Meet Wilbur Ross, Trump's commerce secretary pick

Wilbur Ross, U.S. billionaire, chairman and chief executive officer of WL Ross & Co. LLC.
Wilbur Ross, U.S. billionaire, chairman and chief executive officer of WL Ross & Co. LLC.

Donald Trump's choice of Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary would add another billionaire and investing voice to the president-elect's administration.

Ross, 78, is chairman of W.L. Ross & Co. and has a decades-long history as a distressed debt investor. He advised Trump on economic policy during the campaign, along with other wealthy businessmen and investors Harold Hamm, John Paulson and Tom Barrack.

If approved, Ross would take over a Commerce Department set to take a major pivot on trade and job creation. He will become another wealthy businessman making decisions for an administration propelled to the White House by economic populism.

Ross has made what is estimated by Forbes to be a $2.9 billion fortune by saving companies in a variety of sectors, including steel and coal. Before starting his own firm, Ross led Rothschild's bankruptcy practice for 25 years.

The New York Times reported that Ross and activist investor Carl Icahn were bondholders in the Trump Taj Mahal as the casino stood on the edge of bankruptcy.

"We could have foreclosed [on the Trump Taj Mahal], and he would have been gone," Ross separately told the New York Post.

Instead, Ross and Icahn decided to hold off on pushing the matter and negotiated a restructuring with Trump that allowed him to save his brand, the Times reported.

Ross, like Trump, has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership, and laid out some of his economic policy rationale for backing Trump in interviews with CNBC this year. Ross said in August that Trump's economic plan — which involves huge corporate tax cuts — would help to reduce America's "terrible job loss to foreign competition."

"Trump's plan ... calls for cutting corporate taxes from 35 percent to 15 [percent]. That's going to help solve one of our big problems, which is our trade deficit, because it means corporations are can cut their pretax margin by 20 percent," he said.

Ross, like some of Trump's other key advisors, put money behind Trump's election effort. He gave $200,000 to Trump's joint fundraising committee with the Republican Party and donated the maximum $2,700 donation to Trump's campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Icahn previously said Trump was considering Ross for the commerce post. He called Ross and expected Treasury pick Steven Mnuchin, "great choices" and "two of the smartest people I know."

— Reuters contributed to this report.