29 May, 2015
Donald J. Trump
The fox of Fifth avenue
In a wide-ranging interview, serial entrepreneur Donald J Trump talks about his experiences in private aviation, yacht ownership, real estate and golf course development… and updates us on his political ambitions
‘The only thing worse than people talking about you, is not talking about you,’ was Oscar Wilde’s assertion, and it is a credit to Donald J Trump’s overwhelming success in the promotion of his brand that the very mention of his name elicits a response and opinion from everybody you talk to. Presiding over an international portfolio of interests from his landmark HQ on New York’s Fifth Avenue, Donald J Trump has built an empire upon the foundation laid by his father with whom he served his apprenticeship. Business tycoon, celebrity, investor, author and potentially a politician with Presidential aspirations, Donald J Trump is one of the most recognizable figures on the planet. We caught up with the ‘Fox of Fifth Avenue’ after a recent trip to Dubai, UAE where he launched a new real estate project in the emirate. ‘Dubai’s an amazing place. We’re doing business with one of the most spectacular developers in the world there-DAMAC-and their Chairman, Hussein Sajwani, is a pleasure to do business with. The Akoya development includes spectacular villas and what will be one of the best golf courses… anywhere. There simply won’t be anything to compete with it in terms of its quality.’ The Trump International Golf Club Dubai’s 18-holes have been designed by renowned course architect Gil Hanse-who is responsible for creating the 2016 Olympics course and recently redesigned ‘The Blue Monster’ at Trump National Doral in Miami-with input from Trump himself. Alongside the championship level course, where Trump has admitted he’d like to see the Ryder Cup hosted along with tour events, are clubhouse facilities commensurate with Dubai’s exceptionally high standards, including three high-end restaurants, a spa and wellness center and four international standard tennis courts. This isn’t the mogul’s first venture in the city that was recently announced the host of Expo 2020 however, a previous foray involved a hotel on the prestigious Palm Jumeirah unraveled when the global economy collapsed in 2008. ‘One couldn’t be sure Dubai would come back to this extent, but the city is truly booming again. We were lucky in a sense in that construction had not commenced, so timing worked out in our favor; you can’t build a significant development like that in a period of depression. Things have recovered quickly and are really moving there again now though… we sold 14 course-side villas of significant value on our first night of promoting the new development.’ A keen golfer himself, currently playing off a handicap of four, Trump arrived in Dubai after visits to other assets in his burgeoning portfolio of 17 courses. ‘We’ve literally had the approval through for the purchase of Turnberry today,’ Trump confides, referring to one of Scotland’s most prestigious golf clubs and home to the illustrious Ailsa course that has hosted the Open Championship no less than four times. ‘So on the way I called in there, I also visited our big project, the links course in the UK’s oil capital of Aberdeen, and Doonbeg which occupies over 400- acres and a spectacular position on Ireland’s Atlantic coast.’ Landing at Dubai’s new World Central airport, which he describes as ‘vast, beautiful and with perfect runways… new York and Los Angeles should be so lucky,’ travel for Trump has recently become considerably more pleasurable, given the addition of a Boeing 757-200 to his fleet of personal aircraft.
‘It’s a tremendous luxury to have a private plane,’ he enthuses, ‘whether a large jet like the 757 or a smaller aircraft, like the Cessna Citation X which I also have. If there’s no need to take the 757 I use the Citation, which I feel better about in terms of economy and environment.’ This is a really spectacular aircraft, it’s fast and allows me quick access between New York and Miami when I’m traveling alone or with just a few passengers. The 757-200 however is the flagship of the fleet and resplendent in its distinctive black, white, red and gold livery it commands a considerable presence on the apron. ‘I’d ideally been looking for a 757, it’s the best looking commercial aircraft available, it looks like a praying mantis, and has all the characteristics I wanted. Many opportunities arose for 737’s, but I didn’t like the speed, they’re too slow. I was getting close to settling for a 737, but decided to wait a little longer and then heard Paul’s aircraft was available.’ The Paul that Trump refers to is of course Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who’s previous use of the aircraft included shuttling his Seattle Seahawks NFL team to and from games, including the 2005 Super Bowl. ‘I’ve had the aircraft completely retrofitted,’ Trump explains, ‘it’s totally new now and really quite magnificent. We’re really delighted with the 757, it is fitted with the Rolls Royce engines that are terrific and so reliable and we didn’t change the configuration as we were happy with it… if you do your into a completely different ball game with regards regulations and approvals. The interior is completely brand new however, the companies we collaborated with were terrific; including the leather and seat manufacturers and SkyTheater who fitted a new custom hi-end audio/visual system. Everything was stripped down to the frame.’ Given his companies’ extensive design capabilities and experience, no exterior designer was required, though Trump admits to being very involved in the decision-making and worked alongside his trusted team on the project. While on the subject of teams, Trump’s fixed wing flight operation employs a long-standing crew that includes, ‘a pilot, mechanic and co-pilot that operate both aircraft, with three separate teams for the helicopters as they are in different locations. They operate out of LaGuardia Airport in New York as it is the most convenient airport for me.’ Trump estimates he flies ‘around 250-hours a year on the 757, perhaps between 300 and 350-hours a year in total (including the Citation X)’. Alongside his fixed wing assets, Trump also operates a fleet of three Sikorsky 76 helicopters. ‘I keep one in New York, one in Florida and I’m currently in the process of acquiring one for Scotland, which will enable me to fly between the three courses in Scotland and Ireland.’ Aircraft are obviously an important tool in the armory of an international businessman, but having previously indulged in the ownership of one of the most iconic yachts in the yachting sector-Kingdom 5KR (ex-Nabila, ex-Trump Princess), we ask why a pleasure craft doesn’t feature in his current portfolio of assets? ‘I’m not an avid yachtsman,’ Trump confesses with candor. ‘But I do have tremendous respect for yachts, especially the magnificence of ones that are well-designed and well-built, which is one of the reasons I enjoy reading your magazine. I bought Nabila because at the time she was available for a price that I thought was reasonable.’ The 281′ (85.65m) Nabila, which Trump renamed Trump Princess, was originally commissioned by the international arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, designed by the legendary Jon Bannenberg with interiors by Luigi Sturchio and launched by Benetti in 1980. The shipyard’s ‘gentleman’s handshake’ approach to business was no match for Kashoggi’s astute bargaining talents, fine tuned in the volatile environment of his chose specialty, and change orders coupled with delay penalties meant the launching of Nabila broke the shipyard financially, resulting in its sale to the Azimut.
Rumored to have cost around $100-million to build (the same unofficial figure is circulating in connection to Trump’s acquisition of Paul Allen’s 757), Trump’s keen eye for a deal saw him snap up one of the world’s most recognizable yachts for a figure alleged to be less than one-third of the build cost. Following her renaming, a refit at Amels in Holland and sporting a fresh white livery, Trump Princess made her way across the Atlantic to the USA. Despite featuring luxurious appointments and a helipad – with the traditional H replaced by a large T in the landing zone – Trump confesses he was sadly unable to spend the time aboard her he would have wished. ‘At the time (1989-91) she was a very large yacht, but not now in comparison to what we see being built. The sad part is I didn’t have the time to enjoy her; I have a basic problem in that I’m a golfer and I find that the yachts and golf aren’t necessarily mutually compatible. That’s not to say I wouldn’t own another one, but time on the course is important, enjoyable and moreover valuable to me. Essentially golf interfered with the use of the boat.’ Picking up on the possibility of yacht ownership in the future, and given his considerable success and obvious interest in property design and construction, we enquired if any future acquisition was likely to be a new build project, or a brokerage acquisition? ‘I’m more of a believer in markets to be honest,’ he replied. ‘A friend of mine built a yacht and in my opinion could have bought a bigger and nicer one for far less money, so I never really understood that. He liked the shape of the owner’s stateroom and that motivated his desire to build. I’d be far more inclined to find a great pre-owned yacht in the market… because at the end of the day you’re always looking for ‘the deal’. I understand there’s a tremendous personal and emotive attachment people have for their yachts, but let’s just say I’d be far more likely to buy if I found a great deal, than build.’ Trump’s particular impediment to yacht ownership, golf, is not something that is likely to take a back seat anytime soon however. The continued acquisition of golf courses and the business strategy of property development around them are proving highly successful. ‘In addition to the golf which is a true passion of mine, the courses also represent great property. Doonbeg is 500-acres on the Atlantic coast of Ireland, in Scotland Turnberry is 1,000-acres and Aberdeen 2,000-acres of links on the North Sea coast. In California we have 600-acres on the Pacific Ocean and in Washington 800-acres on the Potomac River. In addition to that they are full, vibrant and some are hosting great championship events, so they are good for cash flow.’ In addition to his obvious enjoyment and aptitude for the game Trump goes on to explain how golf has presented him with opportunities beyond winning club championships and a steady stream of revenue. ‘Golf isn’t my main business by any stretch, but it has been a good business… and also a great business tool. I’ve made so many friends on the course and met so many people that I’ve been able to spend quality time with, much more than you would simply over lunch, golf has been a tremendous tool. I almost think they should teach it at the Wharton School of Finance (Trump’s alma mater), so many people at a high level play golf and it is such a powerful force in creating lasting friendships.’ The conversation winds from friendships to family and it appears the Trump dynasty is in safe hands with both Donald Jr. and Eric ‘doing great things for the company,’ while daughter Ivanka’s talents and ‘incredible design gene’ are being employed in the designing of the villas for the project in Dubai. Currently occupying the patriarch’s desk is a number of hotel projects spread all over the world. ‘We’re currently working on probably ten super-luxury hotels developments and we’re really excited about the development of the Trump Collection.’ As our time together draws to a close, we venture that it would be remiss of us to leave without discussing politics, and enquire if Trump still harbors ambitions in that direction? ‘Well we have leaders in this country who are not doing a good job,’ comes the measured reply. ‘I do very well in polls, so every time a poll comes out and I have a good showing, I get calls asking ‘are you going to run, are you going to run?’ Last time I was leading in the polls, but to be honest I love what I’m doing right now, you’ve seen our projects and they are some of the best in the world. So I decided not to run and endorsed Mitt Romney, but that didn’t quite work out for him due to problems with his campaign.’ Coming originally from the UK, admittedly where the influence of corporations on Government is far less obvious and ominous than in the USA, I’d always thought that retired entrepreneurs and captains of industry would have a great deal to contribute to the country, and be preferable to ‘career politicians’ with little empathy and experience of ‘real business’. This was something Trump concurs with: ‘It’s true, we have leaders who have never ‘done a deal’, so are being taken advantage of by every country that deals with them. So obviously that has to change or the United States will no longer be the great United States it used to be. Something needs to change and it needs to change quickly!’