Written by: Stephen Hsu
Primary Source: Information Processing
What satisfaction, exactly, do you get out of doing a deal? I love the creative process. I do what I do out of pure enjoyment. Hopefully, nobody does it better. There’s a beauty to making a great deal. It’s my canvas. And I like painting it. I like the challenge and tell the story of the coal miner’s son. The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son. If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination-or whatever-to leave their mine. They don’t have “it.”
Which is? “It” is an ability to become an entrepreneur, a great athlete, a great writer. You’re either born with it or you’re not. Ability can be honed, perfected or neglected. The day Jack Nicklaus came into this world, he had more innate ability to play golf than anybody else.
Do you suppose your children inherited “it” from you? Statistically, my children have a very bad shot. Children of successful people are generally very, very troubled, not successful. They don’t have the right shtick. You never know until they’re tested. But I do well with my children.
Do you think they will have to make it? I would love them to be in business with me, but ninety-five percent of those children fail in a sophisticated big business. It takes confidence, intelligence, shtick. If any one of these traits is missing, you’re not going to make it.
Your older brother, Fred, who died from heart failure brought on by acute alcoholism, had a more difficult time with him [Trump’s father], didn’t he? Take one environment and it will work completely differently on different children. Our family environment, the competitiveness, was a negative for Fred. It wasn’t easy for him being cast in a very tough environment, and I think it played havoc on him. I was very close to him and it was very sad when he died . . . toughest situation I’ve had …
What did you learn from his experience? [Pauses] Nobody has ever asked me that. But his death affected everything that has come after it. … I think constantly that I never really gave him thanks for it. He was the first Trump boy out there, and I subconsciously watched his moves.
And the lesson? I saw people really taking advantage of Fred and the lesson I learned was always to keep up my guard one hundred percent, whereas he didn’t. He didn’t feel that there was really reason for that, which is a fatal mistake in life. People are too trusting. I’m a very untrusting guy. I study people all the time, automatically; it’s my way of life, for better or worse.
Why? I am very skeptical about people; that’s self-preservation at work. I believe that, unfortunately, people are out for themselves. At this point, it’s to many people’s advantage to like me. Would the phone stop ringing, would these people kissing ass disappear if things were not going well? I enjoy testing friendship …. Everything in life to me is a psychological game, a series of challenges you either meet or don’t. I am always testing people who work for me.
How? I will send people around to my buyers to test their honesty by offering them trips and other things. I’ve been surprised that some people least likely to accept a trip from a contractor did and some of the most likely did not. You can never tell until you test; the human species is interesting in that way. So to me, friendship can be really tested only in bad times. I instinctively mistrust many people. It is not a negative in my life but a positive. Playboy wouldn’t be talking to me today if I weren’t a cynic. So I learned that from Fred, and I owe him a lot. . . . He could have ultimately been a happy guy, but things just went the unhappy way.
How large a role does pure ego play in your deal making and enjoyment of publicity? Every successful person has a very large ego.
Every successful person? Mother Teresa? Jesus Christ? Far greater egos than you will ever understand.
A favorite word of yours, tough. How do you define it? Tough is being mentally capable of winning battles against an opponent and doing it with a smile. Tough is winning systematically.
Life? Or death? Both. We’re here and we live our sixty, seventy or eighty years and we’re gone. You win, you win, and in the end, it doesn’t mean a hell of a lot. But it is something to do-to keep you interested.
Do you agree with the T-shirt that says, WHOEVER HAS THE MOST TOYS WINS? Depends on your definition of winning. Some of my friends are unbelievably successful and miserable people. I truly believe that someone successful is never really happy, because dissatisfaction is what drives him. I’ve never met a successful person who wasn’t neurotic. It’s not a terrible thing … it’s controlled neuroses.
Do you think George Bush is soft? I like George Bush very much and support him and always will. But I disagree with him when he talks of a kinder, gentler America. I think if this country gets any kinder or gentler, it’s literally going to cease to exist. I think if we had people from the business community-the Carl Icahns, the Ross Perots-negotiating some of our foreign policy, we’d have respect around the world.
You categorically don’t want to be President? I don’t want to be President. I’m one hundred percent sure. I’d change my mind only if I saw this country continue to go down the tubes.