Corporate A-listers descend on Riyadh
22 May 2017 - 0:53
Washington/Riyadh: Defense contractors were the big winners, but President Donald Trump’s first day in Saudi Arabia yielded a slew of high-profile investment deals that showcased the administration’s ability to draw support from major corporations.
Top executives who descended on Riyadh for a CEO summit timed to coincide with Trump’s visit included JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, Blackstone Group LP CEO Steve Schwarzman, and Marillyn Hewson, the CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp.
Saturday’s meeting, the “Saudi-U.S. CEO Forum,” drew the kind of corporate firepower Trump suggested he could harness when he ran for the Oval Office as a Washington outsider/business executive who would reach outside the Beltway and enlist other executives in support of the administration’s economic goals.
More than 30 CEOs of major U.S. companies were on hand for the summit, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh. Some later joined Trump and Saudi officials at the Royal Court Palace for a deal-signing ceremony. Those who spoke to reporters said they weren’t put off by drama surrounding the Trump White House. “We’re just seeing tremendous opportunity with Trump coming here,” said Steven Demetriou, CEO of Jacobs Engineering Group.
Dimon gave a thumbs-up to Trump’s deregulatory agenda in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “Most of us in business think that regulations have been holding back growth,” he said.
Arms deals and intentions alone announced on Saturday totaled some $110bn, in what would be the largest arms package in US history. Meanwhile, Blackstone, the world’s biggest private equity manager, announced an agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to invest $100bn in infrastructure projects, mainly in the US.
Derided by Trump at times over the cost of the F-35 fighter jet program, Lockheed seemed to have made peace with the White House. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner phoned Hewson while meeting a Saudi delegation, suggesting Lockheed lower the cost of an anti-missile system it was pitching to the Saudis.
Price cut or not, Lockheed racked up more than $28bn in sales and intentions, the company said in a statement, covering integrated air and missile defense, combat ships, tactical aircraft and rotary wing technologies and programs.
Also on hand in Riyadh was Boeing Co. Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg; Trump has at times encouraged Boeing and Lockheed to compete for pricey US defense contacts.
“This is a great vote of confidence by the United States in the business environment of Saudi Arabia,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, traveling with the president, said during a press conference.
The military sales and intended deals fall broadly into five categories: border security and counterterrorism; maritime and coastal security; air force modernization; air and missile defense; and cybersecurity and communications upgrades, according to a State Department statement.