Donald Trump talks about his life and business philosophy in this no frills interview.
Donald, American Business Magazine is the brainchild of GPS, CBS and Global Resources, which are three of the top performing consulting companies in North America. This consulting group delivers services to small- and medium-sized businesses. American Business Magazine strives to be an informative tool for business owners and their executive management. Every quarter, American Business Magazine’s editorial staff discusses who would provide the most benefit to their readership as the cover story interview. The name Donald Trump was at the top of the list. Today, your story is as interesting as it is important. I would like to begin by thanking you for agreeing to this exclusive interview.
Thank you very much, Geoff. It’s an honor to be here with American Business Magazine and those you represent.
Your recovery from the 90s has inspired numerous people who have found themselves in financial difficulty, as well the many businesses suffering in this troubled economy. Your comeback was astonishing. It is a great story for the many businesses grasping at hope. Where did you get the inspiration to persevere? Why didn’t you throw in the towel when most people would have?
In the early 1990s, I was in deep trouble. I owed billions of dollars. The real estate markets had totally collapsed and it looked pretty bleak. But I just loved my lifestyle and I didn’t want to give that up. I figured the best way not to change my lifestyle was to cut back where I had to and, secondly, keep making lots of money. A lot of my friends went bankrupt. I never went bankrupt, but many of my friends and associates did; in fact, most of them. There were many I never heard from again. I didn’t think too much about it—how bad things were—so I kept on going. I’ve heard many say I had a great comeback. I have to say I don’t view it that way, Geoff. I still go to the same desk. I am still the same person and the same everything else.
It was a hell of a comeback…
It was a hell of a comeback. It was a lot of work. I wouldn’t want to do it again. When I think back, it was a big learning experience. I learned who was loyal, who wasn’t loyal, who my friends were and who my friends weren’t. It was something pretty amazing to experience. It was a pretty good comeback, I guess. I give myself some credit.
I asked many people, “What question would you ask Mr. Trump if given the opportunity?” Not surprisingly, many indicated they would ask questions about your hit series “The Apprentice.” Your show is often a topic of conversation at the water cooler. When the show began, did you believe it would be this successful?
“The Apprentice” has been an amazing story because it wasn’t expected to be successful. When “The Apprentice” and NBC agreed to do the show, they didn’t even give an option because they said it was going to be a one-year wonder, that it would likely fail and that 97 percent of the shows that begin on television fail. So, this was supposed to fail. In fact, when I originally signed, they had numerous other shows along with ours because this was supposed to fail. It became a tremendous hit. It became the number-one billing on television for a long period of time. To this day, it has phenomenal ratings. It has been a lot of fun—especially when everybody said it’s never going to work. I even had an agent who said, “This thing is ridiculous!” Yet, it became a big smash hit. So, you never know. When NBC signed me, I worked with Mark Burnett who did the “big two” shows: “The Apprentice” and “Survivor.” Mark is a terrific and very smart guy to work with.
Do you use any of the criteria for hiring and firing on “The Apprentice” in your other businesses?
I don’t necessarily hire and fire people at the Trump Organization the same way I do on “The Apprentice.” When I look at somebody and viciously scorn them with the words, “you’re fired,” they go crazy and the ratings go crazy and everybody loves it because it is good drama and it’s interesting. Generally speaking, when I fire somebody in my other enterprises, I don’t handle it the same way. I usually fire somebody because it’s not quite working out; it’s just not happening. I don’t like using the words, “you’re fired.” My approach is perhaps more considerate and methodical over a little bit longer period of time.
What do you attribute the show’s success to?
I believe people are interested in the competitive executive environment. There have been 15 copies of “The Apprentice” and all of them have failed. I won’t list all the names of the people who have tried to copy “The Apprentice,” but all are people that you know or names you have heard of and some you have interviewed. Fifteen people tried it and some of them were literally exact copies of our show. In all fairness, Martha Stewart—just to use a name, I like Martha—tried it and it just got no ratings; she got no traction. Mark Burnett has done a really good job and we have some great people behind us. It has become a major success and NBC just renewed it for two more seasons. We had tremendous ratings on “Celebrity Apprentice.” To a certain extent, I add to the show’s success. I guess without me, it would not have done as well. My personality is a big part of the show. For whatever reason, we have all made it very successful and for that I am grateful. I am happy to be able to report that we’ve just been renewed for two more.
You seem to like the fighters. Do you have some warrior in you?
I do like the fighters. Bill Rancic, the first winner, was a fighter, but not a big fighter. I like people that are fighters. Annie Duke, who was great, came in second. She is certainly a fighter and a great poker player. Joan Rivers beat her up pretty good. Joan Rivers is a pretty good fighter. I think Brett Michaels is low key. All sorts of things are being talked about now with Brett because of his success on “The Apprentice.” He may replace Simon Cowell. He is on tour doing fantastically well. He was on “American Idol” the other day—the day after “The Apprentice.” He is a guy who was a rocker that wasn’t doing particularly well and now he is one of the hottest guys. A lot of people benefited from being on “The Apprentice.”
Aside from real estate, what other industries do you like to get involved in?
Geoff, as you surely know, I focus the most on the real estate industry. I also like to invest in clubs. I’ve been buying really, really well-located, well-built clubs. I have acquired many different types of clubs, but I like golf establishments a lot. I’m a golfer. I’ve been doing really well at buying clubs at big discounts and improving them. Usually, they’re in trouble and need some fixing up. That’s part of the reason they got in trouble. I have a knack at improving them and I have a great deal of fun doing it. I have been buying tremendous pieces of land in great locations. I have found some really, really good stuff in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York. We just bought a beautiful club up in Dutchess County in the Hudson Valley. We have had tremendous success with one right next to Pine Valley in New Jersey. We’ve really had amazing success with clubs.