Meet The Calmer Trump: Donald Trump Jr.
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Being the son of a presidential candidate is hard enough. But when your father is bombastic real estate tycoon Donald Trump, it's a double whammy. Constant media scrutiny. Loss of privacy. Every moment is suddenly under the microscope for the world to see and comment on. But for Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., it's all he's ever known.
"Frankly, it's kind of always been this way," he tells Bisnow matter-of-factly. "It's not like my father just came on the scene yesterday. He's been at it for quite awhile. So our family is used to it."
For years, Trump Sr. has demonstrated his genius when it comes to generating press. At this point, the family understands they're part of the media machine known as "The Donald," as ex-wife Ivana once called him in her broken English.
For this interview exclusive, Don Jr. was poised, calm and well-spoken, seemingly undeterred by the constant press attacks on his father. And even a few aimed at him. In fact, this 38-year-old entrepreneur relishes being a Trump and the challenges that come with what has become an internationally recognized brand name.
Despite the elder Trump investing practically all his time on the presidential campaign (it's paying off—The Donald is the Republican front-runner who's sure to be named the party's candidate at July's convention), the family's real estate business continues to prosper. Don Jr. says it's already been a year that he; his brother, Eric; and sister, Ivanka have been basically running things while their father has been focusing on his campaign.
"And I don't think we've missed a beat so far," he declares.
From the look of things, it seems he's right: The Trump Organization real estate business is thriving. First off, there's the new Trump International Hotel opening in the Old Post Office in September on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. It's opening two years ahead of schedule and just two months before the presidential elections.
"I'll land on Pennsylvania Avenue one way or another," Trump recently told the press with a wink and a smile.
And then there's the recent announcement of what will be one of the most prestigious (and expensive!) office towers to ever be built in India in the little-known (to Americans) city of Gurgaon.
"This is our first commercial tower" but the Trump Org's third property in the burgeoning country, says Don Jr. "The other two were residential. So going back to our original thesis of the company, which was to build high-end residential—I think [India] is a market ready for a lot of luxury."
With all their success, Don Jr. revealed breaking into the Indian real estate market was no easy task. He says he started looking at India about 10 years ago, when he made his first trip.
He recalls people getting his info and telling him about their piece of land. He would tour many of them, but sometimes he'd travel halfway around the world only to find out the person he was dealing with actually had very little to do with the property. "But they would try to, sort of, broker a deal because it’s such an entrepreneurial society," he adds.
Don Jr. says even with the Republican National Convention in July and the presidential election coming up this November, the real estate side of the business will continue to operate as it has.
"I’d like to think that we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing for a long time," he says. "We’ll do it probably without as much input from my father. As he’s said all along, 'The country’s more important than any business I could have created.' I think he believes the business is in good hands with us. And we believe that, too. Trump is still a real estate company. It’s what we do. That’s our bread and butter. And it shows. We’ll take good care of it."
The Donald Trump Jr. interview exclusive...
Bisnow: Congratulations on the India deal. What is it about India and the commercial real estate market there the Trump Organization finds so attractive?
Donald Trump Jr.: We love what’s going on in India. The demographics have shifted. There’s a lot more wealth that’s been created in the market. You have people [there] who are incredibly entrepreneurial. So you combine all of those things and I think you see that the Trump brand really resonates there.
Bisnow: In what way have the demographics shifted?
Donald Trump Jr.: These entrepreneurs want to link themselves to that... They’ve become much more global. They travel all over the world to cities like New York and London, but they haven’t been able to get the kind of luxury product they get to see there in their own backyard, in their own homes. I think that explains a lot of [our] success on the residential side. And I think it will explain a lot of the success we’ll see on the commercial side.
Bisnow: What about the specific location you chose makes it so appealing?
Donald Trump Jr.: An area like Gurgaon, where you have a very burgeoning office market, it’s very large. But there's still not a lot of Grade A office. And when you’re attracting a lot of international companies that are coming into that market from all over the world— whether it’s tech companies, whether it’s banks—there’s a level of expectation of what they want to be delivered in terms of the actual quality of the product. We are excited to work with [India's first and largest real estate private equity firm] IREO to really make it special, to make it great. To really fill that void.
Bisnow: Economically, India is doing very well.
Donald Trump Jr.: Correct. They’re growing. Like I said, it’s a very entrepreneurial society. And people work hard [there] and they take it very seriously. I’m always impressed when I go there. Every time I go to these cities, there are more and more buildings. And it’s not one of these short-lived things like we’ve seen in certain parts of the world where it was just a hot city for just a brief time. I mean, this has been going on for over a decade and shows no signs of slowing down. When I look around and see all the companies around me doing business there and relocating there—you have a lot of the best of all worlds.
Bisnow: How difficult is it for you as a foreigner to be able to navigate the best real estate opportunities—and overall, business opportunities—in a foreign country?
Donald Trump Jr.: The biggest challenge for me in learning a new country, the biggest difficulty on those first trips, is you're navigating who’s real and who’s just, sort of, trying to put themselves in a brokerage position to try and make something happen later on. That’s both incredible and frustrating.
Now I feel like we’ve paid our dues. We’ve spent a lot of time in the market. I have a lot of people I’m very close with now at very high levels on the real estate side and on the finance side. The vetting process is a lot easier for me now because I now know those people and have direct communications with them. But it wasn’t easy when we started out.
Bisnow: With your dad running for president, you’ve been thrust into a political landscape, unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. On top of that, your name is “Donald Trump Jr.” You have the namesake. A foreigner may not differentiate between you and your dad. How are you adjusting?
Donald Trump Jr.: You know, you take the good with the bad. It’s what I know. It’s what I’m used to.
Bisnow: How is it affecting your ability to do business?
Donald Trump Jr.: I don’t know that it has. The name recognition has always been there. It’s not like we magically appeared on the scene a few months ago when my father announced. He’s been out there for a long period of time. I think the level of scrutiny and everything that’s out there is much more now than it ever has been, certainly. But we’ve just always worked with it that way. That’s always been the case. There are some negatives but there are also the positives. When I call to get a meeting with whomever I want to talk to, they take the call, they take the meeting. If I’m calling as “John Smith,” I think it’s probably a little harder to pull off.
Bisnow: The Trump name is your enabler.
Donald Trump Jr.: I think in this case, it can help.
Bisnow: Tell me about IREO, which you’ve partnered up with for this office tower project in India. Is it better to partner with a company from the region, the country you’re doing business in, than going it alone?
Donald Trump Jr.: Look, we’re very good at what we do. We’re great developers. We’re great builders. We’re great marketers. We get that world. At the same time we also know what we don’t know. We don’t have the hubris—and I know you’ll find this hard to believe—but we don’t have the hubris to go into every market and just assume that we can go there and dominate when it’s 8,000 miles away from home. We’re not naive. We understand how those worlds work.
Because my father has done such an amazing job of building this brand, we can go there with the brand and we can partner up with guys like IREO, the largest real estate private equity firm in all of India. That’s a big deal. They see the value of the brand. We see the value of partnering with people that have boots on the ground where we don’t have to form teams.
Bisnow: How different is the nuts and bolts of a project like this than something domestic?
Donald Trump Jr.: We’ll have teams working on it but we don’t have to have entire construction teams. Those are the guys that really get it. If we were building in New York, they’d probably come to us. We’ve been able to do a really good job while taking advantage of the brand by doing that. And that’s been a great gateway where we can be involved in the market. Be there with somebody who’s going to get it done. And someone who has all the connections to deliver the right product. And you can see it. There’s been a lot of real big, US-based and internationally based companies trying to go into some of these developing markets—they’re like, “We’re going to spend $5B,” and then they come back with nothing. And then they’re, like, “Well, that was, kind of, a rough experience.”
Bisnow: There are places where nobody wants to deal with an American. Places like France and Japan. You need a French partner in France, a Japanese partner in Japan.
Donald Trump Jr.: It goes beyond that. They’re having to deal with you if you’re going to put your money there. But, again, in all of these little markets—and I’m not just talking about markets in a country. I’m talking about submarkets. Gurgaon or New Delhi within India. There are guys in each place who are players, who know how to get things done. These are guys that have done it time and time again. And if you go there thinking you’re just going to hire a bunch of people and compete with these guys—[laughs] they’re going to compete back.
We’re fortunate enough to have carved out a niche in India whether it’s with IREO there or what we’ve done with Lodha in Mumbai. They get it. They see it. Some of them have worked with other brands and, they’re car companies or clothing companies, and then they’re trying to be real estate companies. If you look at our sales when markets slow down versus everyone else, Trump is still a real estate company. It’s what we do. That’s our bread and butter.
And it shows. And that’s why we’re still able to get the numbers even when the markets aren’t as good as we’d like them to be. Having that understanding and having that personal closeness to real estate has really helped us a lot in all of these markets with guys that really know what they’re doing in those markets, respectively.
Bisnow: What is the responsibility to the office tower once it’s completed? Once you finish building, is that it? Or do you leave a Trump Management team in place?
Donald Trump Jr.: Each is an individual case but, oftentimes, we leave a team in place so the brand is protected. The most important part of our job once the building is built is maintaining that building—making sure that the standard is upheld. Not just through resale or sellout but forever. Which would be very atypical of a developer to do. Normally, a developer builds a building and then they want to get out as quickly as they possibly can. But for us, it’s about preserving the brand for the future.
Bisnow: What are the costs involved in an office tower of this magnitude? Price/SF?
Donald Trump Jr.: We’re focusing on finishing up the design right now. We’re working with Norman Foster, who is an incredible architect. World famous. Foster + Partners Design Firm. We’re going to be building a very high-end office building so it will be more expensive than everything else in that market. We’re still finishing up the structural elements of that. We’re still finishing up final designs so we don’t have a cost per square foot base just yet.
Bisnow: India has one aspect of its market that we here in New York can relate to: climate issues. After Hurricane Sandy and the damage we are still recovering from, the real estate market has had to adjust to this. In India they have monsoons regularly. So climate change is a big global issue. How does climate change affect the buildings you build and where you build them? Are there considerations you need to take for high-risk climate regions?
Donald Trump Jr.: I think less so as to the architecture of the building. I think these days people are much more environmentally conscious. There are people who use solar, there are things you can do as it relates to energy efficiency in all of these. Obviously, there are construction considerations. It’s hard to pour concrete when you’re getting three inches of rain per hour. A lot of that is just being good stewards of the environment. I think it’ll become less of an issue as we get further down the line and technology keeps advancing. And you can do it in a cost-effective manner. Environmentally sustainable HVAC systems that have been put into buildings 15 years ago. They’re phenomenal! Except when it’s really hot outside and you can’t get it really cold inside. And when it’s really cold outside and you can’t get it warm inside. [Laughs.] But otherwise it’s phenomenal. As technology advances, though, I think it’s a lot easier to do things where you’ll have much less of a carbon footprint. So these are the considerations and we want to do them as stewards of this world. They’re considerations because there is a marketing effect. Because people do want to see some of those things. You have to balance the line between, do I build something where the cost per square foot is now so crazy that I can’t actually make the building a viable project? So it is something you take into consideration. We work very closely on this but, like everything else in life, it’s a balance.
Bisnow: How do you mitigate what you build with sea levels rising and other climate change issues like that? I mean, quite frankly, even with recent occurrences with Hurricane Sandy, there are still a lot of conservatives in the commercial real estate industry in terms of their political leanings. Do you find that these people are skeptical of climate change? There are a lot of people who still haven’t bought into it, some who even think it’s a hoax. Are you one of the skeptics? How do you feel?
Donald Trump Jr.: Look, I don’t know that I can mitigate much but I have to admit, I’m sort of torn on it. The science of it isn’t as definitive as everyone would like it to be. When you look at the world over the last few millennia, there are warming and cooling cycles that mimic very much what’s going on now. The world tries to make it all about carbon dioxide. There are probably a lot of other things that are involved. Whether it’s methane. Whether it’s central cycles. I think there’s no question what we do to the environment, what we breathe on a daily basis, what we drink out of the tap—there’s no doubt that we’re doing some damage to that in the long run.
Bisnow: So you’re a skeptic!
Donald Trump Jr.: I’m skeptical of the severity and the urgency of it relative to some of the other problems we’re dealing with as citizens of this world.
Bisnow: Well said.
Donald Trump Jr.: Is that a fair response? I don’t mean to push on the answer… I mean, it’s not really a push. We’re certainly doing something but I don’t know if we’re doing as much and as quickly as we’d like to say we are just based on the way that the world has worked. And just by the geology of things where you can see how the warming and cooling cycles happen for millennia. I don’t want to say we’re not doing damage to it by the stuff we’re putting into the air, and into the sea and the water—there’s no question. But how much is that versus how much is natural? That’s what we need to figure out.
Bisnow: My readers don’t know much about you. They want to know more about the intricacies of your job: EVP of Development and Acquisitions. Every good politician has a think tank of great minds to help him or her make the right decisions. Do you have a think tank for your business? Are your brother, Eric, and sister, Ivanka, part of that?
Donald Trump Jr.: Of course, no doubt. Every good politician has a think tank? I’ve been a politician for just [a few] weeks. [Laughs.] Perhaps I don’t have a choice.
Bisnow: You don’t.
Donald Trump Jr.: Maybe we’re good at it. When it comes to our deals, we still run things like a very large mom-and-pop organization. We run things by our father. We deal with them ourselves. It’s me, Eric, Ivanka, my father and a few close confidants. But, yeah, we look at those things and we do those things ourselves. We’re the guys that have got boots on the ground. We all look at real estate like so many people do. And so many people mistakenly do, which is as some sort of spreadsheet game where everything can be analyzed in Excel. We believe in touching the bricks and mortar, we believe in going and seeing and kicking the dirt to know what we’re doing. So, a lot of it’s feel, a lot of it’s 'cause we’ve been doing it for a very long time and we’ve learned from the best. Which is my father.
Bisnow: Other than yourselves, there aren’t any other names of people you can mention who are part of your think tank?
Donald Trump Jr.: Look we know people. We have a very strong Rolodex. We could probably know the best people in every market. We’ll seek them from time to time. But, generally speaking, at least at the initial onset, it’s really always a family decision with maybe one or two people we know within this particular market. Then we do what we do best, which is evaluate the real estate. Check it out. See what we think we can do with it. Get creative. Make sure it works. And go from there. But, quite frankly, it’s a lot more of our own intuition than anything else.
Bisnow: Is it a lot more difficult working with siblings? I have a lot of friends who say to me it’s a lot easier working with strangers than working with family.
Donald Trump Jr.: Listen, it’s a good question. You’ve probably seen it more than I have. Family businesses—there are two extremes. It’s very binary. It’s a disaster. Or it’s great. [Laughs.] It’s usually not, “Hey, it’s OK, it works.” It’s usually a total disaster versus great. And I think we recognize that. We work very hard to make sure that that happens. There’s one chef in the kitchen for each job.
Bisnow: So Eric, Ivanka, yourself: you all have separate responsibilities?
Donald Trump Jr.: There are some big projects like the Old Post Office in Washington, DC. There are some that we’ll all work on. We did those projects, each one of us with a task we’ll own. We meet every week. A Monday morning sitdown. Breakfast at 7am. So we talk about all of these projects. And we go through them. Right now, so much is preoccupied with the Old Post Office in Washington, DC. This hotel is opening up on Pennsylvania Avenue in September. So that’s keeping us rather busy. But we always talk and know what the other one is doing. And take that input. But then it’s still that person’s decision because we realize we have too many jobs, too much going on for everyone to know everything that’s going on, and to second guess other people’s decisions.
Bisnow: With the presidential elections coming up in a little more than six months, how will that change if your dad becomes president? The brand will elevate to a whole new level. How will it affect the way you approach your business? Are there contingency plans in place that you have discussed and are ready to put into action should there be a Donald Trump presidency?
Donald Trump Jr.: Actually, no. I’d like to think that we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing for a long time. We’ll do it probably without as much input from my father. As he’s said all along, “The country’s more important than any business I could have created.” I think he believes the business is in good hands with us. And that we’ll take good care of it and do well with it. That’s what we’ve been doing for 15 years. He’s been, for the most part, full time on the campaign. He helped out with the Old Post Office a lot because that’s a big job and he put $200M into it. But he’s been 100% into the election. So, that’s been important to him. And to the country and what he wants to do. And he’s really let us do that. It’s been almost a year that we’ve been doing most of the business. And I don’t think we’ve missed a beat so far.
Bisnow: Your dad said he could technically still run his real estate business while he’s president. There are no laws that say he can’t.
Donald Trump Jr.: What I’ve always heard and the discussions we’ve had is it’s still his. It would go into a blind trust and we would run it. But he is going to be fully committed to running the country when that happens.
Bisnow: He wouldn’t want to keep his eye on the business that he’s devoted his entire life to build?
Donald Trump Jr.: I imagine he’d be a sounding board for us but, I think, when it comes to the presidency, he will take that with the seriousness that it deserves, without question.
Bisnow: With this political campaign being very violent at times, security obviously has to be an issue. Not just the protection of you, your siblings and your families—but also the buildings you are constructing, especially those with the Trump brand name on them. Would a Trump presidency require a more detailed security approach to all the real estate holdings as well as family security? Have there been discussions with Donald and the rest of your family regarding a plan to put in place to implement such a security detail?
Donald Trump Jr.: Listen, we’ve always taken security very seriously. I don’t know that anything’s changed. We’ve always paid attention to that. We have very high-end clientele. We have very high-end buyers in the residential product. We have very high-end clients involved in our commercial [real estate]. We’ve always made that a priority. We’ve always taken that very seriously so that’s not going to change at all. That will always be a major priority for us.