President Donald Trump wants to modernize government systems, and he is asking the CEOs of the world’s largest tech companies for help. Many executives, like those at Apple, Amazon, and Google, are listening and offering their words of wisdom, while others, like Facebook, appear to be keeping their distance — at least publicly.
On Monday, tech leaders, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, arrived at the White House. The day-long affair kicked off a week of conversations about the state of the government infrastructure as well as tech policies like cybersecurity, talent recruitment, and government and private sector partnerships.
It included a meeting with President Donald Trump, a photo opportunity that showed Cook and Nadella front and center:
A handful of reporters were in attendance, but the tech event was not live-streamed. Mashable obtained transcripts from correspondents and connected with the companies in attendance, as well as spotted the most relevant tweets. At the moment, it seems to have been one grand showcase, with executives bringing up whatever issues is most relevant to their business and Trump responding with quips and thank yous, without assurances that there will be change.
Monday’s ceremonies were led by White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner and Assistant to the President Chris Liddell.
“We certainly know the problems. We have some of the ideas about what the solutions are. But we really want to engage your minds and get the best of the private sector applied to these problems,” Liddell said during the introduction.
And yet, the Trump administration has repeatedly worked against tech’s best interests. Last month, it dropped out of the Paris climate accord, causing Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, to drop out of the government’s business advisory council; he did not attend Monday’s events. Many of the world’s tech giants rely on the H1B visa program, which the administration has worked to dismantle. Trump’s travel ban drew ire from many in Silicon Valley, whose work force is made up of immigrants.
No one from Facebook was in attendance, despite receiving an invite. A spokesperson for the world’s largest social network cited “scheduling conflicts,” Axios reported. Facebook declined to comment for this story.
That could be true. Some of Facebook’s top executives are at Cannes Lions, an international festival for the creative communications industry, this week. Facebook is also prepping for VidCon, the annual online video conference, later this week. Thirdly, Facebook is hosting its first-ever Communities Summit in Chicago, where CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Product Officer Chris Cox will be speaking.
But Facebook’s lack of attendance — despite the abundance of conflicts — inspired debate, on Twitter, over whether it was making a political statement.
Zuckerberg subtly spoke out against Trump’s immigration policies at Harvard’s commencement last month. The company is also reliant on the H1B visa program
Still, Facebook doesn’t seem to be completely snubbing the Trump White House. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg attended a different summit of tech CEOs, with a similar attendee list, at Trump Tower in New York City back in December, before Trump officially took office.
Sandberg didn’t visit the White House Monday, but Bloomberg did air an exclusive television interview where she spoke about jobs in the technology industry and the economy.
“It’s our responsibility to help small businesses and large businesses all around the world use technology to grow their businesses so that they can grow jobs,” Sandberg said.
For Trump and his administration Monday, the day wasn’t just about jobs. He said he hoped for better government operations in general.
“Today many of our agencies rely on painfully outdated technology, and yet, we have the greatest people in technology,” Trump said at the event, according to Recode’s Tony Romm.
In addition to Musk, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was also absent, although he is on leave from his company and mourning the recent death of his mother. He too dropped Trump’s council in January after pressure from the #DeleteUber movement.
Still, many of the world’s most powerful tech executives attended the meeting with Trump, each with their own agendas. Cook’s priorities included discussing immigration, encryption, veterans’ affairs, and human rights, Axios reported prior to the meeting. He mentioned education as a concern, and cited coding in public schools, during the press-attended portion of the event.
Despite evidence that the Trump administration may not act in the attendees’ best interests, Cook, for example, has expressed the need for executives like himself to engage.
“It’s very important. Governments can affect our ability to do what we do. They can affect it in positive ways and they can affect in not so positive ways. What we do is focus on the policies,” Cook wrote in a memo to his employees at Apple after he met with Trump at a roundtable in December.
Also in attendance were Ajay Banga, CEO of MasterCard; Zachary Bookman, CEO of OpenGov; Safra Catz, Co-Chief Executive of Oracle; John Doerr, Chairman of Kleiner Perkins; Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware; Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir; Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel; Tom Leighton, CEO of Akamai; Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP; Steven Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm; Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe; Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM; Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture; and Peter Thiel of the Founders Fund who has served as an advisor to the president.
Of course, it remains to be seen what will be done.