Donald Trump: ‘I am hard to please and pleased when I am’

The controversial real estate icon on Brand Trump, Asian expansion and… golf 


It takes a special brand of determination and instinct to carve out a reputation in business that is as successful as Donald Trump. His name does not need any explanation; it outshines even its reputation.

Best known for his triumphs in the real estate world, Trump’s multifaceted interests have over the last four decades taken his empire from casino floors to fairways and branded penthouses to beauty pageants.

The 68-year-old Trump claims that passion for work fuels his drive and since taking over the family business in 1971, he’s not once slacked off. “I don’t take formal vacations. I don’t find them relaxing.”

Indeed, Trump is keen to regularly reassure the world that he does not believe in wasting energy or opportunities. “I love my work, so I am energised by that and it’s very rewarding. I’m not one for sitting around.”

Initially headquartered in a studio apartment in Brooklyn, New York City in the early 1970s, The Trump Organization, formerly called Elizabeth Trump & Son, experienced mixed fortunes in its early years. By the early 1990s, Trump—whose private life by this point was regularly publicised in the press—was on the brink of personal bankruptcy, and divorce with his first wife quickly followed.

But nowadays, his Manhattan-based conglomerate is an instantly recognised fixture in almost every corner of the globe, including Asia, where he has a number of high-profile projects underway.

Highly anticipated projects in Asia that bear the Trump brand include the mixed-use Trump Tower Century City in Manila, Trump Towers Pune in India, and the ultra luxury residential development Trump Estates in Dubai. This recent commitment to Asian markets has enabled him to work with a handful of leading local firms.

“[My team and I> very much enjoy collaborating with local firms,” he admits. “It’s a big help when developing in a different culture, and we’ve developed good partners along the way as well. It’s a win-win situation.”

His venture in the Philippines is a collaboration with one of the country’s top luxury developers, Century Properties Group, while his Dubai branded residences are co-developed by DAMAC, which is one of the biggest master developers in the Middle East.

Trump on the definition of a luxury property… “A true luxury property must delight from A to Z. There can be no gaps or missteps in any part of the service or property. We aim for perfection in as much as that is possible.”

An association with the Trump name is golden. “I think the Trump brand connotes the gold standard and people know what to expect,” Trump proudly states. “They expect the best, and that’s what they will get—the name doesn’t need an explanation or a ratings chart.”  

The “Trump effect” is definitely one of the selling points of his brand, and probably what makes every Trump project iconic, even if he is no longer largely associated with it. One such example is Trump Entertainment Resorts, formerly Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, a company that he founded in 1995 and subsequently lost majority control due to major financial difficulties—he still owns a minority share but has since left the board.

Trump’s brazen, straightforward approach may be disliked by detractors, but he contends that his profession requires him to be frank, outspoken and extremely self-critical.

“I am my own best and worst customer—I am hard to please and pleased when I am. That’s a great yardstick. I am demanding but it pays off—my employees are proud and the visitors in my properties are happy.”

Trump continues to hone his skills, one of which, he contends, is knowing when to trust a gut feeling. Upon hiring world-renowned golf course architect Gil Hanse—who was named Golf Magazine’s Golf Course Architect of the Year in 2009—to design the USD250 million restoration and expansion project of the five-course Trump National Golf Club in Doral, Florida, he says his instincts confirmed that his appointed designer would not end up like an unsuccessful contestant on his popular reality television show The Apprentice.

Trump on the real estate industry… “Nothing is easy. If you are in the property business, just make sure you know everything you can about what you’re doing.”

“A lot of the time it is instinct. I know the style of each of the architects and something in the course will indicate a certain technique required to make it superlative. I work with the best architects and the results have been terrific,” he says. Just recently he announced that he is working again with another highly respected golf architect, Martin Ebert of the firm Mackenzie & Ebert, to renovate his latest luxury golf resort and hotel property, Trump Turnberry in Scotland.

An avid golfer with a low single-figure handicap, Trump discovered his love for the sport early in life. “It began when I was young, and I visited the Doral in Florida with my family. I’ve always loved that resort. I played other courses, and the game intrigued me. I knew it was a brain game, for one thing. The beauty of the course was another factor.”

“I remember my first course, Trump International in Palm Beach,” he continues. “It was a tremendous undertaking and I was involved in all the details, from the gopher tortoises on up.”

Today, Trump’s golf portfolio comprises 17 award-winning courses around the world, all of which, he states, are equally important to his business. But he refuses to be drawn on his favourite property.

“It is very difficult to pick a favourite—each one is truly special,” he admits. “But right now my latest acquisitions in Ireland and Scotland have my utmost attention.”

Being part Scottish, it was very significant for The Donald—as he is known—to establish Trump golf courses in Scotland, where his mother Mary Anne (née MacLeod) was born. His Scottish heritage definitely is a huge part of him, so he’s made sure that his course in Aberdeen would reflect his devotion to the location and his responsibility to its surroundings.

Trump on his organisation’s formula for victory… “We are open minded and enthusiastic—the best ingredients for success.”

“We are very sensitive about this issue,” he says, referring to environmental concerns that plague many golf resorts worldwide. “We had geomorphologists working for us at Trump International Golf Links, Scotland in Aberdeen to make sure the sand dunes would be protected and undisturbed, We had three artificial holts for otters created and a badger protection plan. We erected nest boxes and bat boxes, had biodiversity target actions to maintain and enhance a variety of birds such as the Palmate Newt, Black-Headed Gulls and wading birds. The list goes on. We are very thorough which each course in this respect.”

He is now optimistic that the vision for a ‘Trump Triangle’ golf circuit across Scotland and Ireland can finally be realised after the recent acquisition of the historic Turnberry course and the Doonbeg property in Clare, Ireland. “I can see how real golf aficionados would love to play Aberdeen, Turnberry and Doonbeg—that’s a dream ticket right there. So we’ll see.”

One might think that owning a slew of high-profile properties would allow him to slow down, take a day off and listen to the music of one of his favourite musicians, Neil Young, but he simply prefers to work during his personal time.

“I love to golf, and since I now have 17 courses, that’s a lot of opportunity for golfing. I can also refine the courses as I go along, so it’s never lost time. That’s one way I relax,” he says.

Though he’s witnessed spectacular success in his life, Trump has also experienced some very public obstacles and setbacks along the way, including dealing with detractors and financial troubles. But those challenges only strengthened his spirit to bounce back because, as he puts it, “Winners see problems as just another way to prove themselves.”

His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs who are having a difficult time making it in the business?

“If you haven’t got any problems then you must not be running your own business. Problems and challenges come with the territory, so be prepared for them. They are the norm, not the exception.”