The American business community had nothing but high hopes for the Trump presidency when he was elected in 2016, and as we approach the one-year mark, most major corporations are enjoying high growth, high profits, and high stock prices to match. For the first time in the modern era, a dyed-in-the-wool businessman occupies the Oval Office—someone who understands the needs and motivations of the business community, who will enact policy designed with business in mind and tune the economy to run smoothly. As the Trump train steams forward with the full momentum of the private sector behind it, there are no signs of it slowing down anytime soon.
Public polling indicates that most Americans give Trump credit for the bull market and the strong economy, but some analysts argue that it’s simply the continuation of a trend line that began around 2010. Market optimism aside, the hard reality is that as of now, few, if any, elements of the current business environment can actually be traced back to any decisions or policies coming out of the Trump Whitehouse.
At a time when everybody seems to be either all-Trump or anti-Trump, we’re more interested in understanding the implications of the presidency than getting caught up in the cult of personality and taking a position in one camp or the other. As anybody concerned with the bottom line would agree, the only thing that matters is an honest prognosis of what it’s likely to mean over the long term.
What will the Trump era hold for newly minted MBAs? No doubt a stronger economy and more optimism in the market than any of the 20-somethings coming out of business school have ever seen. Not a bad environment in which to cut your teeth. But what can we look forward to in the years ahead?
Rolling Back Regulations Like They’re Going Out of Style
On the deregulation front, the administration is holding up its end of the deal, something everybody in business should be excited about. One of the president’s first moves after taking office was to sign an order requiring that two regulations be eliminated for any one new regulation established.
Because many of these regulatory obstacles are established by executive agencies, there’s no need for Congressional support. As a result, these changes have been coming fast and furious and some 860 onerous rules have been withdrawn as of August 2017.
Even with the precedent in place for a smooth administrative rollback, the actual removal of regulations hasn’t always gone so smoothly. In September, 2017, Reuters reported that five different states sued the administration over stopping enforcement of fuel-economy standards.
It’s important to keep in mind that many of these regulatory rollbacks have been quick reversals of Obama-era policies. Business executives have to keep in mind that the next administration could switch them back again—or go in another direction entirely. And they can do so just as quickly.
Business Executives Are Learning to Expect the Unexpected
For some business schools, things haven’t been as rosy as you might expect based on the way the economy is acting. According to a March 2017 article in the New York Times, 40 percent of colleges saw an instant dip in applications from overseas students, something that immediately caused concern for MBA programs. In addition to losing some of the international prestige that came with being able to court the best candidates worldwide, many U.S. programs also took a financial hit after years of coming to rely on the revenue that came from charging higher fees to foreign students, a tactic that has historically been used to help subsidize costs.
Like almost everyone else, the real lesson for business school graduates in the Trump era is to expect almost anything.
Trump came in with grand ambitions to dramatically revise the tax code and continues to press Congress for action on those ideas. Yet few in Congress or the business community believe there is any real chance those revisions will be enacted. Doubts became particularly acute after seeing all the internal Republican schisms that came to light during the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The president also came in with big plans for rebalancing international trade and held true to his promise to torpedo U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But so far the administration has not made any real moves on existing trade deals like NAFTA that have been in place for years, and it’s unclear whether proposed actions would be positive or negative for business. The effects of withdrawing from the TPP will likely dampen Asian trade relationships, though that isn’t something that is likely to be felt for a number of years when other member states renegotiate their own pacts and are forced to leave America on the sidelines.
The lack of clarity on what the next move might be for major trade deals or uncertainty about how tax code revisions will play out hasn’t been enough to put the brakes on the stock market. So far, the only major companies that have seen share prices hammered have been limited to the unlucky few that found themselves on the wrong end of a presidential tweet.
Executive Action Will Reshape The Business Climate For a Generation
In this new era of the Wild West, young gunslingers need to keep a close eye on the president’s hand whenever it hovers past his holster rather than putting too much stock in his rhetoric alone.
With Congress continuing to be unable to pass major legislative packages and with regulatory changes possibly short-lived, new graduates entering the business world will have to fall back on an old proposition: the economy does not revolve entirely around the political process but instead is driven by larger cyclical factors.
The enduring lesson for biz school grads might be that presidential administrations do not generally override the existing business cycle and that many of the effects they do have on the economy will be felt much later on.
This will certainly be the case with the legacy of judicial appointments from the Trump administration. Although filling these seats may have little impact on the current business climate, they are lifetime appointments and most of the judges are seen as business-friendly.
As questions of commerce come before them in the decades to come, CEOs can expect to see rulings more favorable to business than might have otherwise been the case. This will tend to create a business-positive environment that new MBAs are likely to benefit from for the duration of their career, not just for the duration of a single administration.
The outcome of trade deals negotiated or avoided will also likely have much longer-term effects. The balance of power in trade relationships will rise and fall from the cumulative effects of deals that the United States enters into just as much as those it isn’t party to. Business school graduates today can expect to find themselves navigating the outcomes of these deals for much of their career.
As was seen in the Great Recession, often the chickens of deregulation come home to roost decades after they have been hatched, and sometimes with unexpected consequences. Who could have know that business-friendly legislative actions like the Alternative Mortgage Transactions Parity Act of 1982, the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 would be the harbingers of the housing market collapse of 2007.
We can’t say for certain what the long-term effects of any Trump era regulatory actions will be. All we know for sure is that today’s young crop of business school graduates will be the ones either reeling or profiting from it when it all plays out.