Trump’s 12 Business Lessons

By Wes Moss

Donald Trump is one controversial guy. Love him or hate him, though, no one denies he is a good businessman. In 2004, I was a contestant on his TV show, The Apprentice. During that time and the years following the show, I learned 12 helpful things about business from my exposure to Trump.

Trump’s presidential campaign has gone from what many considered a political sideshow to making him a formidable contender.

Part of Trump’s appeal is his success and zeal as an entrepreneur. Rather than getting political, I’ll stick to my comfort zone and discuss what I learned from The Donald.

The dozen business lessons that we can all learn from him:

1. The importance of being a great communicator. This takes a certain level of empathy and understanding of your audience. It also takes a great level of honesty and resolve to speak your mind, and Trump is certainly not lacking in either of these areas. He’s shown that he’s not afraid to speak his mind as a campaigner, considering his many controversial remarks to date. While plenty of people will not agree with him, it’s easy to see that as a chief executive officer he’s used to telling his people exactly what he wants and why. I believe that Trump is one of the great communicators of our time.

2. Avoid singular dependency. In business, Trump began as a real estate behemoth, but he has diversified well beyond his core real estate business. He now has a presence across multiple industries including golf courses, resorts, casinos, both high end and middle tier real estate, retail, media, model management, book and magazine publishing. This level of diversification has seen him through tough times.

3. Know and believe in your brand. While the rose marble, gold monikers, pink ties, luxury real estate, and a prominent hairdo may not be your idea of style, they’ve served Trump well. His sense of personal and business swagger is unmistakable and identifiable. For this Trump is unapologetic. This can certainly work against you, but Trump uses this conviction well. He is always talking about how his buildings and other holdings are the biggest, the best or the most opulent. Whether his superlatives are accurate or not, he conveys the sense that his faith in his brand is supreme, so you should share it.

4. Have a strong conviction in your own principles. This is the underlying foundation for any business owner. Behind every great success lies a set of core values and guiding principles that help shape every decision. Starting out as a young man in the 1970s, when New York seemed to be sliding into chaos, Trump realized that the city was still the greatest on earth and proceeded to make his own fortune by putting up skyscrapers there.

5. Have the courage to take calculated risks. Trump’s success (and billions) isn’t by accident. Yes, he got a healthy start at a young age, because his father Fred was a prominent developer, and he lived a relatively privileged lifestyle. But instead of squandering family money or taking it for granted, he took risks and built on it. A great example is his first big deal in which he took Manhattan’s highly unprofitable Commodore Hotel and transformed it into the still-thriving Grand Hyatt, adjacent to Grand Central Station. Deals like that don’t get done on a whim and don’t become profitable without taking a calculated risk.

6. Surround yourself with excellence. Trump always talks about this network of the best and brightest. The whole point of the TV show was that the smartest and most energetic people end up performing the best. He is friends with investor activist Carl Icahn, the recently deceased Wall Street titan Alan “Ace” Greenburg and many others who were and are great business leaders of our time.

7. Have a deep understanding of the legal system and business environment. Trump is famous for lawsuits and several corporate (although not personal) bankruptcy filings, mainly his Atlantic City casinos. While this isn’t necessarily a great thing, his in-depth knowledge of the legal system has undoubtedly helped him out. Like any good business owner he has a solid understanding of business laws and tax codes.

8. Be flexible and open to new ideas. This can be summed up pretty easily: “Hey, Donald, let’s do a TV show called The Apprentice?” Switching from bricks-and-mortar developer to on-air host was quite a leap. If he wasn’t before, the program made him a big-time celebrity. His catchphrase, “You’re fired,” defined his exacting standards to the public.

9. Understand the economy and debt. These are important topics that any business owner, particularly one who basically runs his own empire, should know. Trump needs to know how the economy can affect his different businesses, to the upside and to the downside. In the early 1990s, he almost lost his kingdom because of a real estate downturn. He had gone deeply into debt to erect his many buildings, buy an airline and a huge yacht. He came out of that determined to use other people’s money for his funding, not his own resources.

10. Why you need to have enormous energy. I have to wonder if Trump ever sleeps. If he does, it’s probably not too much. Like other uber-successful business leaders of our time like Larry Page and Sergey Brin from Google, Trump’s steam never seems to run out.

11. Don’t cry over spilled milk, learn from failure. Business doesn’t always comes easy and there will be let downs, even for Donald Trump. Some of his casinos shut down, The Apprentice didn’t last forever. He’s been involved in some famous lawsuits, and his ownership of a team in the ill-fated United States Football League didn’t work. But in true Trump style, he picked himself up, brushed himself off, and refused to let these speed bumps stop him.

12. Love, love, love what you do. Trump loves what he does and it shows. I call this “harness what you have.” It’s marrying your love for an industry or market with your inherent skill set as a business person, whether it’s sales, analytics, creative writing or finances. If you love what you do and are fully engaged in your business, the possibilities are endless.

Regardless of what happens in the political arena, I think Donald Trump isn’t going away anytime soon.

Wes Moss, CFP, is the chief investment strategist for Capital Investment Advisors and a partner at Wela, both in Atlanta. He hosts “Money Matters,” a live financial advice show on Atlanta’s News 95-5 and AM 750 WSB Radio.

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