Donald Trump CareerBorn with a raging entrepreneurial spirit in his blood, Mr. Trump was always destined to carve his mark in the world of business. His eventual involvement with his father’s real estate business was also a foregone conclusion from childhood. At age five, Mr. Trump was already following his father to construction sites. He even drove a bulldozer at the age of 13!
Those that expected him to join the family firm, Elizabeth Trump & Son, after college were pleasantly surprised when the young man went one better and began working with the company while still in school. In fact, while enrolled at Wharton, Mr. Trump even drove back 100 miles every weekend from Philadelphia to spend time with his dad in their Brooklyn office.
The elder Trump was clearly impressed, and advanced his son $2 million to start building his own portfolio in Philadelphia. Mr. Trump used the fund to invest in undervalued and distressed properties which are then flipped after a little work.
“It’s always been a natural instinct. […] I would fix up houses, fix up little buildings. Fix them up and sell them, rent them and live in them, and do all sorts of things with them. Made a little money during college. […] “He was always impressed — he was a strong guy, my father — he was always impressed I never failed. I would always buy them and sell them for more than I bought them for."
Boston Globe, Aug 28, 2015
Mr. Trump officially joined the family business after graduation, and his first major assignment was in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was tasked with managing Swifton Village, an area now known as Villages of Daybreak (Bond Hill).
Elizabeth Trump & Son had purchased Swifton Village for $5.7 million a few years earlier from the government. Mr. Trump managed to revitalize the 1,200-unit apartment complex within two years, raising the rental occupancy rate from 66% to 100%. Former Swifton Village maintenance worker Roy Knight said that “When they bought this place from the government, there were 400 units rented and 800 vacant. In less than two years, there wasn't a vacancy.” Not long after the project was stabilized, Elizabeth Trump & Son sold Swifton Village for $6.75 million in 1972, netting them a fairly reasonable profit - excluding the rental income earned during their ownership.
Concurrent to this, Mr. Trump also made his maiden foray into show business with a $70,000 investment in a Broadway musical called “Paris Is Out!.” Alas, the venture proved to be a flop as the show was ended after just 112 performances.
However, his impressive work in Cincinnati compelled his father to call him back to New York and take a larger role in the family business. By 1971, Mr. Trump was already handling the Trump Management Corporation and its inventory of over 14,000 properties in New York.
In 1975, Fred Trump finally handed the reigns of the company to his 28-year-old son, who promptly changed the company’s name to the Trump Organization. Under his management, the company’s business model radically shifted from its low-cost home rental model into high-end properties and public infrastructure.
The Trump Organization experienced a massive growth over the next fifteen years through numerous high-profile development and construction projects such as the Trump Village Estates, Grand Hyatt and Jacob K. Javits Convention Center - which ultimately brought Mr. Trump into national prominence. Of course, his ownership of the now-defunct New Jersey Generals of the also defunct US Football league, appearances in World Wrestling Entertainment events and movie cameos also helped.
In the late 80s, Mr. Trump rapidly expanded the hospitality arm of his firm with the acquisition and development of three casinos. The expansion wiped off Trump Organization’s liquidity even after receiving over a billion dollars’ worth of undersecured loans. The development of the third, the Regency Hotel in Atlantic City, was funded exclusively with highly volatile junk bonds.
The Trump Organization was stretched dangerously thin, and was left completely vulnerable to the recession of 1990 and the subsequent contraction of the real estate market. Despite a last-ditch $65 million rescue package by his creditors, Mr. Trump had to file for bankruptcy in 1991 to reorganize the company’s $3.8 billion debt. A number of his major assets, such as his 282-foot yacht and Trump Airlines, were handed to creditors.
A lesser man would’ve crumbled under similar circumstances, but Mr. Trump persevered, and Trump Organization eventually experienced a huge resurgence in the late 90s. So much so, his brand name suddenly became a commodity, leading to numerous property and business licensing deals.
His increased profile even prompted him to briefly consider a run in the 2000 presidential election under the Reform Party ticket. However, his public profile truly skyrocketed when his reality show, The Apprentice, was aired in 2003. The show became a global ratings blockbuster, and turned Mr. Trump into a household name. His catchphrase, “You’re Fired”, became a national phenomenon. The Apprentice would go on to enjoy a successful 14-season run, and also spawned a local spin-off, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, as well as over 20 other international ones.
He has gradually assumed a more hands-off role in his company over the past several years, and has increasingly handed more executive responsibilities to his children, but Mr. Trump remains the Chairman and President of the Trump Organization.