President Donald Trump is an American media personality, real estate developer, and businessman with a net worth estimated at $3 billion to $10 billion, depending on who’s making the calculations. The most recent list of global billionaires, released by Forbes in September 2018, puts Trump in the 766th position with a net worth of $3.1 billion. That makes him America's first billionaire president.
His 14-year run as the star of NBC's reality television show The Apprentice both amplified and, in some ways, overshadowed the story of Trump, the businessman.
He was chairman and president of The Trump Organization, which he inherited from his father, Fred Trump. He is the founder of Trump Entertainment Resorts, which is now owned by Icahn Enterprises. He turned over operations of his business empire to his two adult sons after he moved into the Oval Office in January 2017.
The amount Trump earned for hosting and producing 14 seasons of The Apprentice.
Trump began his career at his father's company, then called Elizabeth Trump & Son. He worked there while attending the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and joined the business full-time after he graduated in 1968. With a flair for publicity and a series of high-profile construction and renovation projects in New York City, Trump’s career unfurled very much in the public eye.
Trump's Early Life and Education
Donald John Trump was born on June 14, 1946, in the New York City borough of Queens, the youngest of five children.
His mother, Mary Anne, was born on the Isle of Lewis, off the west coast of Scotland, later immigrating to the United States. His father, Fred Trump, was the son of a Klondike Gold Rush restaurateur and home builder.
- Trump's book The Art of the Deal was a best-seller, capturing the spirit of the go-go 1980s.
- In the 1990s, his business empire crumbled when casinos proved to be a bad bet.
- In the 2000s, he rebuilt his business and launched a second career in television as the boss of The Apprentice.
At the time of Donald’s birth, his father was developing housing complexes in New York City, especially Brooklyn, catering to middle-income soldiers returning from World War II and their families. By the time Donald was born, Fred Trump had been a successful New York real estate developer for almost 20 years.
A Flair for Spectacle
But it was Donald’s mother who instilled in him something that would distinguish him from equally successful real estate moguls — an appreciation for the power of spectacle. As a six-year-old, he watched as his mother was swept away by the pageantry of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It made a big impression on the boy.
"I realize now that I got some of my sense of showmanship from my mother," he writes. "She always had a flair for the dramatic and the grand.”
His parents raised their large family in a two-story mock-Tudor home in Jamaica Estates, Queens. As a child, Donald went to Kew-Forest School in Forest Hills, Queens. Fred was on the Board of Trustees of the private school. At an early age, Donald began getting into trouble.
"In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye — I punched my music teacher because I didn't think he knew anything about music, and I almost got expelled," Trump would later recall.
Worried about his son’s apparent lack of discipline, Fred moved Donald to the New York Military Academy in upstate Cornwall, New York, to begin the eighth grade. Donald would remain there throughout high school. He graduated with the rank of cadet captain, and later credited the school as the place where he learned to channel "aggression into achievement."
On holidays and summers as a teenager, Donald followed Fred around to building sites in Brooklyn, where his father would routinely out-build and buy out his rivals.
"My father would start a building in, say, Flatbush, at the same time that two competitors began putting up their own buildings nearby. Invariably, my father would finish his building three or four months before his competitors did. His building would always be a little better looking than the other two, with a nicer, more spacious lobby and larger rooms in the apartments themselves,” Trump stated. “Eventually, one or both of his competitors would go bankrupt before they'd finish their buildings, and my father would step in and buy them out," he added.
Following high school, Trump attended Fordham University in the Bronx. After two years, he transferred to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which offered, at the time, one of the only real estate studies departments in the country. He graduated with a B.S. in economics in 1968.
While in school, Donald worked for his father part-time. Those years were an education for the young man. One of the primary lessons he learned concerned the psychology of the real estate business. His father’s building projects were designed to appeal to the aspirations of Americans from working-class backgrounds who wanted to be middle class. His apartment buildings offered a sense of elevation and refinement through large lobbies, sophisticated-looking facades, and English names such as Wexford Hall, Sussex Hall, and Edgerton.
The early heir-apparent had seemed to be firstborn son Freddy Jr., but he took little interest in the business and died young. Donald, however, took to the real estate business with relish, working with his father on deals in Starrett City, Brooklyn, and Forest Hills, Queens.
Then the young man was ready to try his hand in Manhattan.
Trump In the Business World
Donald Trump had been around his father Fred's real estate company, Elizabeth Trump & Son, for most of his life. But he began working for the company full-time when he graduated from college in 1968 at the age of 22. Donald took control of the company in 1971 and renamed it The Trump Organization.
His father’s business had focused on building and renting mid-market apartments in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Donald set his sights on Manhattan.
Donald immediately sought out large projects that carried high profiles. Fred was reluctant at first, but eventually backed Donald’s projects in the heart of the Big Apple.
The Main Chance
Donald used the tools and tricks that he’d learned at his father’s side, and had inherited Fred's eye for distressed real-estate gems. With the entirety of New York City sliding toward bankruptcy in the early '70s, there were more than a few such gems.
Trump’s biggest early deal was rescuing the once-grand Commodore Hotel from bankruptcy and transforming it into the Grand Hyatt. He opened the refurbished hotel in 1980 with the help of a 40-year tax abatement from the City of New York.
Trump's first foray into politics was a renovation of a skating rink in New York's Central Park, delivered for free and ahead of schedule.
In 1983, Trump put his stamp on the city with his 68-story Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan. The mixed-use skyscraper featured the black glass surfaces and brass trimmings that would mark many of his later buildings. The building captured the aesthetic of many baby boomers who were coming into money for the first time during the economic boom of the 1980s.
A Toe in Politics
Around this time, Trump began to use his successes as a developer to dip a toe into politics. He made his first such splash with the renovation of Wollman Rink in Central Park. The fixes had begun in 1980 but were more or less in limbo by 1986. Trump publicly lambasted the inefficiency of the governmental agencies in charge of the renovation, starting a war of words with then-Mayor Ed Koch. As part of the argument, Trump offered to complete the renovation himself, for free. He finished in three months, at a cost well below the city’s budget, and to the satisfaction of most, proving his point.
His building projects and persona placed Trump squarely in the public eye. And in 1987, he capitalized on his newfound fame with a business book entitled The Art of the Deal, which spent 52 weeks on bestseller lists.
Trump in the 1990s and Beyond
Flush with success, Trump moved into the gaming business, buying the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City. The move proved to be a hefty gamble, and by 1989, Trump was in more debt than he could afford. He kept afloat by taking on more loans until 1991. With bankruptcy looming, Trump’s creditors agreed to restructure his debt, taking half-ownership of the casino. The agreement also forced Trump to sell his airline, Trump Shuttle, and his 282-foot Trump Princess yacht.
Trump gradually restored The Trump Organization’s finances. One of the deals that helped him do so involve 40 Wall Street, a 70-story tower in downtown Manhattan originally known as the Bank of Manhattan Trust building. Trump bought the building for between $1 million and $10 million in 1995 and renovated it. He would later take out a $160 million mortgage on the building to finance other investments. By 2006, Forbes put a $260 million price tag on the property.
In 1999, when patriarch Fred Trump died, he left behind a handsome estate valued at $250 to $300 million. Although the exact amount Donald Trump inherited is unknown, an October 2018 report in The New York Times based on tax returns and financial statements from his businesses estimated that inheritance to be close to $413 million during the course of his lifetime. This figure has not been confirmed by Trump or the organization.
As the century turned, Donald Trump continued to buy and construct Manhattan real estate. In 2001, he completed the 72-story Trump World Tower, across from the United Nations, and began construction on Trump Place, a series of luxury high-rises along the Hudson River.
Another bold move that paid off was Trump’s $73 million purchase of the Chicago Sun-Times building. In its place, he planned to build the tallest building in the world, Trump International Tower, Chicago. But the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, convinced him to scale back, and he ultimately built the second-tallest tower in Chicago. Since it opened in 2009, the tower has been a success, especially the hotel at that location, which is regularly ranked as one of the best in the country.
Trump's Television Career
Trump’s career as a public figure had shrunk significantly following his near-bankruptcy in the early 90s. It was revived after he began hosting a reality TV show called The Apprentice in 2003. The NBC show, in which contestants vied for a management job in one of Trump's companies, was a hit.
According to some reports, Trump received $3 million per episode of the show. In his July 2015 disclosures to the Federal Election Commission, Trump stated that NBC paid him $214 million for hosting and producing the show over 14 seasons.
His newly refurbished fame created an opportunity for Trump to license his name and image. He began selling the Trump name to a number of real estate developments that he didn’t build himself. According to Forbes, Trump’s real-estate licensing business, with more than 30 licensed properties worldwide, is among his most valuable assets, which it estimates as being worth more than $500 million.
The Trump Brand
Trump has also affixed his brand to a wide range of companies, including the ill-timed Trump Mortgage, which closed in 2007. Beyond real estate, his name has appeared on Trump Buffet, Trump Catering, Trump Ice Cream Parlor, and the Trump Bar.
There also was a Trump-branded clothing line, a fragrance, an array of food and beverage products such as Trump Steaks and Trump Vodka, and Trump Magazine. Trump University, opened in 2005, promised to teach students the ins and outs of the real estate business. The operation closed down in 2010 and was the subject of multiple lawsuits.
Trump's Quotes on Success
Donald Trump, or "The Donald" as he is popularly known, has said many memorable things. His comments on Muslims, women, and current affairs stirred controversy and criticism. Here is a selection of his more noteworthy and thoughtful words on success in business.
- “The more predictable the business, the more valuable it is.” Trump on valuing known quantities more than speculative schemes.
- “Success comes from failure, not from memorizing the right answers.” Trump on the irreplaceable value of real-life experience, even negative ones, in an education.
- “Get going. Move forward. Aim High. Plan a takeoff. Don't just sit on the runway and hope someone will come along and push the airplane. It simply won't happen. Change your attitude and gain some altitude. Believe me, you'll love it up here.” Trump on taking initiative and positive thinking.
- “What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate.” Trump on the constant tests that life provides.
- “Remember there’s no such thing as an unrealistic goal, just unrealistic time frames.” Trump on how he views the collision of grand ambitions and real-life obstacles.
- “Watch, listen and learn. You can’t know it all yourself. Anyone who thinks they do is destined for mediocrity.” Trump on remaining open to new information.
The Bottom Line
Donald Trump's brash and colorful style propelled him from the business world into the public's eye. His 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, captured the exuberant, materialistic spirit of the 1980s.
By 1991, however, bankruptcy forced Trump to sell his Trump Shuttle airline and his 282-foot yacht, and hand over large portions of his casino holdings.
By the mid-'90s, his fortunes had begun to turn around. Trump rejoined the Forbes 400 list in 1996 after a six-year absence. In 1996, Trump also re-entered the public eye, buying the rights to the Miss America pageant. His profile rose higher when he began his starring role on The Apprentice in 2004, with millions tuning in to watch Trump fire aspiring executives.
In 2015, Trump publicly announced that he would run for the presidency of the United States as a Republican. He won the hotly contested election on November 8th, 2016, beating the Democratic nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Not surprisingly, he has been perhaps the most controversial president in the country's history.