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Trump travel ban dominates meeting of Boston CEOs

Some Wall Street  investors are nervous about the Trump administration’s stand on immigration.
Some Wall Street investors are nervous about the Trump administration’s stand on immigration. (AFP/Getty Images)

A wave of concern gripped top executives of many large American companies Monday, as they reflected on the abrupt nature of the Trump administration's immigration ban and whether it was a harbinger of more chaotic times ahead that could affect their businesses.

A previously planned meeting of about a dozen chief executives hosted at State Street Corp.’s Boston headquarters Monday morning with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was dominated by discussion of Trump’s executive order announced Friday, which prompted protests over the weekend.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped as much as 180 points before closing down nearly 123, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index had its worst day since the election. One of Wall Street’s most powerful voices, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. chief executive Llloyd Blankfein, told employees in a voicemail message Sunday night that the company did not support the new policy, which bars people from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States for 90 days. They include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Industry leaders’ worries went beyond immediate efforts to explain the immigration situation to employees and customers, to questions about the future of the country as a magnet for investment and innovation.

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“People are starting to wonder,’’ said Brian Conway, chairman and managing partner at TA Associates, a $14.5 billion global private equity firm based in Boston. “Is the country that was the most predictable on earth becoming unpredictable?”

TA has managed money for many years for Middle East clients, though not for any in the seven affected countries. Still, investors in neighboring nations are now worried about their ability to travel to the United States, Conway said, as are Muslims working at various companies in which TA invests.

“It was the process, and the way the decision was made — emotionally, quickly, impetuously, not particularly well vetted — that’s got people nervous,’’ he said.

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The chief executives at the roundtable meeting included Niraj Shah, the chief of online retailer Wayfair Inc., Putnam Investments leader Robert Reynolds, and Dr. David Torchiana, chief of the Boston hospital owner Partners HealthCare, among others.

State Street said it was monitoring the situation closely. The financial giant, with about 32,000 employees, provides custody banking services and manages billions of dollars for pensions and other large investors around the world. It has an office in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, a country not included in the ban.

State Street spokeswoman Anne McNally said it didn’t appear that any of the company’s employees or families had been directly affected.

Even so, she said in a statement, “While we appreciate the need for US border security and vigilance, we believe the order as currently stated can have serious negative consequences.”

The consequences range from cutting off talent entering the country to shaking the confidence of clients and potential investors who have long considered the United States a safe haven. Indeed, executives interviewed Monday seemed to be holding out hope that the popular backlash to the immigration ban, along with the checks and balances of Congress and the courts, would steer the Trump administration to a different course.

Bain & Co., a Boston-based consulting firm with 7,000 employees globally, had about 100 people enrolled in a training session in Dubai over the weekend. Only a “handful” were at risk of being affected by the travel ban, said Russ Hagey, a partner and worldwide chief talent officer for the company. But news of the order “did certainly stir concerns among some of our staff,” he said.

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Hagey said the overall economic outlook remains positive, citing “rising consumer demand.’’ But, he added, “Uncertainty here is a risk to growth investment.”


Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.