Donald Trump: Trump This! (08/23/04)
By Reed Bunzel, Editor-in-Chief
Donald Trump is one of those rare individuals who require no introduction. The billionaire real estate developer and host of last season’s top-rated television show is the ultimate icon of fame and fortune, widely regarded as the definition of an American success story. As the largest developer in Manhattan, Trump is associated with magnificence, extravagance and opulence — and is considered in most business circles as “the master of the deal.” No, “The Donald” needs no introduction — but he’s getting one anyway.
Born on June 14, 1946, Trump says he became aware of the infinite possibilities of real estate at an early age. His father, Fred Trump, was a successful builder in Brooklyn and Queens, and Trump spent many hours as a youngster watching him put deals together. “I learned a lot sitting at his knee and even as a little kid playing with blocks while he was making telephone calls,” Trump tells Radio Ink. “Eventually it becomes learning through osmosis.
“My father was a wonderful guy,” Trump continues. “He was highly competitive, and I really learned a lot from him. He was a very good builder; he knew construction better than anybody. And there was always that little competitive urge on my part to try to do something to top him. I was very lucky in the sense that my father was very proud of what I did.”
After graduating from the Wharton School of Business, Trump entered the real estate business with the elder Trump, sharing an office with him in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn. They worked together for five years, but eventually Donald decided to move across the East River and tackle Manhattan. It didn’t take long for Trump to make his own mark in the world of real estate, and throughout the 1970s, he worked some of the biggest development deals in the city. In 1982, when he built the grandiose Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, the Trump name became synonymous with elegance, style and prestige.
Trump’s signature holdings include the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, Trump Parc, Trump Palace (the tallest building on the East Side of Manhattan), Trump Plaza, 610 Park Avenue, The Trump World Tower and Trump Park Avenue. He also was responsible for the construction of the Jacob Javits Convention Center, which sits on land known as the West 34th Street Railroad Yards — which, of course, he controls. Five years ago, he completed the Trump International Hotel and Tower, a 52-story “super luxury hotel” and residential building located on Central Park West at Columbus Circle.
Trump also owns the largest parcel of land in New York City, the 100-acre West Side Railroad Yards, upon which he is building a $5-billion project known as Trump Place. This development eventually will include 5,700 residential units and more than 5 million square feet of commercial space spread through 18 buildings. On a less grandiose scale, Trump rebuilt and manages the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park, which curiously led to his association with Mark Burnett and The Apprentice on television (more about that later).
What worked in Manhattan also worked in Atlantic City, where the Trump name is displayed prominently on three world-class casino hotels: The Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino on the Boardwalk, the Trump Marina Casino Resort in the Marina District, and The Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort. Further to the west, the city of Gary, Indiana, is home to The Trump Casino, while just outside the city of Chicago is a casino riverboat that bears his name. But wait, there’s more: Trump recently entered into an agreement with the Twentynine Palms Band of Luiseno Mission Indians to manage the Trump 29 Casino in Palm Springs, and there are reports that he’s also working on plans to develop a casino in Harmony Cove, Jamaica.
Of course, not all has been rosy for Trump and his business dealings. After amassing a multibillion-dollar fortune during the 1980s, in the early 1990s he found himself facing massive loan payments that neither he nor his company could make. At his worst, Trump reportedly was carrying losses that some sources report were close to $9 billion, and he found himself $900 million in debt — maybe more. Still, while many analysts were quick to declare Donald Trump over and done with, Trump had other ideas. Just as he had used his intuition, business acumen, and razor-sharp negotiating skills to build his first fortune, he set about rebuilding and strengthening his company. By the end of the ’90s, Trump had completed one of the most dramatic turnarounds in business history. Today, with a net worth of $2.5 billion, Trump ranks 56 on Forbes’ 2004 list of the World’s Richest People. Yet earlier this month, indicating just how tenuous life at the top can be, Trump was forced to relinquish control of his casino enterprise, although he did retain his chairmanship of the enterprise.
An avid golfer (reportedly with a 4 handicap), Trump also owns Trump National Golf Club in Westchester, NY; the Trump International Golf Club in Palm Beach, FL (not far from his ultra-luxurious Mar-a-Lago Club); and Trump National Golf Club, a new Pete Dye championship course he’s developing in California. In a departure from his real estate acquisitions, Trump also owns the Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA pageants.
Not one to shy from the limelight, Trump has chronicled his successes in a series of books. His first autobiography, The Art of the Deal, has sold more than three million copies, making it one of the most successful business bestsellers of all time. Its sequel, Surviving At The Top, was Number One on The New York Times bestseller list, as was his third book, The Art of the Comeback. His fourth book, The America We Deserve, takes a look at the most pressing political, economic, and social issues facing the U.S. today. His fifth book, How To Get Rich: Big Deals from the Star of The Apprentice, became an immediate bestseller on all lists.
Which, of course, brings us to The Apprentice. Tapping into America’s growing appetite for televised voyeurism known as the “reality show,” Mark Burnett — the king of the format — approached Trump while negotiating for use of the Wollman Rink for a season finale of Survivor. “He came to me and suggested this idea, but he said he would do it only if I did it,” Trump recalls. “Mark is a great guy and a real visionary, and I said, ‘Let’s think about it.’ Before that, every network had wanted me to do a reality show, and I turned them all down. But this one seemed different, and it’s been wild.”
“Wild” might well be an understatement. During its three-month run last spring, The Apprentice became the Number One new program on television among total viewers and among adults 18-49. According to NBC, which airs the show, an average of 20.7 million people watched The Apprentice each week, and 40.1 million watched all or some of the finale, making it the network’s top series of the season. Trump has signed to continue in this role for the upcoming television season.
What could Donald Trump possibly do to follow that success on television? Turn to radio, of course. That was the thinking of Clear Channel and Premiere Radio when the company signed him to host a daily short-form program entitled — naturally — Trumped! The show debuted June 14 with more than 300 affiliates in one of the biggest radio show launches in history.
“They’ve set up some incredible radio equipment right in my office, so I can literally do the show from my desk,” Trump says. “It’s a one-minute to three-minute segment each time, so when I have thoughts, I just say them. So far, people have really liked it. I’m very happy I went with Clear Channel. They’ve been fantastic, they’ve been totally professional, and the show is a big success.”
When not dealing with his fame and fortune, Trump works with numerous civic and charitable organizations. He is a member of the boards of directors for the Police Athletic League and United Cerebral Palsy, and he is chairman of the Donald J. Trump Foundation as well as co-chairman and builder of the New York Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Fund. He is a founding member of both the Committee to Complete Construction of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and The Wharton School Real Estate Center. Trump also was a committee member of the Celebration of Nations commemorating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations and UNICEF.
Radio Ink recently had an opportunity to sit down with “The Donald” and discuss his many passions: real estate, New York City, show biz, and the ups and downs of fame and fortune.
INK: You’ve earned a reputation for “thinking big.” At what point in your life did you start “thinking big,” and what did “big” mean to you at that time?
DT: I never thought it would happen to the extent that it has, either in real estate or any other business. Look: I’m the largest developer in New York by far, and then on top of that I do this television show that turns out to be the Number One show on TV. On top of that, I’m told our radio show had the largest launch of any program in the history of syndicated radio. I don’t know what it means exactly, but people who are professionals in the radio business say they can hardly believe it. The show is doing tremendously well, so I’m very happy about that.
When you were in your own “apprentice” stage, what was your motivation to succeed? Were you driven by making money and amassing the most toys, or was it the thrill of the hunt?
It would be all those things. My father was a wonderful guy. He was a builder in Brooklyn and Queens, and there was always that little competitive urge on my part to try to do something to top him. I was very lucky in the sense that my father was very proud of what I did. I know a lot of fathers who aren’t proud when their son does something. Now, when you say the thrill of the hunt: believe it, that’s also there. There’s no question about it: The never-ending hunt — it’s fun.
How much of the person you are comes from working with your father at an early age?
My father was highly competitive, and I really learned a lot from him. He was a very good builder; he knew construction better than anybody. He built in Queens and Brooklyn, and I’m sort of happy about the fact that he didn’t come into Manhattan, because otherwise it would not have been quite the same story. I learned a lot sitting at his knee and even as a little kid playing with blocks while he was making telephone calls. Eventually it becomes learning through osmosis.
Why did you choose real estate to form your business empire? Could you have achieved the same business success in another sector, such as finance or industrials or energy?
I was planning to go to the University of Southern California School of Cinema, as I always liked the idea of making movies. I was helping somebody in show business get an apartment, and that person said to me, “I can’t believe you’re not going to stay in real estate — you’re so good at this.” I started thinking: “You know, real estate is a better business — but maybe we’ll put show business into the real estate business.” To a certain extent, that’s what I’ve done. I stayed in real estate and never went to USC. Instead, I went to the Wharton School of Finance.
You must have no regrets about that decision.
It was a great decision. The movie business is very hit-and-miss. Hey, look — so is the television business. You never know, Hollywood may have been great — but it couldn’t have been better than what I’ve done.
In the past, you encountered some critical financial problems as you were amassing your real estate holdings. How do you view failure? Is it important to fail at some point in order to gain a fuller understanding of success?
Failing is okay, but you don’t want to fail too badly. I have some friends who went bankrupt, and you’ll never hear from them again. I was certainly very thin. I worked very hard and I had great relationships with the banks. Unlike a lot of other people, I never went bankrupt. The early 1990s was a bad time for the real estate world, but since then, my company has grown much bigger, much stronger than it ever was in the ’80s. On top of that, I have the Number One show on television, so it’s been an amazing period.
Using 20/20 hindsight, what would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?
There are always things you would have done differently, I guess, but to be honest, I think any mistake I’ve made taught me more than it cost me. Of course, there are always missed opportunities. There have been a couple of deals that would have been terrible deals, and I didn’t make them for no reason of my own. Some of the best deals I’ve ever made were deals I didn’t make. You just never really know.
You’re known not only for amassing real estate in critical mass, but also for developing projects into world-class properties. To what degree is it important to be not only the biggest, but also the best?
To me, it’s very important. I am the largest developer in New York, as you know, but I also have the best properties — and I build the best buildings. I built Trump World Tower opposite the United Nations, which has been a great success; and the West Side Yards, called Trump Place, which is doing amazingly well. Then there’s Trump Park Avenue at the site of the old Delmonico Hotel on 59th and Park, and so many other buildings in New York, including 40 Wall Street, opposite the New York Stock Exchange.
Now I’m doing a big building in Chicago, a 2.6-million-square-foot building — bigger than the Time Warner Building in New York. It’ll be a spectacular building. We’re up to $500 million in sales already, so that’s been a big success. I’m doing a big job right on the Pacific Ocean out in California. We’re building a golf course that will more than rival Pebble Beach. We just keep chugging and doing it.
What qualities are necessary to be a leader in business today? Are they inherent in the person, or are they learned along the way?
They predominantly come from inside, but I also think you can learn and you can pick things up. If you don’t have it, you’re really not going to get it. If you’re not born to be a good golfer, you’re never going to be great golfer. If you’re not born to be a good radio personality, or whatever it is you’re doing, you won’t be very good at it. I believe you must have the ability. Part of it, also, is that you can never give up. You have to do something you like, and then you can never, ever give up.
The most successful individuals seem to be those who are perpetually in motion. Is it impossible for a man like Donald Trump to slow down or take time off?
I’m not sure that it’s something I want to do. I really don’t like taking vacations. I get very bored very quickly, and I really like what I do in terms of business and all, but I don’t like the vacation thing. If you like what you do, it’s not work — and that’s very important.
If you had to choose one, would you pick fame or fortune? Can a person have one without the other in today’s ubiquitous media coverage?
That’s an interesting question. I was discussing something like this with someone from The New York Times; he was saying that a lot of wealthy people don’t want fame, and I told him he was wrong. The truth is, all wealthy people want fame, but they can’t have it. They don’t have the ability to become famous, so they’ll go around saying they don’t want it. While I think it’s really cool to be famous, it’s still better to be wealthy.
America loved the first season of The Apprentice. Why do you think this is, and why do you think reality shows have become so popular in America right now?
We hit a chord. I don’t know whether it was the business thing or the New York City thing — maybe it was me — but if you add it all up, we just hit a chord, and the show became a monumental hit. We had 41.5 million people watching the final episode; only the Super Bowl exceeded that number this year.
How did the show come about? Did Mark Burnett come to you, or did you approach him?
Mark came to me when I leased him the Wollman Rink for an episode of Survivor. He suggested the idea, but he said he would do it only if I did it. Mark is a great guy and a real visionary, but I said, “Let’s think about it.” Every network had wanted me to do a reality show, and I had turned them all down. But this one seemed different, and it’s been wild. Who would have thought this?
If you were an unknown contestant on The Apprentice, how would you present yourself so Donald Trump would keep you around to the end?
I’m not sure I would have had the patience to go through what I put these people through. They go through six weeks of absolute hell. I just don’t think I’d have the patience to do it.
After all you’ve done, you now have your own radio show. Those of us in the radio business would like to think this is the pinnacle of your success — but the real questions are: Why radio, and why now?
I’m a big fan of Sean Compton [VP/Programming for Clear Channel and Premiere Radio Networks]. He’s the one who got me. I was actually doing telephone interviews for The Apprentice, and Sean was leading the interviews through his radio stations. I did 38 stations in a few hours in one day, and he knew every single person. I was very impressed with him, and I said, “You know, you’re not an operator — what the hell is going on?” I had no idea who he was.
I understand that Clear Channel was not the only company that approached you for a radio show.
No. Infinity also made a proposal — a very strong proposal — and by circumstance they came to me before Sean’s actual proposal arrived. Still, Sean’s idea was original, and the reason I did this show is that I love the format. It’s something I have time to do. They’ve set up some incredible radio equipment right in my office so I can literally do the show from my desk. It’s a one-minute to three-minute segment each time, so when I have thoughts, I just say them. So far, people have really liked it. I’m very happy I went with Clear Channel. They’ve been fantastic, they’ve been totally professional, and the show is a big success.
The show debuted on more than 300 radio stations. What makes it so fascinating — you or what you talk about?
The radio thing is interesting because, over the years, I have listened to and liked Paul Harvey’s commentary — not necessarily what he says, but I’ve liked the concept of the Paul Harvey commentary. And when Sean suggested some kind of show, I said, “Look, I’m building nine buildings right now — I can’t do a three-hour show.” As much as Sean might even like that (I bet we’d get great ratings), I told him I would like to do a Paul Harvey-type commentary — something that would go for anywhere from 60 seconds to three minutes. They thought it was a good idea, and that’s what’s become so successful.
What topics do you cover?
I’m focusing on everything. I’ve talked about subjects from Martha Stewart and how she should have testified at her trial, to a commentary on the word “Jag-u-ar” in the most horrible commercial on the air. You have to agree that it’s pretentious, and whoever is in charge of their commercials is a moron. This horrible snob talks about a “Jag-u-ar,” and every time I hear it, I have to turn off the radio. So anyway, I talk about many things: Iraq and Saddam Hussein and President Bush. I’m very disappointed with how this country is inexplicably woven into Iraq. If you’re building a building now, if you want concrete or if you want steel, you can’t get it because it’s all going to China and to Iraq. There’s something a little wrong with that. Jobs are going there; a lot of things are going there. It’s ridiculous.
How important is it to have fun at what you’re doing? Do you think other entrepreneurial billionaires have fun at what they’re doing?
I think most people who are successful have fun at what they’re doing. If you don’t have fun, if you don’t enjoy it, if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re not going to be very successful at it.
What else have you yet to accomplish?
Look: I’m the number-one person on television, and I hope maybe some day to be the number-one person on radio — that would be a nice combination — and I’m the biggest builder in New York. Other than that, I don’t know what to say. I just have a lot of fun with it.
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