The CEO of German industrial giant Siemens says that President Donald Trump is becoming a symbol of intolerance following his attacks on four female members of Congress.
“I find it depressing that the most important political office in the world is turning into the face of racism and exclusion,” Joe Kaeser said Saturday on Twitter.
Kaeser’s remarks are the most prominent criticism from the business world in reaction to Trump’s rally last week in North Carolina. The US president attacked Somali-born Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar and the crowd chanted “Send her back! Send her back!”
The rally followed a series of racist tweets in which Trump suggested that four minority congresswomen “go back” to their home countries. Three were born in America and all four are US citizens.
Kaeser suggested that Trump’s attacks do not reflect the America he knows. He worked as chief financial officer of Siemens Microelectronics in San Jose, California, during the 1990s.
“I lived in the USA for many years and experienced freedom, tolerance and openness as never before,” he said in his Twitter post.
Many corporate leaders expressed optimism in the early days of the Trump administration that they could find common ground with a president who had run a business of his own and who wanted to cut corporate taxes and slash regulations. But the administration’s focus on immigration and other divisive social issues, combined with its aggressive prosecution of a trade war with China, has soured the White House’s relationship with many big global companies.
Kaeser, 62, who started work at Siemens in 1980 and become CEO in 2013, has demonstrated a willingness to speak frankly on controversial political issues.
Siemens wrote an open letter to its employees in the German state of Saxony in 2018 after anti-immigration protesters there were photographed giving the outlawed Nazi salute. The letter denounced xenophobia.
Earlier in the year, Kaeser sharply criticized a German lawmaker, saying that their nationalism would harm the country’s prosperity.
“I’m there to represent the company and be accountable to the shareholders; on the other hand, if people turn their head away. … Well, we had that time in Germany,” Kaeser told the Financial Times in May 2018.
“Nobody spoke up. Then it was too late,” he added.
Kaeser also took a stand when he pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
“As soon as I heard of his death, it was clear to me that we couldn’t simply move on and do business as usual,” Kaeser said last October.
Siemens has nearly 380,000 employees around the world. It makes products such as high speed trains, air conditioning plants, energy transmissions systems and gas turbines.
It has substantial operations in the United States including production and research centers.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that Trump’s comments about the lawmakers “undermine America’s strength.”
Speaking at her annual news conference in Berlin, Merkel said: “I distance myself from this decidedly and stand in solidarity with the women who were attacked.”
She added that from her perspective the United States’ strength “lies exactly in the fact that people of very different nationalities contribute.”
— Martin Goillandeau contributed reporting.