How Wilbur Ross Became The Blue-Collar Billionaire

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Billionaire Wilbur Ross will undergo his confirmation hearing Wednesday to gain Senate approval in joining President-elect Trump’s cabinet as Secretary of Commerce.

Ross, who is worth an estimated $2.5 billion, has made his fortune in blue-collar industries as a distressed asset investor. 

One of Trump’s earliest cabinet picks, Ross has garnered years of experience in reshaping massive companies, saving them from ultimate doom.

Some of his professional highlights as listed by Forbes:

  • 1959: Graduates from Yale University. As an undergrad studying English literature, he considers becoming a fiction writer before taking a summer internship on Wall Street.

  • 1961: Earns his M.B.A. from Harvard.

  • 1976: Joins Rothschild Inc. as a bankruptcy specialist. Over the next 24 years he works to reorganize the likes of Texaco, Drexel Burnham Lambert, Public Service of New Hampshire, Eastern Air Lines and in 1991, Donald Trump’s Atlantic City casino the Taj Mahal earning the nickname, the “king of bankruptcy.”

  • 1991: A year after Trump buys the Taj Mahal casino in April 1990, he struggles to make debt payments. Ross structures a deal forcing Trump to give up 50% of his stake while also allowing him to get better terms on the debt and maintain control of the casino. Trump told FORBES in a 1991 article, “I think (Ross) is very talented, a fantastic negotiator, and I think he represented the stockholders strongly, honestly and unbelievably competently.” (Side note: Ross was supposed to be representing the interests of the bondholders, not the shareholders.)

  • 1995: Ross marries second wife Betsy McCaughey Ross, who becomes the New York State lieutenant governor that same year serving under Republican Gov. George Pataki. (Trump reportedly attends their wedding.)

  • 1997: Launches his own private equity fund at Rothschild.

  • 2000: After purchasing control of the $200 million fund he managed at Rothschild and raising another $250 million from investors, founds his own private equity firm WL Ross & Co.

  • 2002 and 2003: Forms International Steel Group, combining bankrupt LTV Corp., Acme Steel and Bethlehem Steel, the manufacturer of the steel that went into such massive structures as the Golden Gate Bridge. Though it’s in effect for less than two years, Ross benefits from President George Bush’s 30% tariff on imported steel implemented in March 2002; the price of domestic steel goes up 25% in that time.

  • 2004: Sells International Steel Group for $4.5 billion to Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal, netting investors $260 million.

  • 2004: Ross combines bankrupt Burlington Industries and Cone Mills, the leading supplier of Levi Strauss denim since the 19th century, to create International Textile Group. Ross benefits from a favorable tariff deal, this time for freer trade. As reported in a 2005 FORBES article, Ross lobbied for what became the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which cut 16 cents out of every dollar of apparel and textiles sent to the U.S.

  • 2004 and 2005: Merges bankrupt Horizon Resources, Anker Coal Group and CoalQuest Development to create International Coal Group. ICG goes public, personally netting Ross $210 million.

  • 2006: Sells his own WL Ross to investment firm Invesco for $375 million, but sticks around as chairman and chief strategy officer.

  • 2011:  As coal nears $80, he sells International Coal Group to Arch Coal for $3.4 billion.

  • 2016: Sells International Textile Group to fellow billionaire Tom Gores in October.

  • 2016: Ross confirms that he’s been appointed to be Commerce Secretary while appearing on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Nov. 30. He had served as a policy adviser for Trump’s economic team during the campaign.

H/T: Forbes

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