Trek Bicycle president slams Trump on corporate taxes, failed leadership, and 'America First the

Daniel McMahon | Business Insider - The president of North America's largest bicycle manufacturer has slammed President Donald Trump over his corporate-tax reform, failed leadership, and misguided "America First theory."

John Burke, the President of Trek Bicycle Corp.

John Burke, the President of Trek Bicycle Corporation: YouTube/Trek Bicycle

John Burke, the head of Waterloo, Wisconsin-based Trek Bicycle Corp., lambasted Trump during an interview with Business Insider on Thursday, saying he missed a huge opportunity to simplify a complicated tax system and has failed to lead the country.

"We're 100 days in and he finally comes out with a tax plan — and it was 250 words? And there was no bad news," Burke said. "Here's this huge opportunity to simplify everything and to have massive change, and you get 250 words."

While Trump's tax plan contains broad outlines rather than firm legislative text, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said the plan would include "the biggest tax cut" in US history, echoing statements made by Trump.

Trek, a family-owned company, was cofounded by Richard Burke, John's father, in a Waterloo barn in 1976. Today it is a global bike business worth over $1 billion, and it employs 2,000 people worldwide. It makes a variety of bikes, including kids' bikes, mountain bikes, and high-end road bikes. It also owns the Trek-Segafredo team that competes in the Tour de France.

Burke, who says he is neither a Republican nor a Democrat but an independent, is the author of "12 Simple Solutions to Save America," published in 2016, which "challenges Americans to resist the status quo and change what elected officials are unwilling or unable to change."

Trek Bicycle Corp. headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin.

Trek Bicycle Corp. headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Daniel McMahon/Business Insider

"Look, I don't need a tax break — Trek doesn't need a tax break," Burke told Business Insider. "We're going to succeed and fail in the market based on how good our products are and how good our services are. As a member of the community, we have a moral duty to be a good corporate citizen, and one way you're a good corporate citizen is you pay your taxes."

Burke added that, from a competitive standpoint, American corporate taxes should come down — but so should all the deductions. And while he did praise Trump for reducing the number of tax brackets, he criticized him for not getting rid of corporate deductions altogether.

"You have General Electric, a great American company, which made a profit of $12 billion. They filed a 57,000-page tax return and paid zero in taxes.

"So if you want to reduce corporate taxes, that's fine, reduce them," Burke went on, "but Trump wants to reduce them from 35% to 15%, and I think that's too big a decline. But then he doesn't want to get rid of any of the deductions?

"Why do oil companies get deductions and bicycle companies don't? Why do certain industries get deductions and shoemakers don't? The brewer doesn't get a deduction. It doesn't make sense. You're leaving in place this super-complicated tax system.

"So it's treats for everybody. For corporate America, you get a lower rate, and you get to keep your deductions. And for all the individual taxpayers, you get a lower rate.

"We're 19 trillion frickin dollars in debt and everybody got a treat. And I just go, 'You're kidding me.' You call that leadership? I don't."

On misguided 'America First theory'

Burke also criticized Trump on his leadership of the country.

"When you're the president of the United States and you come out with this 'American First' theory, what are you saying to the rest of the world?

"I've been so fortunate here in growing the business. When I started here, we were doing $16 million and now we do over a billion dollars, and I've worked with an incredible team to do that. We took the business from just being in the US to right now — 60% of our business is around the world.

Trek Madone Race Shop Limited Bicycle

A Tour de France-worthy $13,000 Trek Madone Race Shop Limited on display at Trek headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Cycling Weekly recently named it the fastest aero road bike. Daniel McMahon/Business Insider

"And one of the reasons why American is as strong as it is, is there are a lot of great American companies who have access to markets all around the world — General Electric, Coca-Cola, Apple, Trek, Harley-Davidson.

"The whole 'American First' thing ... I just don't find that conducive to America's future or anyone else in the world."

Lack of leadership

"The best definition I ever heard of leadership is, leadership is the ability to make the dream a reality at the grassroots level," Burke added. "But leadership is also, 'Here's the vision, and I'm going to convince people where we need to go.' And what we've come to in American politics is saying, 'Well, I need to get elected, so I'm going to tell all these people whatever they want to hear.'

"You know, if you're the richest person on the playground and you're the biggest person on the playground ... you know, we usually lead like, 'Talk softly and carry a big stick,' and when we're walking around with a blow horn, that's not the way we roll.

"We're a leader in the world, but to maintain that status over the long haul, you actually need a leader who can look at the people and say, 'You know, we've got problems here' — and whether your talking about tax codes, gun control, nuclear proliferation, big issues — 'Here are the problems, and here are the solutions, and this is why we need to do it.'

"And more than just a sound bite, we've got to educate people and say, 'This is why we need to move here.' And I think we lack that right now, and I think we've lacked it for a while."

President Donald Trump