Though Trump’s ghostwriter, now-HR-consultant Tony Schwartz, has since renounced his ties to the president, there are clear elements of “The Art of the Deal” that Trump continues to use as talking points.
The book shows how his career as a real estate developer in the ’70s and ’80s created his approach to business and leadership, including why, in his campaign, he would portray his deal-making in New York City as a miniature version of how he would approach the US.
While there is still much to learn about Trump’s management style as president of the United States, the highlights he chose from his early career offer some insight into his approach to making deals.
His biggest influence growing up was his father.
Trump portrays his father Fred as a tough, stern figure who was difficult to get along with. The son of German immigrants, Fred created a profitable real estate collection of single-family homes in Queens and low-income housing developments in Queens and Brooklyn.
Trump joined his father’s business in 1968, at age 22, and eventually forayed into the world of high-end Manhattan real estate, since, as he writes in “The Art of the Deal,” he wanted to be part of a luxury market. Fred would help start his son on this journey with a loan of $1 million, and with millions of dollars more in loans in the late ’70s and early ’80s, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Trump suggests he was able to have a stronger relationship with his father than his four siblings did, since he and Fred had a similar “business-like” approach to life. “I was drawn to business very early, and I was never intimidated by my father, the way most people were,” Trump writes. “I stood up to him, and he respected that.”
He said that his father taught him the importance of efficiency and toughness, and that his mother Mary Ann, a Scottish immigrant, imparted his famous flair for the dramatic that his father lacked.
And he came to believe you should work with family whenever possible.
Trump’s three oldest children — Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric — were key advisers during his presidential campaign, and Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner is an adviser in the White House. As he explains in “The Art of the Deal,” Trump likes to work with family whenever possible.
In a section about working with his brother Robert on an Atlantic City deal in 1980, Trump writes, “There is nothing to compare with family if they happen to be competent, because you can trust family in a way you can never trust anyone else.”
When he closed a deal in Atlantic City in 1985, he put his wife Ivana in charge of the Trump Castle casino rather than hiring a manager from outside, since he prioritized trust over casino experience.
Working with family is also beneficial when coupled with his general management approach, which is having his people report directly to him rather than go through bureaucracy.
“In our organization, anyone with a question could bring it directly to me and get an answer immediately,” he writes. “That’s precisely why I’ve been able to act so much faster than my competitors on so many deals.”
He learned how to be a force in the public arena from Roy Cohn.
After graduating Wharton in 1971, Trump moved to Manhattan to begin making deals on his own, though with the financial support of his father. He writes that he got to work schmoozing his way to a membership at the exclusive Le Club. It was here in 1973 he met Roy Cohn, a man who would become a mentor.
Cohn rose to prominence in the ’50s as the chief counsel of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, during McCarthy’s hunt for Communists within the US. After McCarthy, Cohn developed a reputation as a ruthless attorney in New York, with clients ranging from Mob boss Tony “Fat Tony” Salerno to the New York Yankees. He was also a socialite “who could be charismatic and witty,” the Washington Post reported.
When Trump sat next to Cohn in Le Club, he told him about the Justice Department’s civil rights case brought against him and his father, accusing them of violating the Fair Housing Act. He asked for Cohn’s take. “My view is tell them to go to hell,” Trump writes Cohn said, adding that it was on them to prove the allegations. Trump hired Cohn to fight the case and they agreed to a settlement without admitting guilt.
Trump writes that Cohn most valued toughness and loyalty, which he admired.
In addition to being his lawyer, Cohn introduced Trump to influential people across New York and Washington, D.C., including one of President Richard Nixon’s strategists, Roger Stone, a man who would help him get elected president in 2016.
Trump became relentless.
Trump will not back down from a fight if it’s brought to him. And according to “The Art of the Deal,” he’s aware this can be perceived a reckless but prefers to stick to his guns.
When imagining himself in the shoes of Barron Hilton in the midst of Steve Wynn’s 1979 takeover threat, Trump writes that he would have pushed back and, “I’m not saying I would also have won, but if I went down, it would have been kicking and screaming. I would have closed the hotel and let it rot. That’s just my makeup. I fight when I feel I’m getting screwed, even if it’s costly and difficult and highly risky.”
He explains elsewhere that he’s OK with “alienating some people along the way,” as long as you’re fighting for what you believe in. He notes later in the book that, “I can be a screamer when I want to be.”
On the point of making crude public insults of those he feels have attacked or betrayed him, a practice he’s held for decades, he says, “I don’t go out of my way to be cordial to enemies.”
He’s long had an obsession with the press.
Trump’s thoughts on the media and how to manipulate its members appear repeatedly throughout “The Art of the Deal.”
Trump claims in the book he doesn’t enjoy doing press, because he doesn’t like answering the same questions repeatedly or talking about his personal life, but he fully admits to a love of a media circus.
And while Trump has been at war with the New York Times over the last couple years, he says in his book, “The power of the New York Times is awesome,” and mentions the publication 23 times.
Trump developed a habit early in his career of closely monitoring all media coverage of himself and his properties, and often wrote letters to reporters and writers when he disagreed with their criticisms. “My people keep telling me I shouldn’t write letters like this to critics,” he writes. “The way I see it, critics get to say what they want about my work, so why shouldn’t I be able to say what I want about theirs?”
This includes making the most of controversy and drama.
Trump understands well what people want to read and watch, and that’s why he includes several examples of stretching the truth in his favor, as when he hired an overly large construction crew at an Atlantic City site to create the impression of progress.
“I play to people’s fantasies,” he writes. “People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.”
Trump also learned to make the most of a disastrous story, as when he made the decision to destroy a few sculptures when he made way for Trump Tower in 1979, not expecting an outcry from art lovers and designers.
“Even though the publicity was almost entirely negative, there was a great deal of it, and that drew a tremendous amount of attention to Trump Tower,” he writes. “Almost immediately we saw an upsurge in the sales of apartments. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, and in truth it probably says something perverse about the culture we live in. But I’m a businessman, and I learned a lesson from that experience: good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.”
He had instructive battles with New York City mayor Ed Koch.
Trump recounts various times throughout the ’80s when New York City mayor Ed Koch got in the way of a deal Trump wanted to make.
Trump labeled Koch a bully, differentiated from himself. “Bullies may act tough, but really they’re closet cowards,” he writes. “Confront a strong, competent person and he’ll fight back harder than ever.”
He writes that he learned an important lesson from dealing with Koch and other New York politician:
“You can apply all kinds of pressure, make all sorts of pleas and threats, contribute large sums of money to their campaigns, and generally it gets you nothing. But raise the possibility of bad press, even in an obscure publication, and most politicians will jump. Bad press translates into potential lost votes, and if a politician loses enough votes, he won’t get reelected.”
His most significant victory over Koch was successfully renovating Wollman Rink.
An ice rink in Central Park may appear minor in the overall scheme of Trump’s real estate career, but it would later become a major symbol of his 2016 presidential campaign, which promised that the key to “draining the swamp” of a corrupt political system lies with a successful businessman.
When New York City’s government closed the Wollman Rink in 1980 for renovations, it could have been a simple job. Six years and $12 million later, the city was in a worse position than when it started. Trump decided that he would take the project over and show Koch how it was done. Koch resisted, but after a successful press campaign, the mayor reluctantly gave the project to Trump, who promised the public that he would complete it within six months, with a $3 million budget.
Trump delivered the rink on time and on budget, and the press gave him universal praise.
“It was a simple, accessible drama about the contrast between governmental incompetence and the power of effective private enterprise,” he writes.