No Such Thing as Over-Exposure: Inside the Life and Celebrity of Donald Trump
Donald J. Trump's spacious office in Trump Tower on 57th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan is chock-a-block full of collector's items, action figures, building designs, and a movie poster parodying his hit television show, The Apprentice. It is a roomful of memories, an ode to the large-framed (6 foot, 3 inches) titan with the swept-backed blond mane seated behind his oversize rectangular desk. Surrounding him are ceiling-high glass windows, through which appears a Manhattan skyline on which Trump has placed an indelible stamp by erecting high-end residential towers bearing his name.
On the walls hang glass-covered magazine covers, all adorned with Trump's face, another ode to the man of superlatives, the real-estate developer cum casino owner cum television star who audaciously engages in "truthful hyperbole" (his phrase), one of his numerous techniques for attracting public attention.
Many business leaders seek such attention, but few receive it. Trump receives it in plentitude because millions of people delight in getting a peek into a billionaire's lifeand he is very accommodating: Cheerfully, willingly, boastfully, he opens up his fantasy world of gilded mansions, sleek helicopters, lavishly accoutered jet planes, and beautiful women to friends and business acquaintances (often the same), with stunning disregard for his own privacy. Trump is certainly not the wealthiest American; Microsoft's co-founder Bill Gates is. But few are interested in how the multibillionaire Bill Gates lives, other than to be curious about what high-tech gadgets he has in his ultramodern home near Seattle. By contrast, millions of people are interested in how Trump makes and spends moneyand on whom.
Trump attracts attention because, even when he exaggerates, which is often, he is not far from the mark. He wants to be known as the best and the smartestand, most important, the most popular. He often is the best and the smartest. And that very fact gives him his special charm and makes him an object of intense curiosity. Normally, one would not be curious about a man who openly engages in "truthful hyperbole," who constantly says he is the best in his field, and whose stadium-size ego dwarfs the egos of so many humbler business leaders. But one forgives the exaggeration, knowing that he is the most important real-estate developer in New York, he is one of the major players in the gaming industry, and he is a television star.
Unlike so many other business leaders, Donald Trump is comfortable seeking and attracting personal publicity; he has no trouble letting millions of people into the seemingly private aspects of his life. Speaking to a jewelry convention in October 2004, a group of total strangers to him, he spoke candidly of the problems of being engaged to a much younger women. He told the jewelers that when his newly affianced Slovenian-born Melania Knauss, 33 years old, asked him when he graduated from college, he replied, "Next question." Of his ex-wife Marla, he said, "She cost me a lot of money, but she's a wonderful woman." And of his newly engaged son, Donald Trump Jr., he noted, "He wants to give his fiancée a ring that will cost $65,000. That seems cheap to me." The audience loved the family disclosures, and Trump did not seem to mind divulging them.
He insists that he does not pursue celebrity, that celebrity pursues him. Yet, better than anyone else in the business world, he shrewdly understands the business value of bathing his persona in the klieg lights.
He is careful not to unveil every aspect of his business and personal life. He happily puts his assets at $6 billion but offers few specifics on how he arrives at that figure. To document his holdings with too much precision, he feels, would be tantamount to handing over a treasure trove of intelligence to others who could then exact larger sums from Trump in real-estate deals.
Whereas most business leaders detest personal publicity, Donald Trump thrives on it and is superb at knowing how to attract it. He is so good at what he does that some colleagues call him the greatest marketer around, or the greatest salesman in the world; but unlike others, who sell toothpaste and aircraft engines and software, Donald Trump sells himself as much as he sells his products. Therein lies his true uniqueness.
And, oh, how he knows how to sell himself.
Piles of newspaper and magazine articles, some of which Trump personally clips, sit on the desk. When he wants to illustrate a point, to buttress a claim, to cite a statistic, he quickly searches through the piles, like a diver searching for buried treasure. If he cannot find the article he wants, he shouts explosively to an executive assistant outside his door: "Rhona, bring me The Apprentice ratings," or, "Robin, bring me the best-seller listings." A clipping service locates articles in which his name appears. He often sends these articles to acquaintances along with a brief handwritten note explaining why he's sending it. Some recipients of these "Trump notes" cherish the thought; others (usually, they are journalists) enjoy tossing the articles into the wastebasket.
With lightning speed, Rhona or Robin appears with the requested article, their efficiency indicating that they know the boss's routine. They keep the often-requested ratings and best-seller listings close at hand because he cannot wait to boast to visitors about his recent successes. Virtually every conversation Trump holds on the phone or in person begins with him asking some variant of "Are you aware how popular I am?"
Seventy-Third Richest in America
It is the morning of June 3, 2004, 11 days short of Trump's 58th birthday. He is in an ebullient mood, and why should he not be? He is, according to Forbes magazine, the 205th richest person in the world and the 73rd richest person in the United States. He is pleased that, after much persuasion on his part, Forbes credits him with a net worth of $2.5 billion. He would like Forbes to report that he is worth $6 billion, but unless he spells out all that he owns, the magazine's editors will simply not make that leap. Most of the superwealthy play down their true worth, eager perhaps to ward off kidnappers or tax authorities, but not Trump: He urges Forbes' editors to use the highest amount possible. In September 2004, Forbes credited Trump with $2.6 billion for 2004, making him the 74th richest man in the United States. For Donald Trump, the Forbes designation seems to validate all that he has worked for the past decade even though Forbes fell short of what Trump regards as his true net worth.
Never before has his career soared so high. In a few days, he will be the star attraction at the annual Donald Trump "birthday bash" put on at his Trump Taj Mahal casino hotel in Atlantic City to celebrate his 58th birthday, his newly affianced Melania by his side. He has just returned from Ecuador, where his Miss Universe 2004 pageant topped all key television ratings categories in its time slot, garnering 10.5 million viewers. Nothing gives him more pleasure, however, than the surprising popularity of The Apprentice, his hit television reality show, which is among the highest-rated entertainment shows of the 20032004 television season. Finally, his latest book, Trump: How to Get Rich, the fifth one he has penned in the last 17 years, is atop The New York Times business best-seller list.
That summer and fall of 2004 Donald Trump appeared to be everywhere. He refused to slow down, to take time off, or to lower his profile. Business colleagues and friends advised him to cool it, insisting that the public would tire of him. But he refused to heed their advice. They might as well have asked him to dive off the roof of Trump Tower.
He knows all too well that he is at the top of his game. He was always widely known and, at least in certain quarters, quite popular. But he has now acquired a degree of fame that shocks him. He genuinely believed that he would do the television show for one season, have some fun doing it, and then go on to the next project. But, as he says about his newly acquired superstardom, "This is ridiculous. This is amazing."
All through the first season of The Apprentice (from January to April 2004) and in the months afterward, he chose to live life to the fullest, giddily taking in everything it had to offer. Trump knows that his sudden stardom is prompting all sorts of new possibilities for him. Every day people want to partner with him, offering to provide a product if he would provide his name, his persona, and his fame.
He might have turned them all away, saying he had no time or no wish to have his name exploited so broadly. Instead, he chose to listen to numerous proposals, to digest them, and then decide upon which ones to endorse. He wanted to know the true value of his sudden superstardomno timeouts for him. He often cited the classic song "Is That All There Is?," wondering what more life had to offer a man who seemingly had already acquired or experienced all that there was.