Q & A: DONALD TRUMP
Brash. Ruthless. Supremely confident. Donald Trump pulls no punches and makes no apologies for his business success. Here, the entrepreneurial powerhouse speaks candidly about family, fame, and a Hollywood Establishment that keeps him at arm’s-length.
Interview by Robin Marchbank
Leave it to Donald Trump to benefit from both the sub-prime mortgage mess and the Hollywood writers’ strike. Just as his prime-time show The Apprentice appeared to be on the brink of being “fired” itself, the flow of new, original TV ideas abruptly dried up. So now The Apprentice is back for another season—with its reality TV concept amplified by the addition of minor league celebrities joining in the competition.
And how does a businessman as savvy as “The Donald” react to the plummeting real estate market? He creates yet another multi-million dollar business, this one offering foreclosure seminars at Trump University, which he founded in 2005. In essence, Trump’s instructors teach people how to make a low-ball offer for the home of someone in financial distress and then sell that property at a higher price before any money changes hands. It’s the classic business practice of many successful real estate speculators. The message: You don’t have to own real estate to make money from it; you just have to have legal control of it.
Love him or hate him (and everyone seems to have an opinion), Donald Trump—whose net worth is estimated at $2.9 billion by Forbes magazine—represents something of a bionic version of American entrepreneurship. He is the largest developer in New York, and has financial irons in the fire all over the world. Even his name is a brand, marketing everything from men’s clothing and fragrance to catering, bottled water, ice cream, and board games.
Ever outspoken and opinionated, Donald Trump is a lightning rod for controversy. He hasn’t always lived the life of privilege he currently enjoys, but as we found—he was born to rule the block.
You’ve had amazing success in so many different areas. What’s the best thing you’ve ever done?
I’ve created five beautiful children.
Your two older children are involved with The Apprentice. Considering the problems facing young stars like Britney Spears, are you concerned that showbiz may have a negative impact on them?
My children have shown me that they are willing to work hard to become successful. That’s very important, because when children grow up in wealth, you always have doubts…I don’t know what’s going on with [the Spears] family. They seem to be in a mess. It’s a shame. You always have to blame the parents, at least to a degree.
Tell us a little about your own upbringing, your own family.
“My father was a builder in Brooklyn and Queens, a very smart
businessperson who understood life. He taught me to keep my guard up; the world is a pretty vicious place. My mom was a wonderful woman who was, in many ways, the opposite of my father: very relationship oriented, very warm and open and generous to people. So I got different qualities from both. It was a great combination.
I understand your older brother, Fred, also had quite an influence on you.
Fred had everything. He was a great looking guy, with the best personality. But he had a problem with alcohol and cigarettes—and he knew it. He would always tell me not to drink or smoke, and to this day I’ve never had a drink or a cigarette. I don’t even drink coffee. I just stay away from those things. Fred did me a tremendous favor. It’s one of the greatest favors anyone’s ever done for me.
How far back does your interest in real estate go?
When we were kids, we were building with blocks in our playroom. I didn’t have enough, so I asked my younger brother, Robert, if I could borrow some of his. He said, ‘Okay, but you have to give them back when you’re done.’ I used all my blocks, then all of his blocks. And when I was done, I had a great building, which I then glued together. Robert never did get those blocks back.
So you’ve been a businessman from day one. What do you make of the current real estate market?
These are great times! There are unbelievable opportunities for making money. There are very few buyers and lots of sellers. It’s a great time to be a buyer.
You’re very confident. Do your foreclosure workshops at Trump University guarantee success?
I love teaching people. I love helping people. But I can’t guarantee results. You can never say that. One of the things a person has to have is instinct. There are people who can’t handle the pressure, who don’t have the capacity.
Let’s talk a little about your TV show, The Apprentice. How does working with celebrities compare to working with average Joes?
The casting of this celebrity edition took awhile. Some people just didn’t want to be ‘fired,’ but others absolutely wanted to be on the show. We ended up getting a cast we’re really happy with. I think the celebrity aspect actually makes it better. You’re not building up stars. These people already are stars in their fields, so there’s a following automatically. We’re already looking at doing another season of it.
Which celebrities have most impressed you?
Stephen Baldwin is really going to change his public image on this show. He was steely, steady. I thought he was a flake, and he’s not a flake. And [Lennox] Lewis is a standout. He not only has physical strength, but great mental strength. As for the rest, the level of viciousness, hatred, and competitiveness was unbelievable. They fought hard because they have their images to protect. But when the cameras are on people 24 hours a day, they may start out guarded, uptight, but eventually they forget about the cameras. I can’t believe some of the things that happen. It becomes an accurate reflection on real life. People become unbelievably candid and open.
When Martha Stewart’s version of The Apprentice flopped, a lot of people assumed you were done in television.
That was a total fiasco. It was confusing to people.
How do you think The Apprentice stacks up against other reality-competition shows, like The Amazing Race, which has been the big Emmy winner in recent years?
That show should be called Sominex! For it to get an Emmy over The Apprentice was a total joke—and everyone in Hollywood knew it. But I understand how the system works. I’m not Hollywood Establishment; we’ll never get an Emmy. We deserve it, but we’ll never get it for that reason. I deserve it. I should definitely be entitled to a personal Emmy. I mean, who does what I do on television? Everyone else is just an announcer. I build buildings, yet I’m the star of the show. But that’s okay. I’m Establishment in other ways.