Mr. Bilden, who ran a private equity firm in Hong Kong until retiring three years ago, has expertise in both maritime affairs and Asia — two areas that are of central importance to the Navy. He was picked over an early Trump campaign backer, former Rep. J. Randy Forbes of Virginia.
Mr. Bilden received a Masters of Business Administration from Harvard in 1991.
Bilden has spent most of his career as a Hong Kong-based venture capitalist with HarbourVest Partners, a global private-equity investment firm.
For months, Washington insiders had expected former Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes, a Trump supporter, to be selected for the post. But Bilden’s name emerged in recent weeks as the front-runner to replace departed Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and Trump made it official on Wednesday.
“As Secretary of the Navy, Philip Bilden will apply his terrific judgement and top-notch management skills to the task of rebuilding our unparalleled Navy,” Trump said in a statement. “Our number of ships is at the lowest point that it has been in decades. Philip Bilden is the right choice to help us expand and modernize our fleet, including surface ships, submarines and aircraft, and ensure America’s naval supremacy for decades to come.”
In a statement released by the White House, Bilden said he was humbled by the nomination.
“Maintaining the strength, readiness, and capabilities of our maritime force is critical to our national security,” he said. “If confirmed, I will ensure that our Sailors and Marines have the resources they need to defend our interests around the globe and support our allies with commitment and capability.”
Bilden served from 1986 to 1996 in the Army Reserve as a military intelligence officer, including a stint at the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Following that, he spent three decades in international investment firms, and was a founding member of the global private equity investment management firm Harbour Vest Partners. He is a graduate of both Georgetown University and Harvard Business School.
Bilden is the last of the three service secretaries to be nominated by Trump. On Monday, he nominated Heather Wilson to take over as Air Force Secretary. In December, he announced Vincent Viola would be his pick for Army Secretary.
No confirmation hearing date has been set for any of the three. Trump’s pick for Defense Secretary, former Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, was confirmed by the Senate just hours after Trump’s inauguration.
In a statement Wednesday evening, Mattis applauded the nominations of Bilden, Wilson and Viola, calling all three "proven leaders."
"All three of these nominees have my utmost confidence," he said. "They will provide strong civilian leadership to strengthen military readiness, gain full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense, and support our service members, civilians and their families. I appreciate the willingness of these three proven leaders to serve our country. They had my full support during the selection process, and they will have my full support during the Senate confirmation process."