The Trump

No one has ever accused Donald Trump of being modest. He puts his name on high-end residential towers, luxury hotels, glitzy casinos and deluxe golf courses around the world. He’s unafraid to say “You’re fired” on his Apprentice TV shows not just to ordinary job aspirants but to celebrities as well. (Okay, maybe some of them are D-list, but still.) He’s written or co-authored more than a dozen books of business advice, even though he’s weathered some of the worst financial troubles in modern history. Turning his billions in early 1990’s debt into a gold-lined cloud, he produced, in 1997, The Art of the Comeback. And, thanks to what he called in his book “bargaining with the banks” (others called it a bail-out), he really did come back.

Give The Donald—as the first of his three wives dubbed him—a plot of land on Jones Beach to develop a nice restaurant and catering facility, and he responds with a plan to make it so big and deep (with an added basement kitchen) that New York State, which in 2006 gave him a nice deal on a 40-year lease, is now at odds with him about the facility. Renderings of the proposed oceanfront building show the word “Trump” in letters large enough to be seen from miles away at sea.

And now he’s thinking of running for president. Of the United States. Should we prepare for the Trump logo on the facade of the White House?

No doubt about it, the man has an ego. On the other hand, it would be hard to fault the 64-year-old chairman and CEO of the Trump Organization in the parenting arena, at least from outward appearances. He has his three oldest children—Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric—working with him. By all accounts, they really work hard and they really like doing it. They are the children of Ivana Trump, a former Olympic skier and fashion model, whom he married in 1977 and from whom he divorced amid scandal—his affair with another woman—in 1992. It’s too early to tell whether Donald Trump’s two younger children—Tiffany, daughter of second wife Marla Maples, and Barron, son of present wife Melania—will join the family business. Interestingly, Ivana, Ivanka and Melania each sell their own lines of jewelry.

For a guy who is so identified with the Manhattan skyline, it may be a surprise to some people to learn that Donald J. Trump grew up in Queens. His father, Fred C. Trump, was a self-made millionaire who built middle-class housing throughout Brooklyn and Queens and lived comfortably but frugally in Jamaica Estates. He wasn’t the kind of guy who played catch with his son; rather, he took him along to construction sites. Young Donald was an assertive kid, the older Donald has written, and something of a troublemaker. To help instill discipline, his father sent him to the upstate New York Military Academy when he was 13. After graduating, he attended Fordham University in the Bronx before transferring to the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater. Though he joined his father’s business initially, he didn’t want to continue building affordable housing in the boroughs, he wrote in his first and probably best-known book, The Art of the Deal. So he struck out on his own into more upscale Manhattan.

Besides his many real estate developments, Trump owns, partly owns or has licensed his name to a huge variety of enterprises: The Miss Universe Organization (an aspect of which led to a nasty feud with Rosie O’Donnell late in 2006), a vitamin company, a mortgage firm and a modeling agency. He also peddles lines of tea, vodka and chocolate, all named Trump. Not bad for a kid from Queens.

In his interview with Long Island Pulse, Trump reveals that real estate is still his primary game, that family is important to him, that he’s optimistic about his Jones Beach establishment and that his run for president is actively on his mind. And, oh yes, he does think highly of his intelligence, looks and charm.

Could you talk about growing up in Queens? What was life like with your parents and four siblings? We were a close family and our parents were traditional. My father worked and my mother stayed at home, although she was very busy with charity work. I have wonderful memories of my childhood and my parents were great examples. I knew I wanted to build skyscrapers from an early age—once I borrowed some of my younger brother’s building blocks and glued them together to make my building higher.

What about that life led to your drive to succeed? Did military school help? My father was a very hard worker, and he loved what he did. That was part of my drive to succeed. I could see he was happy and he was passionate about his work and had a great work ethic. Military school was good for the discipline and I ended up liking it, and excelling in both sports and academics.

I interviewed your daughter Ivanka and she spoke favorably of having a work ethic instilled early in life. How did you do it? Will you do the same with your younger children or are there things you do differently as a parent now? Children learn by example. I work hard and the children noticed it. I will remain the same because it’s effective and it’s also how I operate. I’m a hard worker and I enjoy it.

So many parent-child business partnerships don’t work out, but yours have, as the son and as the father. What’s the secret? I think it’s because the choice was theirs. I wanted to make sure my children wanted to go into this business, because I’m a firm believer that if you don’t love what you’re doing, you won’t succeed at it. Nor will you be happy. That’s a big part of the success issue. I worked well with my father because not only was he a great mentor but we both loved the business.

You were building your Trump brand long before “brand” became a popular catchword. How did you come to the idea, and why is it important? I was aware of brand names. Hilton was big when I was growing up, for example, and even coffees and teas were always advertising their brand on television. Big fashion names like Chanel and Dior were already established. So it wasn’t so much an idea but a plan. A brand had to be solid to survive, and my father had already established his name, built on quality and integrity. A brand also saves people time. The research is done for them. Certain brands are just top of the line and will remain there if taken care of properly.

You wrote in The Art of the Deal that you briefly considered a career in film. Any regrets? Do your appearances in movies and on TV, especially on The Apprentice, fulfill any latent film-school aspirations? No, no regrets. But the entertainment industry always interested me, so I paid attention to it, which paid off later in life when I became more involved in it. I knew a bit about how it worked.


What do you consider your greatest business achievement or achievements? Building Trump Tower in 1983 and having it become a landmark building with millions of visitors each year is something I’m still proud of. It was my first skyscraper with my name on it and it’s still very beautiful and contemporary. I’m also proud of the Trump Organization, which has been going strong for thirty years and has expanded in the best ways possible, with my three eldest children being on board and doing wonderfully well. The Apprentice is going into its eleventh season—not only was the original success in 2004 as the hit show of the season a surprise, but a show lasting this long has been remarkable. It had been said that it would be “a one season wonder”—if it lasted one season—so that’s an achievement. Ninety five percent of all new shows fail immediately.

If you could choose only one or maybe two of your various careers—real estate developer, hotelier, golf club proprietor, casino big-wig, TV star, best-selling author, beauty pageant impresario—which would it be? Which gives you the greatest satisfaction and why? That’s tough because I’ve enjoyed all of them. But I would choose real estate developer (which can also include hotelier and golf club developer) and producer/star of The Apprentice. The diversity has been wonderful.

Like everyone else, only more publicly, you’ve made some mistakes and had some financial failures. What is your attitude toward failure and what have you learned from some of them? I learned that things can be “blips” or “catastrophes” depending on your take on them. I got through my financial troubles by focusing on the solution, not the problem. Focus is important and that’s a big lesson I learned: I had lost my focus and then ran into a lot of problems. Not all of them were my fault, but many were. Also, failure is when you don’t get up again after you’ve fallen. You’ve got to have the never-give-up attitude. Realizing that not everything is a tsunami, a war or an earthquake keeps things in perspective.

Are you and Rosie O’Donnell still at odds? Where do you see that heading? Rosie is not worth discussing.

I want to ask you about your Jones Beach plans in particular. So far you’ve been denied a variance to build a basement in a flood zone, and you’re suing the state for $500 million in damages for delaying your project. What do you think will be the outcome? Do you still want to build Trump on the Ocean? Will it get better or worse with Cuomo as governor? Now that we have a new administration, we’re hopeful that things will get back on track. We’re hopeful we can move forward and build this fabulous facility. A lot of the opposition has resulted from misinformation, when in fact Trump on the Ocean will be a great addition to Jones Beach.

You’re considering running for president in 2012. What’s your platform? How do you think Obama has been doing, and do you have any advice for him? I’m giving it serious consideration and will decide by June. Obama walked into a mess but he hasn’t handled things strongly enough. OPEC is wreaking havoc and is allowed to regulate oil prices, which has a huge impact on our economy, for example. As a businessman, I would focus on the financial situation and foreign trade. China is taking advantage of us in a big time way.

Any advice for the rest of us, in terms of buying or selling real estate, making investments or launching new businesses? Where do you see the economy going? It’s a good time to buy real estate if you have cash. I’ve bought several great golf courses and clubs, a lot of acreage, for very good prices. There are always opportunities, but of course you need to be careful with any investment or in launching a new business. This is a time to think creatively—difficult times can give you an edge. I think the economy is slowly repairing itself, provided OPEC doesn’t get out of hand again.

What are you up to these days? Anything else in your future? The Trump International Golf Links Scotland is underway and progressing wonderfully. It’s a beautiful site and will be spectacular. Celebrity Apprentice will be the best season yet. We’ve got a terrific roster of celebrities. We have hotels opening this year in Panama City, Panama and Toronto, Canada. So all in all it looks like a busy time for us.

Can you describe a typical workday if you’re in Manhattan, including time with your family? I get up around 5:30am, watch and read the news and am in my office by 8:30. Unless I have off-site meetings or television shows to do, I stay there until around 7pm and have lunch at my desk. Then I go home and have dinner with Melania and Barron. Sometimes I have evening events so I’ll go to those.

What are three words that best describe you? Very smart. Very handsome. Very charming.

aileen jacobson

Aileen Jacobson writes about the arts for the New York Times and other publications. A former arts and media writer for Newsday, she is also the author of two books.