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Tech leaders shouldn't succumb to a president-Trump bully pulpit

I have a sneaky feeling that Amazon and many others do not want to rile the new boss.

A wax figure of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump is presented outside the Madrid Wax Museum on Jan. 17, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.

Merriam-Webster defines a “bully pulpit” as:

Bully pulpit comes from the 26th U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt, who observed that the White House was a bully pulpit. For Roosevelt, bully was an adjective meaning “excellent” or “first-rate” — not the noun bully (“a blustering, browbeating person”) that’s so common today. Roosevelt understood the modern presidency’s power of persuasion and recognized that it gave the incumbent the opportunity to exhort, instruct, or inspire. He took full advantage of his bully pulpit, speaking out about the danger of monopolies, the nation’s growing role as a world power, and other issues important to him. Since the 1970s, bully pulpit has been used as a term for an office — especially a political office — that provides one with the opportunity to share one’s views.

Roosevelt’s use of this term as an adjective and not a noun made the bully pulpit term okay for the time, and if the person is using that pulpit for good, the term can be an endearing one. However, I am not sure we can see president-elect Trump in that light yet, given his history of “blustering and browbeating” people to get his way.

I took a call from a reporter last week who was asking me about Apple’s decision to have their servers in a single data center location instead of at each of the major data centers it has around the U.S. and the world. This will be done in Arizona, and the reporter asked if Apple did this to help get a better position in Trump’s eyes, by doing the manufacturing in the U.S. All told, it will only add 10 to 20 jobs, and I told the reporter that this was more strategic, and had nothing to do with wanting to gain favor with Trump.

But other companies, such as Ford and Carrier, have made decisions to move jobs from planned facilities outside of the U.S. back to America. On the surface, it does appear as if Trump “bullied” them into doing it. It seems very clear to me that Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, who met with Trump at Trump Tower and pledged to bring one million jobs to the U.S., had being in Trump’s good graces in mind.

Last week, Amazon announced that it would add 100,000 jobs in the U.S. When this was announced (and because of Trump’s bully pulpit), I was asked by reporters if this decision was because of pressure from Trump or something more related to strategic growth.

I would hope that it was because it was a strategic decision, but I have a sneaky feeling that Amazon and many others do not want to rile Trump. What he says and does from his “bully pulpit” could hurt them during his time in office. Let’s be clear: I am 100 percent behind creating more jobs in the U.S., but I believe that this should come as a result of great business conditions, innovation, a true need for these companies, and that it is strategic to their business growth. I also believe that they should not be doing it because they were bullied into it. I am of the school that believes bullying companies to create jobs may be a temporary fix. Unless it’s done with the right motive, conditions and strategy, it will not deliver the fundamental change needed for these jobs to be long lasting.

I believe strongly the tech industry and companies should not succumb to Trump’s bullying tactics in any way when it comes to the issue of strategic planning, growth, innovation and even jobs.

That does not mean they should not want to work with him and, when necessary, lobby to influence Trump’s policies so he and his administration do not stand in the way of growing our tech economy. But if any of their moves are done just to placate Trump, then they are building foundations that will crumble under the weight of forced motivations. Unless strategic to their growth, it will set them back, not move them forward.

In a recent piece I wrote for Fast Company, I outlined my involvement with a council of independent tech influencers that helped shape President Bush’s tech agenda. In the article, I suggested some of the types of councils I believe President Trump needs to help him understand tech and, more importantly, use them to help develop a tech agenda of his own that would benefit his economic goals and get these companies to help support an agenda that moves our industry forward.

I believe working with Trump in a civil, proactive manner should be the goal of every tech company, but not kowtowing to him because he bullied them into some action. The tech industry needs the resolve to stand up against any bully pulpit, and only do what is right for them to grow their market. Anything less than that won’t have a lasting impact on them or our industry.

Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981, and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others. Reach him @Bajarin.

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