Nation’s CEOs Are Disappointed in Trump but Hopeful: Yale CEO Summit Survey

Survey of CEOs weigh in on China, Israel, the GOP’s tax plan, bitcoin trading and major antitrust deals including Disney and Fox

NEW HAVEN, Conn., December 18, 2017 – Eighty-one percent of attendees surveyed at last week’s Yale School of Management’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute (CELI) are embarrassed by President Trump’s representation of the United States’ interests and image on the world stage. Three-quarters (77 percent) of the respondents are fearful that the country has alienated key diplomatic allies.

The 92nd  Yale CEO Summit, led by Yale School of Management Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, was held at The Roosevelt Hotel New York on December 13th and 14th, 2017, under the theme of “Tech Triumph or Bloated Bubble: Innovation, Investors & Industrial Transformation.”

The survey also found that 66 percent of CELI participants are disappointed in the administration’s trade policy, and 62 percent feel it has put the U.S. Department of State in a dangerously weak condition.

“One year into the Trump Administration, U.S. business leaders are disappointed, but still hopeful,” said Professor Sonnenfeld. “They began the year optimistic and appreciative of a White House that wanted to listen to them, engage them, and advance a pro-business agenda. In fact, in their discussion, the CEOs still applaud the administration for continuing to engage the business community, and that he has made the economy his number-one agenda item. While many remain hopeful—and appreciate the soaring markets—few feel the Administration’s mission has been accomplished.”

He went on to comment, “They were startled by the early divisive jousting between companies pitting competitors against each other in Apprentice-like PR contests—often misstating their global investment and employment practices in the process, which eroded collaborative industry efforts. They were discouraged over inconsistent trade initiatives, despite extensive open dialogues in D.C. last spring. They are frustrated over lost ground in immigration reform. They were similarly disappointed by healthcare-reform promises going unanswered. They were disappointed over President Trump’s reaction to hate groups, and feel we have drifted too close to Russia—a place where few invest. They are alarmed by the administration’s lack of enthusiasm for needed global alliances. The recent inconsistent antitrust policies leave them confused and cynical.… While they strongly applaud the much-needed lowered corporate tax rate for global competition reasons, they feel it still misses the mark on multiple fronts: adding to the nation’s crushing debt; punishing blue states; retaining interest treatment; healthcare impact; the burden on the middle class; the impact on higher education. Finally, the CEOs of the U.S. business community reported being embarrassed by the tone of this government’s representation of the U.S. image abroad.”

Foreign Affairs and Policy: China and Israel

With infrastructure high on Trump’s agenda, three-quarters (76 percent) of CELI participants agree that it would be a wise choice to attract Chinese capital investment for private partnerships. Looking at China’s domestic policy, 76 percent also felt that President Xi is actually using his anti-corruption and reform campaign to settle political scores.

Israel was a more divisive conversation amongst CELI participants. Just over half (53 percent) felt that President Trump made a mistake by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

GOP Tax Plan Sentiment

On the eve of the likely passage of the largest tax system overhaul in 30 years, the CEOs showed mixed but overall favorable sentiments regarding the current plan. Fifty-five percent felt the proposed tax reform package should be signed into law, but 72 percent believe that it is “wrong” for the package to sizably increase the national debt, and 62 percent are concerned that the tax proposal will negatively impact the nation’s healthcare system.

Additionally, respondents expect that the tax plan will incentivize them to provide the GOP’s envisioned economic boost, but, paradoxically, 14 percent of respondents’ companies plan to make large, immediate domestic capital investments if the bill passes.

CELI attendees were also candid in their feelings about carried interest as compensation. Currently taxed under the favorable capital gains tax rate, 82 percent feel that this is improper.

Bitcoin’s Bubble

With exchange prices at all-time highs, 88 percent of CELI participants see bitcoin in a “dangerous” bubble and agree in warning that it “will not end well.” An even higher 91 percent believe that exchanges do not know how to properly regulate bitcoin.

Fully 85 percent of those surveyed agree that cryptocurrencies are over-hyped and dangerous.

Deals and Antitrust Approvals

Respondents considered several current antitrust cases and shared their perspective on the approvals process:

  • Disney and 21st Century Fox: 86 percent think the deal should be approved
  • CVS and Aetna: 78 percent think the deal should be approved
  • Time Warner and AT&T: 77 percent agree the deal should be approved
     

Survey Methodology

This survey was a poll of 87 top business leaders at the 92nd Yale CEO forum at The Roosevelt Hotel New York on December 13–14, 2017, with added data from the Yale CEO survey conducted September 18th at the Yale Washington CEO Caucus.  

About CELI

The 27-year-old Chief Executive Leadership Institute (CELI) is the global pioneer of CEO learning and hosts CEO Summits from New York to New Delhi and Shanghai to Mumbai and Washington to Mexico City, bringing together top business leaders and policy makers, as well as leading academics, in a unique learning environment that fosters candid, off-the-record exchanges among participants. The Yale CEO College is an intensive one-day roundtable held in conjunction with the semi-annual CEO Summit. It convenes 25 top corporate executives to share wisdom on common challenges with leading scholars from around the world. The Yale Mayors College is the first to offer such intimate forums for 25 of the nation’s major city mayors each year. The Yale Higher Education Leadership Summits provide parallel informal forums for 100 college and university presidents along with board chairs to share common challenges and best practice responses.

About the Yale School of Management

The mission of the Yale School of Management is to educate leaders for business and society. The school’s students, faculty, and alumni are committed to understanding the complex forces transforming global markets and using that understanding to build organizations—in the for-profit, nonprofit, entrepreneurial, and government sectors—that contribute lasting value to society.