The FRONTLINE Interview: Barbara Res


September 27, 2016

Barbara Res was hired as the Trump Organization’s head of construction in the 1980s, and became one of his closest advisers before leaving more than a decade later. The author of All Alone on the 68th Floor: How One Woman Changed the Face of Construction, Res worked with Trump on some of his biggest projects, including the construction of Trump Tower and the renovation of New York’s Plaza Hotel.

Trump surprised the male-dominated construction industry when he chose Res to supervise the building of Trump Tower. She was one of several women promoted by Trump into prominent positions in his company. “Donald told me that he thought that men were better than women at this, especially in this field,” she remembers. “But he said a good woman is better than 10 good men.”

In the below interview, Res discusses her time as a Trump executive, his management style, and what it was like as a woman to work for him. Today, Res says she is a Hillary Clinton supporter.

This is the transcript of an interview conducted by FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on June 29, 2016. It has been edited for clarity and length.

Tell us a little bit about the Donald that you first met when you were hired.

I met Donald Trump while I was working for the general contractor, HOH Construction, on the Hyatt Hotel. Donald was partners with Hyatt, and he was the owner’s representative in charge of the development. He impressed me as being kind of brash. He was inexperienced. He and his wife would come around a lot. They were an extremely attractive couple, both of them go-getters, hardworking people and very well intentioned, with the interest of the project at heart, and just a little bit on the inexperienced level, quick to make judgments that might not have been necessarily the best judgments.

He’s young, right?

Very young.

What’s his reputation at that point?

At that time, he didn’t have that much of a reputation. I think I had heard his name mentioned, but basically they said, “This is Donald Trump,” you know, as if I would know who that was. But I didn’t really know who he was.

The job of the Hyatt, the Grand Hyatt, sort of cemented his reputation. Explain why that job was so important.

The Hyatt Hotel had been the common one. It was known in its time as being a nice hotel, but it was terribly run-down. So was that area of New York, terribly run-down. Trump came in with this idea that he was going to rebuild this hotel and by so doing, rebuild the area, which he in fact did. He managed to engineer some wonderful tax credits, which made it very lucrative to build this hotel. And he did some incredibly interesting architectural things like hanging a bar lounge area over 42nd Street so that you walked under it as you went up toward Grand Central Station from the east. That really had a tremendous effect on the neighborhood. It turned around the neighborhood. I think that he got credit for doing that, and it sort of cemented him as a new developer, as a person on the scene. But Trump Tower was what put him on the map.

The success that he had with the hotel, did it help him toward getting the biggest job he really ever did, which was Trump Tower?

Did it help him? I would say that he learned so much. It made him a much better developer and enabled him more to deal with the things that would come up on a construction project. …

So talk a little bit about yourself, the role that you had on Trump Tower, the fact that you were the first woman to build a skyscraper, basically.

So Donald says.

Even to the point where — I guess it was the story in your book is that he started calling you Donna Trump or saying you would be called Donna Trump?

When Donald interviewed me for the job of being his representative on Trump Tower, we talked at length about the project and what it was going to be like. There was nothing but his word, and his word was that it was going to be the most incredible project ever. It was going to be super luxury apartments and retail like you never saw anywhere in the country. It really was a new concept for retail, because it was a vertical mall. They had done for Water Tower and Chicago, but Water Tower had anchor stores. This was going to be just specialty shops, and very high-end.

It was a dream for him, and he really sold it to me as this potential incredible groundbreaking project. In his description to me of my role, he said that I would be his representative and act sort of like a Donna Trump, he said. I would be in charge of everything that would normally come to him. Of course he would still remain involved, but I would handle the day-to-day things as if I were taking his place.

Donald told me that he thought that men were better than women at this, especially in this field. But he said a good woman is better than 10 good men, and he thought that I had shown him, while I worked as a superintendent and a project manager on the Grand Hyatt, that I was a killer. That was important to him, being a killer … He meant it as a compliment, that’s for sure. But being a killer, I think it sort of meant not taking any guff. I had dealt with only men, and I really stood up to them, and I stood up to the architect, and that impressed him.

I think he meant that a person that will not let anything impede the progress of the project or impede the overall well-being of it is a killer, a person who will not let anyone get in his way to accomplish the goal. So that was what he called me.

And he respects that. But then he’s got this other side, his reputation for being sexist, for being not very good to women. So what was going on? Explain the dynamics of the way Donald is about women.

When I started working for Donald, Ivana was very involved in the projects. And she was a right hand to him and had his ear, without a doubt. He trusted her explicitly. I think he believed that women — and as I described him calling me a killer, I think he believed that women had to prove themselves more than men. So a good woman would work harder and be constantly trying to gain the recognition and the respect of other men, and, of course, of their boss, which would be him.

So he had women working for him. I wasn’t the only woman. He had another woman who was a political operative, who was sort of running the whole condo sales end of the project. She was a dynamo. That was Louise Sunshine. She was a very powerful woman. He liked having her, and he liked having Ivana, and he liked having me, three very powerful women, working so closely with him. He respected us and took our advice on things.

Later, when I went back to work for Trump again, he still had some very powerful women running his sales operation and legal, and he had me in charge of development. But I noticed a change in him when I came back. And over time, I saw a change in him, in terms of the way he treated women.

Donald Trump was never sexist with me. He was never discriminatory with me. He treated me exactly like he treated the men. And when I said in my book he was the least sexist boss, of course I said that before I had heard all the things that he had said on Howard Stern and in print about women. I don’t think I would have been able to say that. What I meant was, he treated me exactly the same way he treated the men. I saw no difference. I don’t think he thought of me as a woman. I think he thought of me as a trusted, exceptional employee.

“There was nothing but his word, and his word was that it was going to be the most incredible project ever.”

But another point that you bring up in the book, which is that in some ways, he likes having women because he seems to think that they’re less competition for him in the office. If you’ve got less alpha males around, that makes him feel more secure.

Well, I theorize that Donald liked having women because he felt that he didn’t have to compete with women. And I think that the women in the organization, for what it’s worth, were much stronger than the men in terms of their personas. And I guess that he liked that.

You’ve started to describe Ivana and the partnership that was there, which was very strong in the beginning. Explain who Ivana was. It seemed to be a pretty good match for him, very competitive, very driven, very intelligent. Explain what she was like and how they meshed.

Ivana was a very intelligent person. She was a quick study, as Donald is an amazing quick study, picks things up right away. And she worked very hard. She was really intent on doing everything that Donald wanted her to do. She got involved — sometimes in the way, to be honest, because she had limited knowledge of construction. I know she wanted to do design work. I remember the designer commenting on that. But she definitely was very involved. And she was on the site all the time.

… Sounds like she learned a lot from Donald.

She learned from Donald. She learned from those of us that she worked with on the job. I would say that, by the time she got to the Plaza, she was definitely her own woman. She worked for Donald, and Donald never made any qualms about that, any question about who she worked for. As a matter of fact, he did something kind of cruel. Maybe he didn’t mean to be, but he said when he hired her to be the person of the Plaza, he would pay her a dollar a year and all the dresses she could buy. And that was really unfair. He was making her, right or wrong, he was making her the president of a very major landmark hotel in New York City. And that is a job that is a very well paying job, and a very competitive high end job that he felt she earned. And he shouldn’t have denigrated her that way.

Did that hurt her?

I believe it did. I believe that hurt her very much.

In the beginning, they worked pretty well together. They seemed arm in arm. But then, as things went on, there was a tension between them. Explain how the relationship morphed and how you perceived it and how it affected you, what it was like in the middle of it all.

We did a big renovation to the Plaza Hotel. We did most of the public areas — not all the restaurants but most of the public areas, and all of the rooms. Ivana was in charge of that project. She was in charge of the hotel, running the hotel. We had a general manager, and then we had me in charge of construction. That was the hotel pecking order. That was the call distribution list.

She wanted what she wanted. She had done all the research. She worked with an interior designer. But she had really been the one who declared what would be in the rooms and what kind of furniture she wanted and what kind of paint and moldings and all these decorative features that she wanted. And she knew what she wanted in the hotels and in the rooms of the public areas.

Donald didn’t always agree with her. And Donald, I think, to his own consternation, didn’t like the fact that she disagreed with him necessarily. They would fight quite a bit. There was a lot going on between them, and I was caught in the middle. As I said in my book, they were hitting shots at each other. And once in a while I got in the way, and I got hit. It was very difficult. At the end of the day, I had to reconcile the fact that I worked for Donald. I was his executive vice president. Ivana was the president of the hotel, but I worked for Donald.

Why the difficulty that they were having?

Well, the difficulties they were having were twofold. They had a basic disagreement on certain things. The second part of it was that Ivana was speaking up, whereas before, she would have just acquiesced to whatever he had asked of her, or whatever decision he made. Now she was standing in her own place, fighting back.

So what does that say about Donald’s management style? He’s been defined in the past as somebody who doesn’t want to hear no, that his management style was as long as you did what he wanted you to do, everything was fine, but if somebody was too persistent in trying to push a direction, he didn’t like that.

Donald’s management style changed over the years in which I worked for him. When we were doing the Hyatt, he was very brash, and he would come up with outlandish ideas, and he wanted everybody to run and do the things he asked for. People would do them, and it ended up costing money.

… And he did listen to us. Of course he wanted what he wanted. I’ve never had a boss that likes to hear no, and Donald was no different. When you said no to him, he would say, “You’re negative.” And when you said you can’t do things, he would say: “Of course you can do them. You just can’t do them.” But eventually he would come around when he was wrong.

And a lot of times, he wasn’t wrong. He and I had tremendous fights, but we always respected each other and came out of them fine. Over the years, I think Donald became a little bit more of a celebrity and more of a famous person, and started believing his own press. He became more difficult to disagree with. …

On The Apprentice, he’s the guy who said, “You’re fired,” to people and got rid of people. But in the way you define it is that he didn’t like to fire people. He wanted others, people that worked for him, to do that. Explain that part of his personality.

When I first worked for Donald, Donald was pretty loyal. If you were good to him, he was good to you. And I don’t think that he was particularly fond of letting people go. I know he had to let his secretary go, and that was difficult for him. He didn’t pick you unless you were pretty good to begin with, and if you were committed to your work, he was very loyal. He hired a manager for the residential section of Trump Tower who I didn’t necessarily approve of. We put the guy in the field, and he just couldn’t get along with anyone. He wasn’t our type. We had a very close-knit crew there, and he wasn’t one of us. And I and my assistant, Jeff Walker, went to see Donald and said: “The guy is not working out. You have to get rid of him.”

So Donald fired him — or I don’t know if Donald fired him or probably gave us permission to fire him. That was it: He gave us permission to fire him. And the guy went back to Donald, and Donald rehired him. This happened twice. We actually fired this guy three times before it stuck, because Donald is, or was, reluctant to fire people. That was not something that he liked to do. He was a bit of a soft touch when it came to that.

… The 40-year tax abatement for Trump Tower that they fought for and got — how savvy, how successful and how good for the project was it for Donald?

The tax abatement was phenomenal. It was a very big selling point, because you were buying these multimillion-dollar apartments with virtually minimal taxes. Donald knew how important that was — I think intuition-based knowledge more than even experiential-based knowledge. But he went after that, and he had the right people working for him. Donald knew how to manipulate the system and the politicians. And he was successful. He has tremendous tenacity, and he stays with things. He was very good on that.

“Donald told me that he thought that men were better than women at this, especially in this field. But he said a good woman is better than 10 good men.”

And what did it do for his reputation? This is really the height of his building career. This is a massive building, enormous building that got enormously good press and such.

What did the building do for his reputation?


Trump Tower put Donald on the map … He had arrived, without a doubt. He was the most-talked-about developer in New York City.

And talk a little bit about how Trump Tower was and the number of famous people that moved in and the type of shops that were there and sort of the attention by both politicians and the press toward this building.

Before we had even started the superstructure, Donald had a buzz going about this building. He went out and hired an incredibly intelligent and hardworking and very connected leasing agent who went all over Europe visiting designers and famous stores in New York and in California. She just had this incredible way of getting people interested in the project.

Now, Donald built up the press for the project by himself. He was amazing. He got people interested in the project. He built a buzz. He talked about who was going to come there, sometimes not necessarily true, like Princess Diana. But he got the press interested in Trump Tower right from the very beginning. We had so much press, there was a picture of our model on the cover of Paris Vogue with a woman model kissing the building. How he did this is just beyond me. He’s just a master at promotion.

So you had a buzz for Trump Tower that people started getting in by the time we were pouring concrete. Once we had a grand opening, an early grand opening in February of 1983, the shops were so spectacular, celebrities came to see them, and that generated more press, because we had these spectacular shops. Then we continued with the condos and opened up the rest of the retail. People were interested in buying condos that were from all corners of the earth, incredibly famous, wealthy people, actors and actresses. President Nixon came looking at an apartment for his daughter Tricia. [Steven] Spielberg bought an apartment on one of the very top floors, and his company redecorated it for him. Spielberg came out to see the apartment about five or six times, and every time he did, I was there.

When celebrities showed up, Donald usually took them around. Then, after Donald took them around, I was always there to make sure that their needs were met. It was just incredible, the number of people that came to look at the apartments.

… The political connections from his father — how important were they for the Trump Tower? I know with Grand Hyatt, they were hugely important. As far as with the Trump Tower?

Well, Fred’s political connections were very strong. He was connected in Brooklyn especially. I mean, he ran Brooklyn with some of his cronies. But they weren’t beyond that. Donald had picked up Louise, who was very connected with Governor [Hugh] Carey, and Donald himself was very connected with Mayor [Ed] Koch. Then we had the New York contingent that we supported and raised money for, so [City Council President] Andrew Stein. And we had all the politicians very interested in this project.

When we had our topping-out party, which is a party every project has when you get to the top, you throw a party for the people that work on the job, and everyone has sandwiches. Well, our topping-out party — forget the fact that it was the most luxurious topping-out party ever — was attended by both the mayor and the governor. That’s unheard of through attending topping-out parties. Naturally we got a tremendous amount of press for that.

But Donald worked his political connections. He started with Fred, but he worked it himself, and with Louise, and he was able to get this kind of notice. And, you know, politicians, they want to be associated with this, too, so it’s sort of like a symbiotic relationship.

Let’s talk about Roy Cohn for just a little bit. You write about Roy Cohn as being a character and rather scary to work for.  Explain that relationship and explain a little bit about Roy Cohn.

Donald had a friend who was also his attorney, and his name was Roy Cohn. And he was very famous from the McCarthy hearings … Well, he was savage … Cohn had an incredible reputation for being a tough, tough guy. And he worked for Donald, and they were friends also.

… Donald would be meeting with these contractors in his office. And in his drawer, he had a picture of Roy. And it was a grainy black and white picture. And Roy looked like the devil. And he would pull it out, and he would say, “This is my lawyer. If we can’t make an agreement, this is who’s going to — who you’re going to be dealing with.”

A couple other things about the building. How does a 58-story building turn into a 68-story building?

When we were at the Hyatt, Donald took the sixth floor and turned it into the 14th floor. He didn’t want to have a 13th floor. But instead of just dropping 13, he just started the sixth floor on 14. And how he got away with that, I’m not sure. But he did. And it made a lot of sense in his mind, because if you’re renting a room, you’d rather be on the 14th floor than on the sixth floor.

And his mind, having an apartment, the higher the apartment was, the better it would look. And the first five stories of Trump Tower were retail space, which has very high ceilings. And then the next 12, I think, stories were office space, which also has high ceilings. So, by the time you got to what was going — what would have been the 20th floor, you were up as high as a normal 30th floor would be in an apartment building.

… Describe what this building meant for Donald Trump. How would he look at it? How did he see this achievement? How did it set him off in the new direction that he took?

I think Donald put all of himself into this building. Even though he later had casinos going on, and he had another building, apartment building on Third Avenue, this building was definitely his baby or his number one effort. He poured himself into it and basked in the glow of it when it became famous and well respected and architecturally critiqued well and everything else. It was a reflection on him.

I think that he’s associated with Trump Tower, probably more than anything else. Maybe The Apprentice. He’s probably associated with The Apprentice more. But in terms of buildings, Trump Tower is definitely the one.

And the importance of naming it — I mean, those huge TRUMP letters up on the building, how that helped the Trump brand. And the importance of putting those big, big letters, because he wanted it bigger than they originally suggested, what was that all about, and how that in fact helped him build the brand?

Well, I think that Donald’s father had done that, the naming originally, when he named his residential project Trump Village. Donald wanted to put his name on things, too. Maybe it had something to do with his father. As part of his deal with the state, he did a restoration work on Grand Central Terminal, and he put a tremendous sign on it that said, “Trump,” so that as you were coming up Park Avenue, the overpass, you would see this big sign that said “Trump” on Grand Central Terminal. Clearly he had this identification thing that he wanted to be associated with the projects he was involved with.

Subsequently, he put his name on every project he did. Trump Tower established the brand, and then he took advantage of it and ran with it. And it just got — it was fish in a bowl. It just got out of control. The brand is just such a — his two casinos were named Trump Plaza and Trump Castle. And then, when he took over the Taj Mahal, he changed it, turned it into the Trump Taj Mahal.

He’s a PR genius, basically.

Yes, he is. He was definitely a PR genius.

… So you leave after the tower. You come back to work for him in June of 1987. You say in the book that he’s a different guy when you come back. He’s more of an institution at this point. He’s not paying attention to the details as much. This is the period of time where he’s buying Eastern Airlines, the shuttle. The casinos are up, and the Taj is coming. Mar-a-Lago has been bought. The Art of the Deal has come out, so that’s a spectacular to-do. But you write that he’s a bit out of his depth at this point, that he’s stressed. Describe that period of time.

When I went back in 1987 … I saw a different person. He was more full of himself than he had been. But he was still somewhat down-to-earth. You could still talk to him. It wasn’t quite the same as it had been. He was more surrounded by fluffier people or, you know, people that were more obsequious, a couple of people that were really —

“Over the years, I think Donald became a little bit more of a celebrity and more of a famous person, and started believing his own press. He became more difficult to disagree with.”

Kind of like yes-men, basically?

Yeah, sort of. He had a couple of people. But most of his people were still very strong people. I worked on the West Side Yards with him. I was in charge of construction for that. He had a very good team on that, and we were pushing that through the permitting process. He started getting interested in sort of not-related development projects, like the airline. He bought the shuttle and the Plaza Hotel. … He just was doing things that were unusual for him. He was not really making great deals as he’s known to do. He bought the boat, which was, you know, I guess there was a certain logic to it. He was going to have it docked off the Castle in Atlantic City. But still, it was a new Donald. It was a different kind of thing for him. And he started getting involved with this woman, Marla Maples, and that put a strain on his marriage and on his empire, I think. He was changing throughout this time.

When he finally had his big problems with the banks, and they had to come in and sort of rescue him, one of the things he said was the casinos had done poorly because he had taken his eye off the casinos. He was more interested in other things, women among them, and he sort of blamed the people around him for what went wrong instead of himself.

But he admitted to you that he had taken his eye off the prize, basically.

Well, what it was saying was that he let other people make major decisions, and they made mistakes.

But at the same time that he’s buying the shuttle, he’s buying the Plaza; he’s buying the yacht; he’s buying Mar-a-Lago; he’s going into enormous debt. What made him feel that he could do all that?

I didn’t really know what the debt was. It wasn’t until the Taj that I think the debt got completely out of control. He did have some people who were pretty smart representing him, and I’m sure they questioned him on how he was allowing himself to get into so much debt. But certain things happened, and the timing with the real estate market was bad. I think that Donald was victimized by that a lot. I think that probably when his financial worries really rose, he might have been able to save himself by selling off some of his properties. But they lost value. So he was sort of in a tremendous hole. He was probably minus a half a billion dollars or so at a point in time.

… The Plaza. Number one, why does he put Ivana in charge of the Plaza, as you talked about? Tell us a little bit about the relationship at that point with Ivana. Why was Ivana in charge, and how you were working with her at that point?

Well, when he brought Ivana up to do the Plaza, they had hired a general manager, and they had a staff. She had experience in the hotel, so it wasn’t illogical. I mean, Donald totally trusted her, and he figured she would be a good watchdog to make sure that everything that went on there should go on. He also knew that he wanted a renovator, and that was sort of her thing, the decorating. So it wasn’t illogical.

Some people say that he brought her up there so that he could install Marla down in Atlantic City. I have no personal knowledge about that. I just know that she was brought up to the Plaza and made the president, and they embarked on a plan to do a renovation of the hotel. I was involved in it for a very short period of time, and then not. Then, when it really heated up, they dragged me back in.

Talking about heating up, this is a difficult point for him in both the relationship as well as business. There’s a moment in the book that you talk about the bathroom story. He goes in, he looks at the bathroom stuff, and he goes: “Blanking Ivana, this is total crap. It’s garbage.” Explain how angry, which was not the Donald you knew before, he was getting at Ivana for —

And me.

At you at that point. That moment sort of defines something new. Explain that.

Yeah. Well, there came a time when we had done the work in the rooms, and he came over to check them out. He had been in sort of a bad mood for a while, and we all knew something was going on, the way he had been acting. We came in and saw the finished room, and the first thing, he didn’t like the furniture, and he started cursing out Ivana. He pulled a door off a piece of furniture, he was so angry. I never saw him so angry in my life. Then we went in to look at the stone on the floor, and he didn’t like it. He thought it was cheap-looking, and he blamed me. “How could you put this in? How could you make me look cheap?”

Meanwhile, I say, “Donald, you approved it.” As a matter of fact, after that walk-through — there were a few people from the hotel — I became a legend of the Plaza because I stood up to Donald. But he was very scary that day. He was very, very angry. I knew something else was wrong besides just the finishes in the Plaza, but I didn’t know what it was.

And what was it?

Well, it was the problems he was having in Atlantic City, and then the financing problems, and also the problems with his marriage.

To the point —

I don’t think — he resented Ivana for being his wife when he had this 25-year-old or whatever she was waiting in line. He had a lot of anger and hatred and resentment brewing in him.

You got pretty close to Ivana before that with the trip to Italy and stuff, even to the point of her having plastic surgery and stuff to make herself younger-looking, and yet his attitude was what?

Well, I think that Ivana morphed into being somebody that was more of a business associate than a wife, which was all his doing. I mean, if she was a monster, he created it. She definitely had a tremendous ego, and like I said, they went at it a lot. She felt she was his equal.

There was a party for Ivana at the Plaza Hotel, and I remember him going to it, and the people there were adoring her. All the staff was there — not all the staff, but hundreds of people there, and they were really respecting and admiring Ivana. I didn’t think he liked that. I think he resented that.

… Also, I think that, you know, being this big celebrity, there’s no question that women threw themselves at him, and I think he sort of went the way of all flesh on that and started, “Why should I be with this woman when I could be with a much younger woman?” Even though Ivana was beautiful, and she did have a lot of work done and became more beautiful, I think that was not satisfactory to him anymore.

“We actually fired this guy three times before it stuck, because Donald is, or was, reluctant to fire people. That was not something that he liked to do. He was a bit of a soft touch when it came to that.”

… How big a disaster was it when the helicopter went down?

Well, he lost three of his top people. That will have an impact on your operation no matter who you are. I don’t know that he went in there and replaced them wisely. I think that what happened with the casinos would have happened anyway. But it definitely had an impact.

How did it affect him? Some people say that these guys were closer to him than most. He’s not a guy that has a lot of friends. And these guys were also experts in a very difficult business that he didn’t have the expertise in. How did it show?

Well, I think it scared him when the helicopter crash happened, because to be honest with you, they were using a company that he had used before. Ivana had used it all the time. And it was horrifying to — whenever somebody you know dies, [it] has an impact on you. And this was close people that he cared about emotionally, and I think it was devastating to him.

… Let’s just talk about the bankruptcies quick. So by 1990, the debt is incredible. As you said, the Taj Mahal was the huge black hole, and the banks were not happy. Was this really the worst part of his career, his life? I mean, his marriage is over at this point; the casinos are in a nosedive; the debts are enormous; the banks are starting to go through his records.

Well, Donald was not himself. He started acting strangely, like I said, blaming other people for his woes. He was saying unusual things about women that I had not heard him say or act in terms of women before. It apparently had a tremendous effect on him. I think he was in a very bad shape for a long time, and I think he was scared, but stubborn and resilient and demanding and self-confident all at the same time. I mean, he never really weakened. You never saw a weakened Donald.

… So talk a little bit about, before the banks start dealing, they understand something very important. Donald Trump is too big to fail, number one. You can get rid of the yacht; you can get rid of some of the other junk; you can get rid of a lot of the apartments and control over the Trump Tower. But it’s the name that will last. And he had the banks over a barrel. Explain that understanding that they had going into the negotiations with the banks.

Well, by the time the negotiations were in full swing, Donald had engaged this group of people that had previously been objecting to his West Side project. They now were a team, Donald and this group of people, applying for the permissions and going into the city government and the state and everywhere trying to go, to get approvals for this project. So the project was a go.

The project was the linchpin of all his holdings. I mean, they could sell the boat; they could sell the Plaza; they could sell the airline. They did most of that. What was left was Trump Tower and the West Side Yards and the casinos. If they were to take Trump out of it, they would no longer have the name for the casinos, which was a tremendous part of their allure … Otherwise, it was just a big piece of land and not easy to peddle in that depressed real estate market.

They realized that he was too big to fail, and they kept him on. They let him keep Trump Tower, and they sold everything else — the Hyatt, all the little holdings. They held on to the casinos, but they took him out of it so he only had an interest in it. And they let him keep an interest in the West Side Yards on the condition that he would develop that, and they would be Trump buildings.

… So in some ways, this is the personification of this idea that he’s the dealmaker, that that deal was probably one of the most important deals he ever made.

Yes, I think that that deal was one of the most important deals he ever made.

It salvaged his career; it salvaged his name, which had become so utterly important.


Explain that, how the name became almost more important than the properties.

In terms of the deal with the banks, it became obvious that, including and putting aside his skill at development, it was really his name that had all the value. Preserving that value was key to their being able to make something out of this disaster that had befallen them. I mean, otherwise, basically, what could they do, liquidate and take a tremendous hit? Whereas if they stayed with him, they had the potential of not taking a hit at all, which I believe probably happened. I don’t know the details of that.

It’s fascinating, though. The guy that you know, though, was different by this point. This was a guy who you say was solemn and bitter in some ways? How did he come out of all of this?

… He became more, if it’s possible, of an egotist, more believing his own press. And I always had a good relationship with him, even right to the bitter end. He didn’t talk to me the way he spoke to other people. He was very respectful of me. Toward the end, he started giving me a hard time, which I didn’t like, and that was when I decided to quit for good and not even be a consultant.

But over this period of time, I saw that he was hiring people and starting to do unusual things again. I was a little concerned about him. But like we said, the licensing took off, and he had picked up a couple of properties and developed them, and they took off. So he was well on his way to being what he is now.

And then The Apprentice.

And then The Apprentice happened.

Which made him into the ultimate über-CEO.

Yes. The Apprentice, he was on the map; there’s no question about it. I found out, working in California, that he had tremendous name recognition. And this was long before The Apprentice. He was extremely well known. But The Apprentice made him a household word. Everybody knew Donald. And since this is the first time that people had to come into connection with a developer, he was the developer, in terms of people’s conception in the country and internationally.

“It’s very lonely at the top, and he is the epitome of loneliness at the top.”

Was the guy that you saw on the TV screen the Donald that you knew?

Yes and no.


He was quick to criticize and extremely self-confident, again, a quick study like I had always said, picked up things immediately. But he was kind of nasty, nastier than he had ever been with me, and kind of phony. I thought the whole thing was phony, to tell you the truth. I never believed any of it. But it was really when I saw the campaigning Donald that I reacted most to what I saw. It brought me back to times when he had been extremely nasty and very difficult.

So the guy that you see make that speech downstairs announcing for the presidency, he’s somebody who you do or do not recognize?

I recognize him. Again, like I said, he changed over the years. Donald had two sides to him when I was working for him. When I started working for him, and I was on the Hyatt, I saw the way he treated his own people in the Hyatt. He treated them very badly. He was very nasty to them. Throughout the years, I’ve seen him be extremely nasty, but I’ve also seen him be extremely gracious. I mean, he praised me tremendously. He would tear me apart, but he also was very supportive. And when we were at public functions like the topping-out party, he introduced me and said I was the greatest and stuff like that. So he was very supportive and very loyal.

I’m very conflicted about Donald, very conflicted.

What motivates each of those sides that seem to be so different?

I think that he is a kind of split personality. He can be gracious, he can be extremely nice, and he can be the worst. You don’t want him as an enemy. He’s vindictive, and he’s relentless, which he claims — and there’s a little bit of truth to it – [are] good characteristics for somebody that’s running a country, to an extent. He goes after something, and he senses a weakness.

This is something I saw in him. He would sense a weakness in a person, and that would be it. Once you showed your weak side, you were finished with Donald. In terms of myself, I started being more beholden to him, and I think that he pounced on that.

One of the little things about The Apprentice, he’s firing everybody, which is very ironic, since we talked about before he didn’t like to fire people.

Yes. I think that he changed in that. I think that he probably started relishing getting rid of people, because he got rid of a lot of people. He got rid of people that worked on some of the projects that I knew. I think that he lost his sense of loyalty when he got so big. …

On that show he is the über-CEO, as we said, and he’s very decisive. Is that all true?

Yes, he was very decisive. That was one of the good things about Donald: You could get a decision out of him. Sometimes it wasn’t the right decision, but you could get a decision out of him. And that’s so important for a developer, because otherwise, you’d never get anything built.

When he gets into politics, anything else that it reveals about him? He is the ultimate competitor, I suppose. When you look at him, you know, in the way he’s presenting himself as the next president and the way, the politician running for the presidency, what do you see? What does it reveal about him?

I think that the way he comports himself on the campaign trail reveals that he is disinclined to take advice. Based on the people that he’s had working for him, and the people that advised him to do certain things, he admits openly, “My advisers said not to do this, but I’m doing it anyway.” And he talks about [how his wife] Melania and [daughter] Ivanka wanted him to be more presidential, and he sort of makes fun of them when he talks about it. “I’ll be presidential when I’m president.”

What comes across is the fact that he says himself that his best adviser is himself, and I think that that is what he’s conveying to us. So we have to decide, is this the person to make the decisions, or should he be relying on experts? Who’s he going to choose? It’s a question of, is he going to choose the best people, or is he going to choose people that agree with him? I think that it’s the latter, and that’s a big problem.

It is sort of the definition of the ultimate alpha male, in a way.

The thing about alpha males and big business leaders is that some people achieve greatness despite themselves. I think that Donald has traditionally, when I worked for him, had very, very strong people that were willing to put up the fight. And he listened. A lot of the things that happened, not taking anything away from him, but were very much a part of the advice that people gave him.

I think that that has changed to an extent. He talks about how successful he is with all his businesses, but he’s closed down a number of businesses, and he’s been unsuccessful in several. There have been bankruptcies and stuff like that. I think that this is a sign that he’s not necessarily getting the best advice, or, alternatively, he’s not taking it. Either way is not good.

…One of the stories that you tell in the book is Ivana. Just tell us that story, because it’s sort of this sad sort of defining story about her situation at that point.

 There was a time when Donald was so unhappy with the Plaza that I thought he might replace me … I went to see Ivana. And I said to Ivana, “Look. I don’t know, Donald may be letting me go at this point in time. I don’t know … I wish you the best. And I just, you know, it’s very hard for me right now. He’s not happy with the Plaza. And I just don’t know what’s going to happen.” And she starts weeping.

And I said, “Ivana, what is it?” And she says, “You—You don’t know what it’s like. You just have to deal with him when you work for him. I have him 24 hours a day.” And I felt so terribly sorry. I didn’t know what was going on with the marriage or anything else at the time. Nobody knew about it.

When you heard all that, and it was so public, and there were press all around capturing it. What was your take on that?

 Well there had been rumors that there was a woman. And there was something on page six, I think. So when it happened, I sort of had an expectation of something happening. But it was ugly. It was horribly ugly. And the press was devastating, in my mind. But Donald didn’t seem to think it was so devastating at all. He just rode with it, and he had his camp, and Ivana had her camp. And there was The Daily News versus The Post, you know, one representing Donald, one representing Ivana. And it just went on.

… Would you go back and work for him again?

I don’t think he would hire me again, based on some of the things he’s said. But he was unhappy. The last time I saw him, I had sent him my book. He didn’t read it. He must have had someone read it, and maybe they didn’t understand it. He was very angry about it. He wouldn’t even talk to me. He spoke to my companion, and he said, “She’s wrote a book, and it’s terrible.”

I was totally taken aback by this. I even sent him a letter. I had communicated with him a few times, once when I was looking for a job and then when I wrote the book. Then, a couple of times after that, when there were rumors about him and being a sexist and stuff like that, I wrote to him and said, “You know, Donald, you had me in jobs, Trump Tower, so you certainly don’t discriminate against women.”

… But he said some terrible things about me. I guess he didn’t like some of the articles I had been involved with subsequent to his running for president.

If all of it blew over, and bygones were bygones, and he had a big project, something like another Trump Tower, sure, I’d work on it.

And lastly, as a guy, you know, how do you define him? People say he’s an egomaniac; he has no friends; the deal is all that’s important. He’s so competitive, it just makes it very difficult to sort of deal on a social level. What kind of guy, personally, on a one-to-one, is he?

When I worked for Donald, he revealed sides to me that were extremely human. I write about that in my book. I think if you read it, you come across with the idea that this guy is a human being. He probably doesn’t have a lot of friends, but how can somebody in his position have friends? How do you trust anyone that isn’t working for you? What do they want out of you? It’s very difficult. It’s very lonely at the top, and he is the epitome of loneliness at the top.

So in a way, I sort of feel sorry for him, you know, that he can’t really have friends. He certainly can be emotional. I’ve seen him be emotional. I think he loves his family, and I think that he is totally dedicated to his work, and works very hard at doing it. But he has some characteristics that are not great.


I think he’s very, very self-important. I think that he’s probably not able to see the truth in everything, because he so much believes in what he says that I think he doesn’t know the truth sometimes.

Anything problematic for being president of the United States?

I’ve worked for a lot of developers, and the biggest developers in the world. I don’t think any of them should be president. I don’t think that he has the experience and the knowledge of the law, the knowledge of politics to be president.

Jason M. Breslow

Jason M. Breslow, Former Digital Editor



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