There are some big names on the government’s National COVID-19 Co-ordination Commission but perhaps the biggest isn’t even technically a commissioner.
Andrew Liveris has been given the title “special adviser” and it’s not entirely clear who appointed him. But the business oligarch-turned-Trump cheerleader could very well turn out to be the most influential. Here’s why.
Liveris is globally recognised for his role as the former chair and chief executive of Dow Chemicals, where he spent 40 years turning the Michigan-based company into one of the world’s largest corporations. The Darwin-born business leader also sits on the boards of Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco) and oil and gas consultancy Worley.
Liveris, a dual US-Australian citizen, has long sought power and influence in Washington. He’s enjoyed a long friendship with former president Bill Clinton, who he apparently met at a game of golf and is listed as an “honorary chairman” of Clinton’s charity The Hellenic Initiative.
Under former president Barack Obama he served as co-chairman of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership and attended the White House regularly. According to The New York Times, many of his visits were facilitated by lobby group Teneo, which has close ties to the Clintons and received millions in fees from Dow over several years.
Liveris is not afraid to work both sides of the political fence.
In December 2016, he was appointed to Trump’s now-disbanded American Manufacturing Council, just one month after Trump was elected and before he was officially sworn into office. He was one of the architects of Trump’s America first policy, which was designed to keep manufacturing in America but has broadened to become a sweeping agenda involving deregulation and tax cuts.
Liveris and Trump seem to share a special bond. When Trump announced Liveris’ appointment to the manufacturing council at a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he introduced Liveris as “one of the foremost leaders in the world of business”.
Liveris responded by telling Trump: “I tingle with pride listening to you,” and told the crowd that despite his Aussie accent, “I bleed America and I bleed Michigan”.
Liveris also has strong connections in Saudi Arabia, where he sits on the board of Saudi Aramco. According to The New York Times, he offered to introduce Jared Kushner to the Saudi energy minister ahead of a visit by Kushner and Trump in May 2017.
Dow and Dupont
Like Trump, Liveris is a deal maker. Liveris made one of the biggest in corporate history with the US$130 billion merging of Dow with 200-year-old DuPont, which began in 2015.
After the merger Liveris proclaimed there had been “no corporate restructuring of this type, of this value creation, in any sector, let alone the chemicals sector”.
But Liveris’ time at Dow, which ended with his retirement in 2018, was not without controversy. According to a 2015 Reuters investigation, company auditors alleged Liveris used his position to “finance his lifestyle, favour his family or boost a charity that burnished his fame in Greece”.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission later fined Dow US$1.75 million for failing to ensure that approximately US$3 million in perks provided to Liveris were “adequately identified and disclosed”. The perks included personal use of Dow private jets and “other expenses”.
So what does Liveris hope to achieve on the COVID-19 commission? He told the The Australian Financial Review he sees an opportunity to tackle Australia’s dependence on global supply chains. “Australia drank the free-trade juice and decided that off-shoring was OK. Well, that era is gone,” he said.
“If I can achieve anything like what we achieved in nine months with Trump, I’d call it a massive success.”
As for any possible conflicts of interest, we won’t know: a Senate committee found that because he’s technically not on the commission, he’s not required to disclose them.