Friday, September 04, 2015

Trump-- Like A Cockroach Under A Magnifying Glass


Thursday morning, Morning Joe took a few moments out of their busy Hillary-bashing routine to interview Bloomberg Business writer Max Abelson, whom one of the Morning Joe idiots introduced as a Wall Street Journal writer, since his beat is Wall Street.

Abelson endeavors to bring his readers inside the Trumpian empire and explain "How Trump invented Trump." None of the people at Morning Joe, who were too preoccupied with their anti-Hillary jihad, had read the piece or were in the slightest bit interested in it or Abelson. The piece happens to be quite revelatory about the Republican Party presidential front-runner who keeps making outlandish claims about himself, his wealth and his business acumen. Ableson discussed business with him, not politics. "After all," he writes, "that’s his central qualification for the job he’s seeking."

When he asks Trump to name a business leader he looks to for advice on managing his company, Trump says, "Me." Does he admire anyone else? "I don't like the word admire," he says. Abelson comes to the conclusion that you can't take Trump's boasts about his empire literally, which seems to me a polite way of confirming that the man is a compulsive liar.
“I’m the biggest developer in New York, by far,” he told Larry King in 1999. “I’m the biggest developer in New York, and I’m not looking for additional work,” he told the New York Post in 2003. “My name’s Donald Trump, and I’m the largest real estate developer in New York,” he said in 2004’s Apprentice pilot, introducing himself in a limo. “Here I am, the biggest developer in New York,” he told a reporter from Scotland in 2007. “The greatest builder is me, and I would build the greatest wall you have ever seen,” he said this May, invoking his plan for Mexico’s border at a speech in South Carolina. He pointed at his chest while rolling his head around. The crowd went wild.

Trump isn’t the biggest New York developer. He isn’t really a skyscraper developer anymore, and he hasn’t been for years. He put up huge buildings and casinos, borrowed to do it, nearly wiped out, came back as a brand name that often needed bigger partners, was smacked by the financial crisis when he tried to again take massive risks, and ended up with a profitable business anyway.

The lesson from the 150-story building he craved is the same one you get from stepping inside the company. It’s not the hugest in the whole world, and it’s not what it was supposed to be, but it’s something. And, like his politics, it can seem much, much bigger than it is.

Trump has crushed his presidential competition by presenting himself as the finest businessman ever to don a suit. Will his career’s blemishes hurt him? Could Americans who love the great, amazing, terrific, perfect version of Trump accept the flawed one? In his office, he tells me that someone said the cool thing about his race to be the leader of the free world is that if he loses he gets to go back to being Donald Trump again-- only an even vaster version.

“So win, lose, or draw, I’m glad I did it,” he says. “Although it’s too early to say that yet.”
Last year his company's revenue was $605 million, a relatively small company with a profit of around $300 million. "[F]or purposes of comparison," writes Abelson, the Trumpian empire is "roughly the size of a company called NN, based in Johnson City, Tenn., which produces tiny steel balls."
Trump isn’t exactly self-made-- he inherited substantial wealth from his father-- but he is definitely self-invented. There’s no model in the political world for how he transformed himself into a campaign megastar without preparation, politeness, policy, or public service. To wander around inside Trump’s kingdom with his deputies, children, lenders, and former executives is to find a New York real estate mogul who stopped building Manhattan real estate and a global hotelier who doesn’t own most of his foreign hotels. Long before he was ignoring basic political rules, he was sailing far beyond the limits of his industry, steering an empire that’s as similar to most corporations as his run is to most presidential campaigns. In the same way that his campaign is post-politics, his company is post-business.

Trump is selling himself to America as the king of builders, a flawless dealmaker, and masterful manager. But he isn’t really any of those things. Trump has built few skyscrapers this century, stumbling twice when he’s tried, and struggled with an array of other projects. Meanwhile, his corporate leadership is a kind of teenager’s fantasy of adult office power. From his Trump Tower desk in Midtown Manhattan he controls the teensiest details, rejects hierarchy, and picks top deputies by following his own recipe for promotion.

None of those things means he’s a sham. The story of how he came to be what he is now-- above all else a landlord and a golf bigwig-- is even weirder than his charge to the White House. Trump rose in the glitzy 1980s on borrowed money, survived early 1990s disasters that nearly brought him down, then transformed himself and his business. His organization is still successful, just not in the way he’s claimed.

“We evolve very much in this company,” Trump says. “See that? I’m just looking while I’m talking to you. See that record?” There’s a plaque across from his desk. “That’s a platinum, that was sent. Mac Miller, did you ever hear of Mac Miller? He’s a rapper. He did a song called "Donald Trump"--100 million hits!” [The song's highest chart position was #75 in the US and #110 in France- ed.] He takes a breath and goes back to his company. “I tell you what,” he says a few minutes later. “Someday before I kick the bucket, somebody is going to get what a great business I built. People don’t know.”

...By then [the 1980s], Trump had already emerged in Manhattan as a fully formed version of himself. When barely 30 he was being chauffeured around town in a Cadillac with his initials on the license plate, and newspapers were noting his dazzling grin and model companions. By the end of the 1970s he had brought his father’s outer-borough apartment company into Manhattan, transforming the Commodore Hotel on grimy 42nd Street into what would become the glassy Grand Hyatt New York. He had political connections helping him nab a new kind of tax deal to save him millions of dollars. He fought the government when the U.S. Department of Justice sued his family company for discriminating against black tenants in Brooklyn and Queens, a case he eventually settled.

...The 1980s was a steroidal decade. Trump bought an airline, a vast Palm Beach estate called Mar-a-Lago, and a yacht so big it inspired a song by the band Queen. He proposed the world’s tallest building and was considered for a job to build a City of God for Hare Krishnas in New Jersey, according to a news report at the time. He became an Atlantic City tycoon instead, calling his Trump Taj Mahal the world’s most expensive casino ever built. He took over a pair of buildings on Central Park South, renamed them Trump Parc and Trump Parc East, and offered to house homeless people in one of them to pressure rent-controlled tenants to leave... He borrowed so much that he ended up guaranteeing, altogether, close to $1 billion, which meant that the banks could have ruined him if something went wrong. Before his run ended, he opened the Taj Mahal in 1990 with a giant genie named Fabu declaring Trump its master and a green laser shooting out to cut the building’s red ribbon. It beat the Verrazano’s opening ceremony. The curtain came down on that era of Trump a year later when the Taj went bankrupt.

Before this year’s presidential race, the grandest triumph Trump had managed was staying on his feet during his 1990s disaster as the economy fell out from under him. He lost the Plaza, the yacht, and the airline, and the casinos filed for bankruptcy-- but he himself didn’t, as he reminds his crowds on the campaign trail. In Trump: The Art of the Comeback, a book with two chapters on his prenuptial agreements and one on his collapse, he chalks up his survival to the timing of his debt negotiation, playing hardball with his lenders, and teaching one holdout banker a better golf grip.

What saved him is that those bankers believed he was worth more to them above water than under it. He fought to buy time until the real estate market could rebound. By 1995, with some but not all of his debt wiped out and a pair of big projects that would use his name under way, limousine mogul Bill Fugazy handed him a boomerang encased in glass at a lunch marking his comeback.

A new empire rose out of the wreckage of the first. The reimagined Trump relied more on partners than on personally guaranteed debt, at least most of the time. His name on a building didn’t necessarily mean that he owned or built it. When our car gets to Columbus Circle, we pass the skyscraper that was remade in 1997 from the Gulf + Western Building into Trump International Hotel & Tower. General Electric put up the money to transform it, but the GE International Hotel & Tower probably wouldn’t have attracted as many guests. A year later, on the other end of Central Park South, even though Trump put in only $11 million to buy the General Motors Building with insurer Conseco, his name went up in 4-foot letters on the white-marble tower. They were taken down overnight and the building was sold off after Conseco’s fall a half-decade later.

...In 2005 he became an education entrepreneur, founding Trump University. “The problem with school is that school is a little academic,” said Roger Schank, its chief learning officer, when the online program started. Trump U gave out no degrees, wasn’t accredited, changed its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, and was sued by New York’s attorney general for cheating students. Trump denied the allegations and countersued.

The parts of his company that slap his name on other people’s things help explain how Trump can make all that profit from such a modest amount of revenue. Trump can earn millions of dollars when he licenses out his five sparkling letters, that unbeatable verb, to new towers in the Philippines, Panama, India, Uruguay, Brazil, Canada, and the U.S., too. And he doesn’t have to worry about spending money on stuff like concrete.

“It’s not conventional, traditional real estate, but it’s real estate,” says Richard LeFrak, another billionaire son of an outer-borough New York developer. “I mean, if you think about it, his brand is his real estate.”

A year after the university opened, he launched Trump Mortgage with a press release, saying in all-caps it would put the “SUIT AND TIE BACK IN THE MORTGAGE BUSINESS.” His CEO’s work experience, posted on the company’s website, turned out to be embellished, and within a year the company shut down.

Trump began endorsing a multilevel-marketing firm called ACN around that time. “Hey, if you want a nice, easy, OK life, you can be in the pack ... but if you really want to do something, you do have to get out of the pack,” he said in a promotional video. “We do a lot of research on companies before we agree to do something like I’m doing for you, and ACN’s a great company.” ACN, which charges new members $499 to join a system that rewards them for selling digital phone service and natural gas, was featured on 2009 and 2011 episodes of The Celebrity Apprentice, where contestants promoted a video phone. In between, Montana’s securities commissioner accused ACN of running a pyramid scheme, dropping a cease-and-desist order when the company agreed to better training programs. Trump got $1.35 million for three recent speeches to the company.
Time to watch this again? You bet, especially if you're thinking about voting in a Republican primary or caucus.

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At 12:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hahh .... "teaching one holdout banker a better golf grip."

I've heard it called many things!

John Puma


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