, an investment banker who negotiated with Ross for the United Steelworkers. “He went where angels feared to tread.”

    Like his investing, the politics of Ross, a former Democrat, do not always stick to orthodox points of view.

    Ross has expressed strong conservative beliefs on some issues — favoring big tax cuts for businesses, for example, and a repeal of former President Barack Obama’s health law. Yet Ross has also suggested that he is receptive to some of the anti-trade views favored by American labor unions and by Trump.

    “The president has a huge amount of fire in terms of abrogating treaties, and he can do a lot without reference to Congress,” Ross said in an interview the day after the election.

    Ross, a member of Trump’s economic team during the campaign, said he expected the new president to do a lot on trade and regulation through executive action.

    “He is serious about suspending any new regulations,” said Ross, who held one of Trump’s first fundraisers.

    A spokesman for Trump, Jason Miller, said: “Ross has been a fantastic advocate for the president’s plan to bring back jobs, eliminate the trade deficit and make good deals for America’s workers.”

    The nomination of Ross is the capstone to a career on Wall Street that has spanned decades and has made him one of the most visible and successful of a breed of investor known as “vultures” because of their penchant for going after nearly dead businesses.

    Ross, by contrast, has often preferred to see himself as another kind of bird — the mythical phoenix, helping businesses rise from the ashes.

    To some degree, Ross helped Trump do that when some of his casinos in Atlantic City fell on hard times. Ross and Carl C. Icahn, another billionaire investor and supporter of Trump, were both bondholders in the Trump Taj Mahal casino when it was teetering on financial collapse in 1990. Instead of pushing the casino into an immediate bankruptcy, Ross and Icahn worked with Trump and others to structure a more orderly bankruptcy filing in 1991.

    The negotiated restructuring helped Trump salvage his name and brand at a time when he arguably did not have many friends on Wall Street.

    The low point of Ross’ career was the deadly mine disaster in West Virginia. Although he helped set up a charitable fund for the families of the victims, and his company contributed more than US$1 million to them as well, some in organized labor remain bitter about Ross and his firm.

    Still, that episode has not deterred some unions from doing business with him when it was in their interest. In 2012, Ross was one of the wealthy investors who gave a US$50 million cash infusion to Amalgamated Bank, one of the nation’s largest union-owned lenders, which was struggling to stay in business after the financial crisis.

    An affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, which controlled the ailing Amalgamated Bank, did not hesitate to take Ross’s money.

    Ross sold his firm in 2006 to Invesco, an Atlanta-based investment company, for about US$375 million. Since then, he has pulled back on the daily operations of the business.

    While remaining as chairman of the firm, Ross has spent more time in recent years at his Palm Beach, Florida, home, not far from Trump’s Mar-a-Largo estate. He has a renowned art collection valued at more than US$100 million.

    Ross’ bloodless and practical negotiating style was honed over decades. He was raised in an affluent household in suburban New Jersey. At the elite Xavier High School in Manhattan, he ran track and was captain of the rifle team, later earning a bachelor’s degree from Yale College and a masters of business administration from Harvard Business School.

    Ross has been married three times. His second wife, Betsy McCaughey, a Republican, served as New York’s lieutenant governor from 1995 to 1998. The experience, Ross would later tell New York magazine, “gave one a very close-up view of politics.” McCaughey, too, was named to Trump’s economic team during the campaign.

    Some suggest Ross’s business ties may pose potential conflicts of interest and overseas deals could raise questions about his relationships with foreign leaders and businesspeople.

    He is vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, the biggest bank in that European island nation, and he is credited with helping the bank to recover from a severe crisis in 2013. But Ross’s investment in the bank also makes him a de facto business partner with Viktor F. Vekselberg, one of Russia’s most prominent businesspeople and a man with ties to the Kremlin.

    Another question is whether that enviable business skill will transfer easily to his new more nuanced and diplomatic role as the face of American business to the world. Some are optimistic.

    “He has an exquisite sense of timing to buy low and sell high — that’s not easy,” said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International economics. “He may be able to carry that over in diplomatic dealings.”

    On the campaign trail, Trump threatened to label China a currency manipulator and slap tariffs of 45 percent on that country and 35 percent on Mexico.

    Hufbauer, however, said tried-and-true business strategies are unlikely to hold sway with prickly foreign leaders. “You can’t think of China and Mexico as bankrupt companies,” he said.

    In a recent CNBC interview, the soft-spoken Ross downplayed the much-feared prospect of hefty import duties and trade wars. “Everybody talks about tariffs as the first thing. Tariffs are the last thing. Tariffs are part of the negotiation. The real trick is going to be increase American exports. Get rid of some of the tariff and nontariff barriers to American exports.”

    At the same time, Ross displayed a confident, no-nonsense approach that recognizes U.S. economic strength and leverage.

    “Part of the reason why I’m supporting Trump is that I think we need a more radical, new approach to government, at least in the United States, from what we’ve had before,” Ross said in June.

    (SD-Agencies)

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