-- The Ottawa Citizen
"Blair does an admirable job of showing us a slice of America through this one family....The book has the scope and depth of an excellent historical read."
-- Rocky Mountain News (Denver)
"A fine, highly informative, and respectable book about a despicable subject."
-- The San Diego Union-Tribune
"Blair does a superb job explaining how Donald succeeded."
-- The Philadelphia Inquirer
"It really is a helluva story, and it's ably told by Blair."
-- New York Daily News
"Blair neatly captures Trump's uncanny business instincts, as well as his competitiveness, chutzpah, cruelty, vulgarity and hucksterism. And she catches him in his lies, or what Trump himself calls 'truthful hyperbole.'"
-- The New York Times Book Review
"Blair is relentless in examining and anatomizing Donald Trump's business dealings -- she has the assiduousness and grasp of Robert A. Caro....She's also convincing on Donald Trump's private life."
-- Robert Gottlieb, The New York Observer
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
On a warm fall afternoon, the world's most famous businessman sat next to a pile of 12-inch-tall male dolls. If this were somewhere other than New York City - the South American jungle, say, or ancient China - they might have been mud-and-twig fetishes designed to ward off evil or ceramic objects destined to accompany him into the afterlife. But it was Times Square in September 2004, and Donald Trump was launching a sales campaign at Toys R Us for a plastic action figure modeled in his likeness - more or less. Laser technology had provided the billionaire's pursed mouth and bushy eyebrows, but a shoe-polish brown pompadour had replaced the famous orange comb-over and there were no genitals.
No matter; despite its single-breasted suit and wing-tip shoes, the Apprentice Talking Donald Trump Doll is not really a replica, or even a toy. Instead, it's a pint-sized, personal mentor for viewers of the hit reality television series, "The Apprentice," on which fresh-faced young contestants compete for a job with the Trump Organization. Embedded in the doll's chest is a digital sound chip that allows it to declare, in Trump's own voice, "Have an ego," "Think big," and other pithy bits of advice similar to those he offers each week on the show.
What the doll doesn't reveal are the sources of Donald Trump's own extraordinary success. These include a number of lucky breaks, among them his father's real estate wealth and political connections, his surname (changed by a prescient German ancestor from "Drumpf" to Trump) and his ex-wife Ivana's gift of a catchy nickname, "The Donald," which became instant newspaper fodder.
But of equal importance are what we might call The Donald's Five Commandments: Do whatever it takes to win. Don't spare the chutzpah. Turn everything into an advertisement for yourself. No matter what happens, claim victory. And above all, always use the superlative. While he's heeded business basics like "Location, location, location," his own personal mantra is "Exaggerate, exaggerate, exaggerate."
Following these guidelines, he's carved out a career in self-aggrandizement that has netted him fortune, fame and enthusiastic fans. Hundreds of them showed up for the one-time-only opportunity to plunk down $26.99 for a doll and The Donald's autograph in metallic gold across the face of the doll's box. They knew him from "The Apprentice" as the archetypal boss: ready to pounce on mistakes, dismissive of excuses and ever aware of the bottom line. What they didn't know was that behind this most recent claim to fame lay a life history with more twists and turns than any television producer could possibly imagine. Nor did they know that Trump himself had been a lifelong apprentice to a powerful man whom he had admired, rebelled against, studied, competed with, and eventually surpassed. "I wanted to do what my father did, but bigger, better, stronger, higher, everything, right?
Fifteen years earlier, that mentor had watched with a bewildered look as Donald sat in another Manhattan toy store, F.A.O. Schwartz, and autographed a Monopoly-like board game with his name and face on it. The man was Donald's father, Fred Trump. Like his son, he was in real estate. Also like his son, he was immensely wealthy. But he had made his money building ordinary homes for ordinary people, not by constructing super-luxury apartments, running casinos, engaging in financial manipulations and turning himself into one of the most celebrated figures of the century. Whereas the erstwhile apprentice lived in the center of photographers' lenses, his master existed outside the media's glare. The two men's lives were vastly different - as different as business in the middle of the twentieth century and at its end, as different as the America of the World War II era had become as the cold war drew to a close.
This apprentice did not always follow his master's advice. When Donald ignored his father's old-fashioned, all-brick aesthetic in favor of modern, glass-walled skyscrapers, he achieved great success; when he disobeyed his father's financial precept s and signed personal financial guarantees for nearly $1 billion, he created a disaster. Only a year after the F.A.O. Schwartz event, Donald's empire lay in shambles. But unlike other magnates of the time, he emerged from financial turmoil to create a second, virtual empire. He would no longer own everything with his name on it; instead, he would market himself as the embodiment of the American dream of wealth and fame. He would be the people's billionaire: the personality brand created by the dark suit, the improbable hair-do, and the over-the-top description of every undertaking as the world's most fantastic, amazing and incredible.
Only a dozen years earlier, many had considered him finished, but his current life seemed to be, quite literally, gold-plated. To the contestants on his show as well as the world at large, he seemed the quintessential man in charge. But the reason he had survived and flourished was that he had, once again, been an apprentice, resolutely adhering to his father's most fundamental rule: No matter what happens, never, ever give up.
CHAPTER 23: THE LEGACY
Donald Trump's unrelenting focus on his own accomplishment alienated many people; others, drawn to winners, found his self-absorption appealing. No matter the occasion, he was always competing, always concentrating on how to make whatever he was doing seem bigger and better than what anyone else had ever done. When he lost, he would say he won; when he won, he would say he won more. He called such behavior "truthful hyperbole." Broker Ed Gordon labeled it "diarrhea of the mouth." Barbara Corcoran, founder and chairman of one of the largest residential real estate companies in Manhattan, may have put it best: "He's got a gift that's good in good times and really good in bad times," she said. "It's called bullshit, and he uses it unabashedly. We've all gone to high school with someone like that - the only difference is most people have to let it go."
But as Donald Trump would be the first to say, he wasn't like most people. In The Art of the Deal, he claims that business deals are what distinguish him; by all accounts, he is indeed an artful negotiator, with his father's skill at walking into a meeting without notes or a calculator because he's got the numbers and deal points in his head. But his most original creation is the continual self-inflation that has made him a touchstone of excess. Early on, it made him his father's favorite child and treasured apprentice, a choice that sheds a certain light on the journey taken by this family - indeed, this nation - over the past century.
Despite obvious differences in lifestyle and affect, grandfather Friedrich, father Fred and Donald were similar types. All three were energetic men who would do almost anything to make a buck; all three possessed a certain ruthlessness; all three had a free and easy way about the truth and a wide range of solid, practical skills. But how these traits played out in different eras is, in its own way, a vest-pocket history of America.
During Friedrich's first two decades in the New World, he made a living by providing services that were as concrete as could be imagined. They ranged from haircuts to food to sex, and customers returned because they were satisfied with his work, not because he was the vendor. When he purchased older businesses, he did not change the sign over the door; when he started new ones, he named them after their locations. Even when he moved into real estate, near the end of his life, his intention was to create value not through his name but by buying plots of land and building homes.
Friedrich's son Fred followed in his father's footsteps but created value in his own way. By establishing a network of political contacts, he managed to obtain government housing subsidies, then released a stream of press releases designed to give a special shimmer to what were in fact conventional developments. A man of his era, he gave them innocuous generic addresses, like Shore Haven and Beach Haven. Only on the last, Trump Village, did he place his name, a precedent that his son Donald would expand on in ways that Fred never dreamed of.
Donald shared much with his father and grandfather. He, too, knew how to frame a building and retar a roof. But Friedrich's grandson would not employ this practical knowledge to build anything with his own hands; instead he would use it to hire and fire those who put up his structures and to connect with the construction crews, maintenance men and retired blue-collar workers who played his slot machines in Atlantic City. Although these skills would be helpful in negotiating contracts, the special value he would add to his projects would be his name. Seemingly the simplest of acts, it was actually quite arduous, for keeping that name going, constantly protecting and buffing it, required vigilance and intensity of the highest order.
By 2005, 14 buildings in Manhattan bore the name, although he had provided little or no financing for more than half. To all appearances, he held equity in only three or four, but rather than offering proof of more extensive ownership, he simply insisted, sometimes ferociously, that he owned practically everything labeled Trump. One perennially sore spot involved Trump Place, the vast West Side complex financed by a Hong Kong consortium. When the New York Times Magazine asked about Trump's holdings there, the consortium's lawyer delicately described him as "a major partner" who was "not merely receiving a fee" - seemingly a roundabout ...