Donald Trump: American Billionaire
Donald Trump may very well be the most recognizable name in the American business world. Unlike some of the other billionaires we've written about, Donald Trump leads a public lifestyle. He's not afraid to give interviews or voice his opinions on anything from politics to pop culture.
He's also one of the 500-richest people in the world with a net worth of nearly $4 billion. Although the majority of his wealth comes from non-gambling business ventures, the company that he started currently owns two major casino properties: the Trump Taj Mahal and the Trump Plaza.
Outside of his flamboyant lifestyle, Donald Trump is also famous for his ability to stage a comeback. There was a period in the 1990s in which his financial difficulties were the talk of news shows across the nation. He has been rich, nearly broke, stuck in massive debt and even had his assets seized. But somehow, he always manages to make a comeback.
Early Years and the Family Business
Donald Trump was born in Queens, New York in 1946. His father was a successful real estate developer who owned a portfolio of middle class residential properties in the New York City area. His father first sent Donald to the Kew Forest School and then took him out and moved him to the New York Military Academy at age 13.
Kew Forest was a bad fit for the energetic and sometimes wild child, but he flourished at NYMA. While at NYMA, Donald received academic honors, and he played varsity football and baseball. He served as the baseball team captain during his senior year.
After graduating from NYMA, Trump went to Fordham University for two years. He then transferred to Wharton and graduated from there with a degree in economics and real estate. After graduating in 1968, Trump immediately returned home and went to work for his father's real estate company, Elizabeth Trump & Son.
He worked with his father for a few years and brokered a number of valuable business deals for the company. His father was later quoted as saying "everything he [Donald] touches turns to gold." Donald made private deals, worked with the city government, and bought failing hotels to turn them around. Some of his early business accomplishments with the company actually took place while he was still in college.
In 1975, his father gave him the keys to the company and made him president. Donald then changed the name of the company to "the Trump Organization."
The Trump Organization
Donald saw great success at the helm of the Trump Organization. With New York City facing financial problems in the mid-1970s, he convinced the city to give him a tax break in return for agreeing to purchase, renovate, and improve the Commodore Hotel in 1976. He sold his stake in the project to Hyatt Hotels in 1978 and the building was reopened as the Grand Hyatt in 1980.
His next move was to take over the city's fumbling attempt at renovating the Wollman Skating Rink. Earlier, New York had attempted to renovated the rink on its own. After spending $12 million and three years on the project, the NYC government handed control of the project over to the Trump Organization. He completed renovations in under six months and $750,000 under budget.
With his eye on gambling, Donald Trump got his New Jersey gambling license in 1982. He had plans to build his own casino, but was asked to oversee the construction of a Holiday Inn resort and casino. He accepted, finished the project, and opened the property in 1984. In 1986, he bought out Holiday Inn's shares in the property and renamed it the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.
He then purchased the unfinished Atlantic City Hilton hotel and casino in 1985. He renamed it the Trump Marina and kept it until 2011, when he sold it to Landry's Inc.
Throughout the 1980s, Trump invested in Manhattan real estate and rode the rising economic tide of the time. He made business and political connections, his reputation bloomed, he built Trump Tower in NYC and acquired a fortune.
In 1988, he purchased the unfinished Taj Mahal resort casino for $230 million. Then in 1989, he started his most expensive project to date: the $1 billion construction of the Taj Mahal. This expensive project strained his finances and contributed to his brush with bankruptcy.
The Close Call and the Comeback
By 1989, Donald Trump was starting to have financial difficulties. He was having problems making loan payments and experienced a creditor-led bailout. Much of the news coverage of Trump in the early 1990s revolved around his dire financial condition.
To top things off, his wife, Ivana Trump, caught him having an affair with Marla Maples. She divorced him and won a $20 million settlement from Donald. Trump very nearly went broke, but he fought his way back, cultivated his image, embraced the public, and rebuilt his name. He gave speeches, wrote books, endorsed a variety of products, and scratched his way back from the brink of personal ruin.
This period of his life lasted nearly 10 years but by the late 1990s, he was on his way back up. He made good with his creditors and turned the media coverage around to his favor. He finished the 72-story Trump World Tower and acquired vast swaths of valuable Manhattan real estate.
2003 saw another surge in Trump's public stock. He became the producer and host of NBC's "The Apprentice." The show was a hit, and Trump's pay-per-episode was bumped up from $50,000 to $3 million. The success of The Apprentice and his improved financial condition brought him back to the limelight as a celebrity entrepreneur.
Today Donald Trump is estimated to have a personal fortune of nearly $4 billion.
Donald Trump has long maintained connections with prominent political figures and has even considered running for office himself. He has donated money to both republican and democratic politicians. He has contributed to the campaigns of a diverse set of politicians including Rudolph Giuliani, George W. Bush, John Kerry and Anthony Weiner.
He considered running for the Presidency as a third-party candidate (Reform Party) in the 2000 election. However, he later decided to pull out of the race.
Trump again strongly considered running for the 2012 Presidency. He entered the primaries in 2010 and gave a CPAC speech that year. He was highly critical of President Obama and laid forth a completely different vision of leadership for the country. Trump advocated as a pro-life nominee, opposed Obamacare, and stated his strong support of the 2nd Amendment.
In 2011, he bowed out of the race stating that his biggest passion was business. Donald Trump is still happy to share his views and commentary on politics, but he appears to have no interest in running again. Then again, it's anyone's guess as to what "the Donald" has in store next.
Author: Wesley Burns
Updated: March 2015
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