Thomas J Donohue is known for being a powerful, bulldog advocate and lobbyist for US business. Since 1997, he has been president and chief executive of the US Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation, situated just opposite the White House.

The chamber represents the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors and regions. Its international affairs division includes more than 50 regional and policy experts, and 25 country- and region-specific business councils and initiatives. It also works closely with 116 US chambers of commerce abroad.


Mr Donohue’s job is to keep the chamber’s agenda foremost in the minds of Washington, DC’s political movers and shakers, and to bring together corporate executives, leaders and heads of state worldwide to discuss pertinent issues. He is a particularly keen critic of the US president and Congress. In fact, the chamber’s call for jobs for veterans is so strong that a huge banner proclaiming such hangs from its headquarters, in full view of Barack Obama.

Promoting free trade

Mr Donohue is a big advocate of trade promotion and free-trade agreements. He recently praised the introduction of the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act, which will renew the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). He says: “TPA is a vital tool to help Americans sell their goods and services to 95% of the world’s customers living outside our borders.”

In his typically pointed style, Mr Donohue is critical of the direction Washington is taking. He acknowledges that the Great Recession “officially” ended in July 2009, but remarks: “We are not out of the woods. It’s been the slowest and weakest [recovery] since World War Two.” Alongside the positive signs, he says he sees “some pretty big question marks”.

Consequently, Mr Donohue is focusing the chamber’s 2014 agenda on expanding trade, producing more domestic energy and improving infrastructure. “Together, these would create millions of good-paying jobs,” he says. He will also push for government reform to modernise a regulatory process that he says has not been updated since Harry Truman was president between 1945 and 1953.

A need for change

Mr Donohue stresses the need to make thoughtful changes in entitlements, fix flaws in Obamacare (the US Affordable Care Act), curb lawsuit abuse, protect intellectual property and revitalise US capital markets. “The big smelly elephant in the room remains America’s entitlement programme,” he says.

When asked what kind of appetite US businesses have for FDI, Mr Donohue emphasises that 95% of US companies of all sizes have an appetite to sell abroad. “This behoves them to make investments,” he says. “But companies are getting much more selective. They have just so many dollars to invest and are concerned about intellectual property and currency protection. Just open the paper any day and you’ll see there are many problems around the world. Companies want to invest where it is safe and where they can be profitable and protected.”

As for inward investment, Mr Donohue outlines the reasons why the US remains a safe investment, despite its economic circumstances. “We have strong growth, a strong currency, good infrastructure – including a seaport structure, intellectual property rights and the right to earn a legitimate profit,” he says.