In the aftermath of Donald Trump edging past Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's presidential election, executive leaders from across the retail industry are feeling the urge to address what the unexpected political shakeup means for their companies and employees.
Now that Trump is president-elect, some have shelved feuds with the real estate mogul, instead offering an olive branch and congratulating him on Twitter. Others have sent encouraging internal memos to employees in an effort to calm the anxieties that many feel in regards to Trump's offensive speech toward minority groups and controversial policies on immigration.
In terms of policy affecting retailers, it's difficult to say with any certainty how Trump will govern and what impact his administration could have on the industry, given his lack of a political track record and his unpredictable actions throughout a historically contentious election cycle. But employees are looking for guidance in this hazy period, and the spotlight is on CEOs and other thought leaders to project optimism and clarity.
Here's how seven executives in the retail space responded in the days following the election.
1. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
The founder of the e-commerce giant tweeted congratulations to Trump on Thursday.
Congratulations to @realDonaldTrump. I for one give him my most open mind and wish him great success in his service to the country.— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) November 10, 2016
Bezos’ optimism comes as quite a surprise, considering that just last month he chastised the Republican president-elect at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco for “eroding” America’s democracy.
“It’s just a fact that we live in a world where half the population on this planet, if you criticize your leader, you could go to jail or worse," Bezos said at the time. "And we live in this amazing democracy, with amazing freedom of speech, and a presidential candidate should embrace that."
It’s safe to say Trump has not been a fan of Bezos, either. Earlier this year, when Trump felt he was being mistreated by articles printed in the Bezos-owned Washington Post, he alleged that Bezos used the media property as political leverage so that Amazon doesn’t “get sued for monopolistic tendencies that have led to the destruction of department stores and the retail industry.” He also claimed Bezos has a “huge antitrust problem” and hinted that if elected, he would go after the company.
Bezos, like many Americans, is realizing that Trump will indeed become the president of the country for at least the next four years, and he certainly doesn’t want to be on Trump's bad side.
2. Alibaba CEO Jack Ma
If there’s one country Donald Trump has railed against most during this election cycle, it’s China, which doesn’t bode well for Alibaba chief Jack Ma. In a video interview with CNN Money on Wednesday, Ma said Trump will need to work with China or it will be a “disaster.”
In the lead up to Singles Day, the biggest global shopping day of the year — an event spearheaded by the Chinese e-commerce juggernaut — Ma seemed optimistic that Trump’s words during the campaign have been just that: Words.
"I don't fear [a Trump presidency]. I think a healthy and positive China-U.S. relationship is so critical," Ma said. "He's a smart person, he will adjust. He will never neglect the relationship between China and America."
There’s often a clear gap between what candidates say they’ll do on the campaign trail and what they do once they get into the White House. But if Trump wants to keep up good relations in Asia, he’ll need prominent players like Alibaba on his side.
3. Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren
Lame-duck chief Lundgren spoke out to defend his June 2015 choice to pull Trump’s clothing line from the department store chain in response to Trump’s derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants. “We made our decision about a year and a half ago, and stand by our decision,” Lundgren told TheStreet last week.
Trump fired back at Macy's immediately following the move, calling for a boycott of the department store chain. Not many customers followed Trump’s lead. Instead, in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election, consumers spearheaded a social media movement known as #grabyourwallet, which calls on retailers to pull daughter Ivanka Trump's clothing line from their shelves. Macy's and many competitors continue to sell her products, however, and Lundgren clarified on Friday that the 2015 choice to pull Trump-branded products wasn’t just because of his offensive comments, but instead part of a larger effort to keep politics out of Macy's stores.
“If Hillary Clinton had a line of women’s suits or handbags, I wouldn’t carry those, either,” Lundgren told The Street. “I just think we don’t want to be a politically-associated company. We sell to everybody at Macy’s and have a broad and diverse customer base.”
4. Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple is one company that Trump has publicly scrutinized for sending jobs overseas, a trend he vowed on the campaign trail to reverse if elected. During a speech in January at Liberty University, Trump said he would get Apple to “start building their damn computers and things in this country.” Trump also called for a boycott of Apple products following the company’s refusal to release confidential information from an iPhone owned by one of the shooters involved in the 2015 San Bernardino, CA terrorist attack; Politico reported that Apple responded by pulling all funding from the Republican National Convention.
In a message similar to those expressed by other executives, Apple chief Cook sent an email Wednesday urging employees to move forward. The message, obtained by Buzzfeed News, addressed fears and anxiety expressed by minority groups over the election results, with Cook urging his diverse team of employees to move forward together “Regardless of which candidate each of us supported as individuals.”
With an enormous amount of uncertainty ahead, Cook assured his employees that “Apple’s North Star hasn’t changed" and concluded “I’ve always looked at Apple as one big family, and I encourage you to reach out to your co-workers if they are feeling anxious.”
5. eBay CEO Devin Wenig
In an internal memo to all eBay employees acquired by Recode, Wenig compared the “historic and emotionally-charged election” to Brexit — the U.K.’s move to cut ties with the European Union.
Wenig, who kept quiet throughout the election but donated $2,700 to Clinton's campaign last year according to public records, acknowledged that as a big tech company, what eBay says matters.
“EBay was founded by an immigrant to the U.S. Pierre [Omidyar, eBay's founder] built our business on the belief that people are basically good,” Wenig wrote. “[W]e will continue to advocate for principles and policies that support the needs of the global eBay community, and I will continue to speak publicly about inclusion, trade and the positive role that technology can play in peoples’ lives around the world.”
6. New Balance Vice President of Public Affairs Matthew LeBretton
The athletic footwear retailer got into hot water last week when LeBretton complained to The Wall Street Journal that the Obama administration turned a deaf ear to New Balance's opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. “With President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction,” LeBretton said.
Some customers interpreted the comment as an endorsement of Trump and expressed their rage by posting videos on Twitter depicting them tossing their New Balance sneakers in the trash — or setting them ablaze.
New Balance didn’t directly respond to the smoldering shoe statement, but it did tweet out comments about community and integrity.
— New Balance (@newbalance) November 10, 2016
New Balance further clarified its comments in a statement sent to NBC News on Friday. "As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the U.S., New Balance has a unique perspective on trade in that we want to make more shoes in the U.S., not less [sic]. New Balance publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump prior to election day that focused on American manufacturing job creation and we continue to support them today."
In the days since Trump was declared the president-elect, The Wall Street Journal reports the Obama administration has officially given up on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is a plus for New Balance, although other retailers don't necessarily feel the same way.
7. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz
Schultz — who voiced support for Clinton throughout the election cycle — expressed shock about Trump’s win in a public memo to Starbucks employees on Wednesday. Far from an endorsement, he expressed uncertainty but also stressed hope and optimism.
“Whether you are pleased or disappointed by the outcome, we each still have a choice,” he said. “Today and every day, we have a choice in how we treat one another in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and of course in our stores.”
In a conversation with employees earlier this year, Schultz described the election as “almost a circus of yelling bombastic attacks, of a lack of respect, of a lack of dignity." But he ended Wednesday's memo with a message of unity.
“Today, I trust you, and I trust all that is good in our country," Schultz wrote. "Let's take care of each other and the people in our lives. I believe we will each find the best version of ourselves to help our country move on in the direction we all deserve. Together is where our collective power lies, as partners, and as Americans."