Trump: The Art of the Family

Now a father of five, Trump is more than pleased that his three eldest children, Don, 28; Ivanka, 24; and Eric, 22; have become the family’s third generation of builders and developers.

By Lauren Price
Photos by Yann Dandois


Donald Trump, one of the richest men in the world, became famous when his moniker began appearing on the top of some of Manhattan’s most iconic buildings.

Some say Trump, 60, reached celebrity status when the breakup of his 12-year marriage to Ivana played out in tabloids in 1989. Trump married Czech-born Marla Maples in 1993 and had daughter Tiffany, now 13. Maples and Trump divorced in 1999. In 2005, he married another European beauty, Melania Knauss, who gave birth in March to their son, Barron. By all accounts, they are very much in love.

“Melania’s great,” Don Trump said. “They have a lot of fun together. She doesn’t try to change him – so as long as you don’t, he’s quite content.”

“She fits his personality,” Eric Trump said. “And they’re very respectful of what is important to each of them.”

New Yorkers have had a love affair with Trump that dates from the1980s-particularly when he stepped into the renovation debacle of Central Park’s Wollman Rink. Nowhere near completion after six years, he took over at no charge to the city and got it done in record time: six months. And he threw in an unplanned restaurant to boot. Others contend the city’s love affair with Trump pales in comparison to how the world at large adores him since The Apprentice made him a TV star.

For its first season, Trump earned $50,000 an episode. Parlaying the show’s tremendous success (and coining the pop culture phrase, “You’re fired”), he earns 10 times that these days-making him one of the TV’s highest-paid personalities. Incidentally, instead of an occasional glimpse of Don and Ivanka, count on seeing them every episode, as they will be joining Dad in the boardroom this time around, replacing George and Carolyn. “No one thought it would be like this,” Trump said. “Originally, we were only going to do one a year, but it just got so popular. That first season, we went from eighth place to first place in five weeks. Our sixth season starts in January, this time from Los Angeles, and I think it’ll be our best yet.”

Eric thinks viewers may have been surprised to find that Donald Trump is not some stuffy mogul-that he’s actually quite kind and very funny. “The show lets people see just how talented my dad really is,” he said.

A second-generation developer, Donald Trump attended Fordham University. He transferred to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school of business. He graduated in 1968 and joined his father, Fred C. Trump, in the family business. Don and Ivanka also graduated from Wharton. Eric recently graduated from Georgetown University.

It’s very apparent that the Trumps raised poised and exceptionally charming children. “They’re terrific kids,” Trump said. “And they have a great relationship with each other. To be honest, I think I would be disappointed if they didn’t.”

Trump said that though he and Ivana were indeed good parents, that mattered only to a certain extent. At their core, Trump said, they are good, smart kids. But that may just be Trump being modest because it’s clear that both parents strived to give them normal, un-excessive childhoods and worked very hard to instill some very solid values. “Actually, they can be disappointingly normal,” Trump said good-naturedly.

While Trump doesn’t pretend to be a diaper-changing kind of dad, he says of raising a child today that “it’s a different generation.” And on the possibility of future sibling rivalry: “Barron comes into a room, and everybody wants to hold him. I don’t think that’ll ever change, given that he’ll always be the baby brother.”

Was it a given that the Trump children would join the family business? Did they actually have a choice?

Eric says they did have a choice but that he knew early on that he’d jump into the real estate game. “I remember spending a lot of time on the floor in my dad’s office when I was 5 or 6 building these really elaborate Lego buildings and they had to be the biggest and most famous,” Eric said. “Creating something, watching it grow and seeing it have a direct impact on a city’s skyline is so thrilling to me.”

“My dad wouldn’t want any of us to be here if he didn’t think we wanted to be,” Don said. “What we were pressured about was getting a good education and to do well. But I think I always knew that I’d work with my dad, though the family might not have thought that. Nevertheless, it was always going to be my choice. To be honest, I think some may have underestimated me in terms of doing well in business, so it was a nice surprise for everyone as to how well I’ve done, how happy I am here. When I finished college, I took a year off and headed for Aspen, which didn’t exactly thrill my parents. I just didn’t want any ‘what ifs,’ and I definitely didn’t want to find myself at my desk at midnight years later, wondering if I’d rather be someplace skiing. See, I’ve always been an outdoor kind of guy. I love to fish, ski, mountain bike and dive. Naturally, my dad wishes I loved playing golf – and sometimes I do like to play – but there are plenty of powerful, successful people who like to do what I do – they don’t just play golf.”

We asked him about that year in Colorado, about the reported drinking and how easy it was to put an end to the partying. “One morning, after a night out with friends where I experienced something that was kind of different, I suddenly felt guilty,” Don said. “Guilty about how blessed I had been my entire life. I guess you can say I had been dealt a royal flush, so why blow all that good fortune I had in my life? I think I knew at that moment I had to make a change. That there I was, thinking again about the ‘what ifs’ in terms of going into business with my father, and I just knew I wanted to be doing something more intellectual, more stimulating. Haven’t touched a drink since. I know I have an addictive personality, so when I do something, [I take it] as far as I can go. Now I apply that to business, to sports – all positive things – and here I am, nearly four years later, and I’ve already put together $2.5 billion in financing.”

“I think working together brings all of us so much closer to one another,” Ivanka Trump said. “This last year has been so interesting. It’s like a re-discovery. All these things I never knew about Don or he about me are now surfacing. And now with Eric here, it’ll be the same as that.”

With two very different sets of grandparents, we wanted to know how their influences showed themselves in each child.

“I was close to all of them,” Don said. “But there’s no question my mom’s father was a huge influence in my life. I know that’s where I got my love for the outdoors. He was very athletic; he was on the Czech National Swim Team. I would spend six weeks with him every summer in this little cottage in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere. He taught me how to fish, hunt and swim. So there I was, immersed in a communist culture, speaking fluent Czech, having a completely different set of friends. I saw how the rest of the world lived. I also loved being with my dad’s father, but it wasn’t like he’d say, ‘Let’s go play ball.’ He was a very tough, Germanic individual but a really wonderful man. I’d spend a Saturday with him, and we’d maybe go collect rent or visit a construction site. I learned so much about the business at a very young age from him. I just don’t think he related to kids in the same way my other grandfather did, and, sadly, my paternal grandfather died around the time everything exploded up in Aspen with my parents. I was 12 years old, so talk about a double whammy. It was very hard to lose him then because I always felt the closest to him and really thought of him as my surrogate father.

Ivanka was also close to all four. “They were all very hardworking people,” she said. My mom’s mother held down two jobs so they could put my mother through college. Her husband was an engineer, built embassies around the world, so there was a ‘builders’ influence from both sides of the family. My maternal grandmother loves people unconditionally. She loves to cook for everyone, and she’s so good at it. She also loves reading history books, particularly on European monarchies. I know I got my love of history from her.”

Eric’s memories of his stern but loving paternal grandfather include allowing him at age 6 to don a hardhat and steer a construction-site tractor while sitting on his grandfather’s lap. Of his dad’s mother, he can’t say enough good things about her, it seems. “She was such an unbelievable woman,” Eric said. “She was sharp as a tack; nothing got by her. And she was so funny, so witty. I really loved being with her, sitting next to her.”

“I can honestly say I get the same kind of closeness with my dad now that I had with my grandfather back then,” Don said. “I’ve learned so much from my father and find we actually have more in common than either of us would have thought. I think my dad and I are pleasantly surprised to see that. I also have a lot of my dad’s mannerisms; we both talk with our hands, and we approach things the same way. I guess you can only get so far from your genes. But I’m definitely more adventuresome than him.”

Following in the footsteps of one of the most powerful real estate moguls on the planet has to be enormously tough, so we asked how one can differentiate himself and make his own mark in the world of real estate.
“By expanding the brand – and not just by taking it outside of New York,” Don said. “When I joined the company, I wanted our brand to be less New York-centric, and now we’re international – particularly in emerging markets.”

“And there’s nothing egotistical about any of us,” Eric said. “It’s about the talent we bring to the table. That’s what will make us unstoppable, stand out. I also think we will keep the brand youthful.”

“You do have to be on top of everything,” Don said. “He’d fire any of us in a minute if we didn’t do a good job. There’s no free ride here, and that’s all there is to it.”

We asked each of them about the divorce. When it became public, how did the intrusiveness of the paparazzi affect them?

“For one thing, it was hard not having my granddad around at that point in my life,” Don said. “Eric was only 6, and though he did spend time in the Czech Republic, it wasn’t like it was for me. Obviously, it had more of an impact on me. I do think that’s when I thought I was finally a man and ‘took over’ my grandfather’s role for Eric. I think that’s why we’re so close now. I can’t say it wasn’t a very rough time. But in the end you get through it. In the grand scheme of life, it’s not the end of the world. We were well-fed, well-clothed. The bottom line for me was that I realized if they were getting divorced, they weren’t getting along. I still got both of them all the time, so I can’t say it was so terrible.”

Eric agrees that his brother passed along their grandfather’s wisdom and considers him his very best friend but points out that they got into plenty of scrapes together, too. Like the time Don suggested they find out who could drink a small can of tomato juice the fastest. Easy enough, so Eric thought. But unbeknownst to him, Don had spiked Eric’s with Tabasco sauce. “I wasn’t as close to my sister back then, her being a girl and all. And she didn’t exactly want to hang around with her little brother. We’ve become increasingly closer now, and I’m so happy about that. She’s such an unbelievable girl. And so funny.”

“For me, the divorce made me realize that things can change,” Ivanka said. “That you can’t take anything for granted. I can tell we didn’t take his presence for granted anymore.”

When we asked which parent spoiled and which didn’t spare the rod, all three agreed that discipline was their mother’s department. But Don remembers one time when his dad stepped in. Trump came home after a long day at the office and asked his son, who was 6 or 7 at the time, to go downstairs and get him a Diet Coke. “I looked at him and said, “What am I, your [expletive] maid?” He tells us that that is truly the only time he can ever remember seeing his dad upset with any of him.

As for the spoiler, all agree it wasn’t either parent.

“You know, it’s interesting, we weren’t spoiled the way somebody else might think,” Don said. “Obviously, I can’t look you straight in the face and not tell you we weren’t spoiled to some extent. I just don’t think we were spoiled in a negative way. It wasn’t like we were ‘bought’ off, like ‘Clean your room, and you’ll get a car’ or ‘Here’s your trust fund.’ I guess it’s all relative. Because my parents were well-off, we did live in fabulous homes and traveled with them in private jets to great places. But I’ll tell you this: When we were flying without them, it was coach. And, of course, they made sure they provided us with excellent educations. We were expected to work from an early age, too. My first job – I was 12 – was being dockhand at Trump Castle’s Marina in Atlantic City, and I worked for minimum wage and tips. Did that for a few summers, and I liked it, liked hanging out with older kids. There’s no question that working from a young age certainly helped me understand the value of a dollar, that if I wanted something, I had to go out and earn it. I’m sure that was my parents’ intention.”

Eric mowed lawns, raked leaves and loaded trees unto the back of trucks in Westchester for not very much money at age 12. Ivanka also worked at age 12, on the Trump World construction site. At 16, she began a four-year modeling career. Both a cover girl and a runway model for the likes of Versace, time spent modeling was strictly limited by both parents. “I could only model on weekends and holidays and only if I maintained a 4.0 grade average,” Ivanka said. “Modeling was a great break for me from boarding school, and it was definitely a way for me to subsidize my really small allowance.”

Following Don’s original plan to open properties around the world, Ivanka says that they’re now very focused on ramping up those efforts. A rather modest statement, given that new ones are practically popping up on a weekly basis. And though she thoroughly enjoys the hotel side, it’s not the most interesting of what she does. “I love construction, and I always did,” she said. “I come from a family of great builders – my grandfathers, my dad – and grew up on construction sites, so I guess you can say that, intrinsically, I’m a Trump. I love knowing you can build something, leave your mark on a city. I actually find it exhilarating to walk through them. I think that’s why I love going to Chicago every week, walking around to see the progress being made. Here, we get all involved in every aspect of the business. Nothing is compartmentalized, so we get to learn about everything. My dad can call either of us into his office to ask a question about financing or maybe construction or a unit’s design, and we know what we’re talking about. That’s what makes working here such a great experience. It will be the same for Eric.”

“I think you also have to remember that, foremost, we are developers,” Don said. “So we know how to change something, be more flexible if a situation warrants it on a build-out. If we think a change is necessary, we can do that. We’re not obligated to build cookie-cutter hotels. Besides, a change doesn’t mean the hotel will be less luxurious. We’ll always deliver luxury and impeccable service. That’s what we strive for – not what the building looks like inside or out.”

Ivanka says Chicago is their biggest project to date. Being built on the original site of the Chicago Sun-Times building, it’s just off Michigan Avenue along the Chicago River. The building will never have obstructed views because it’s set along a natural bend in the road. “It’s really going up fast; in fact, we just poured concrete for the 20th floor [the glass curtain wall building will top out at 92 stories],” she said. “The project is huge, so we’ll open in phases. The hotel portion will open in early 2008. The residences will open at the end 2008, and we hope to open the retail portion by then, too. Consultants told us that in a mature market like Chicago, we’d get maybe $450 a square foot, but we’re getting $1,400 for the hotel and $1,200 for the residences.”

Asked what else set their hotel apart from the competition, Ivanka said that, unlike the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons, the Trump property doesn’t have a sky lobby. Personally, she said, she finds that setup very unwelcoming and pretty confusing. Don said they also beat the competition with their amenity component, which includes a world-class spa on the both the 14th and 15th floors. There will also be spa suite accommodations and a pool overlooking the river.

“We’re also exploring a different model in Las Vegas,” Ivanka said. “All 1,282 units will be sold as hotel-condos. As it is with our other hotels, owners have the option of putting their unit into our rental program when they’re not in residence, making it part of the hotel’s inventory and generate revenue. Obviously, they have to purchase our furniture package to maintain a continuity of our style and design.”

“We’re the first to sell above $1,000 a square foot in Vegas,” Eric said. “Our biggest success to date. We don’t open until open the end of 2008, and we’re almost sold out.”

“We actually have hard contracts,” Don said. “These buyers put down 20 percent. We’re averaging about $1,275 a square foot, which is amazing. That’s almost $500 above what everyone else is getting. I guess that tells you right there how successful we’ve been out there. Every other developer out there thought they had a home run with their projects, but, at the end of the day, we’re the only one financed, in construction and almost sold out.

“We have done very well in Vegas,” Don said. “Actually, we dominate the market. So much so that we’re seriously considering a second tower on the site.”

“Our Panama property, that’s selling like crazy, too,” Ivanka said. “There, we’ll offer both hotel-condominiums and residences. Right now, 450 units are planned, but, because we don’t have zoning issues there, it’s likely that number will increase. The project will also have a 24/7 marina. We hope to open at the end of 2008.”

“When we got into that market, we were getting $125 a square foot,” Don said. “Now we’re getting $450. That’s 400 percent above market in three months. Now our competitors raised their prices 20 percent, so that shows the power of our brand.”

Where else is Trump International getting ready to put down roots? Apparently everywhere: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Toronto, Waikiki, Baja and even Tel Aviv.