Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz may have spoken for many corporate CEOs when he said in a memo to employees that he was “stunned” about the election outcome last week.

But a week later, as the news of Trump’s win gave way to planning for his transition, the reality appears to be taking hold, and corporations are navigating how to respond in the aftermath of a historic election that proved explosively divisive. On the campaign trail, Trump bashed several U.S. companies. Rhetoric about women and minorities from Trump’s campaign, his supporters or his past create a minefield for corporations that tout their diversity and inclusion policies. Some CEOs or corporate officials who have spoken out have seen calls for boycotts of their brands on social media.

“They’re clearly not as vocal, and in many cases are laying low and waiting to see what really is generated through the Republican-controlled Congress,” says Thomas Cooke, a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.


Yet that Republican-controlled Congress is also expected to usher in pro-business changes such as tax reform, infrastructure plans and regulatory changes that have some in the business community excited, said John Engler, a former governor of Michigan and the president of the Business Roundtable, which represents CEOs of the largest public corporations.

“The reaction from the election has simply been ‘let’s get ready to take advantage of this opportunity that’s presented itself,'” he said in an interview. CEOs, he says, “are interested in growth. They awakened a week ago and said ‘wow, what was not possible is possible.’ ”

In its aftermath, the chief response from CEOs speaking out about the election included congratulations, calls for unity and commitments to diversity. J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon wrote to his employees “we have just been through one of the most contentious elections in memory, which can make it even harder to put our differences aside.” Apple’s Tim Cook quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and reminded employees that “our company is open to all … regardless of what they look like, where they come from, how they worship or who they love.”


Some CEOs are starting to publicly offer more policy-oriented remarks or advice for Trump as the focus shifts from the results of the campaign to how he will govern. On Tuesday, General Electric’s Jeff Immelt, who had written an initial blog post to employees last week, suggested in a CNBC interview that Trump might actually find himself benefiting from trade deals. “I think what the president will learn,” the GE CEO said, “is that as he travels the world, trade deals give him power. … If the president of the United States travels around the world and has nothing to offer from a standpoint of economic connection, you lose half of your negotiating power. This guy is a negotiator, he’s a dealmaker. So I think let’s just wait and see what he does.”

In a letter to Trump released Tuesday, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty had a few proposals of her own. “I am writing to offer ideas that I believe will help achieve the aspiration you articulated and that can advance a national agenda in a time of profound change,” Rometty wrote. She suggested working together to scale up vocational “new collar” IT jobs, voiced support for a more competitive tax system, and recommended infrastructure projects incorporating technology and artificial intelligence.