Donny the Business Genius

The number one reason most Trump fans cite for why they like the Orange Menace seems to be that he is seen as a “very successful businessman.”

But was he really?

According to Trump, he’s worth as much as $10-12 billion, but since he has virtually never given the public a glimpse of his finances, and The Trump Organization is privately held, so they are under no obligation to release their financials publicly, numbers are very difficult to verify. Most of the higher estimates, especially Trump’s, seem to value his name quite highly, meaning the Trump name seems to be his most valuable asset. That is not a sign of a great businessman, but a huckster. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are far more successful, but you don’t see their names plastered all over everything. Even the odious Koch Brothers seem to have made their fortune by making and selling shit, which is something Trump has never done.

While Trump pegs himself as a billionaire, although how many billions he claims he has seems to vary with the wind, meaning his hot air. When he applied to Deutsche Bank for a loan in 2004, he tried to claim he was worth $3.5 billion, a figure bank officials determined to be “puffery.” They valued his net worth then at $788 million. Not bad, but when you consider he’d built his own “empire” in Manhattan real estate for more than 30 years at the time, and he had inherited what would seem to be the bulk of his father’s real estate business, estimated by most to be worth at least $200-300 million, just five years earlier. (Source)

Deutsche Bank was kinder in their estimate than other sources. For example, just a year later, in 2005, a reporter from the New York Times, Tim O’Brien, estimated his net worth at $150-250 million in his well-researched book, Trump Nation. Based on that estimate of his wealth, Trump sued him for defamation.

Put simply, no one knows how much Trump is worth, and he is prone to puffing himself up to make himself seem more rich and important than he is, so we sure can’t trust him. Trump likes to say he did everything with a “small” $1 million loan, but he doesn’t mention the $40 million (or more) he received when his father signed over his real estate business to his kids in 1974 or the bulk of Fred Trump’s estate he received when his father passed away in 1999. According to some financial estimates, if he had invested that $40 million (one-fifth of his father’s real estate holdings, worth $200 million at the time) in the S&P 500 index beginning in 1974, he would have had the $3.5 billion he claimed when he applied for that Deutsche Bank loan in 2004. The last accurate estimate of his net worth was in 1982, when he was estimated to be worth $200 million. If he had simply invested that in the S&P 500, he would be worth at least $8 billion by the time he started running for president and was claiming a net worth of $10 billion. In fairness, the writer who conducted this analysis essentially based it on Trump investing every dollar of that $200 million, which is a bit unrealistic. On the other hand, if Trump was such a great business mind, he should have been able to make enough money to have no need to touch that original $200 million.

There are two things we can glean from the facts we do know. One is, his constant attempts to expand his Trump-branded businesses were far less effective than simply In fact, if he was actually worth $10 billion, as he claimed, he would have proudly produced his actual financials. The fact that he’s never released even his tax returns is a pretty strong indication that they reveal something he doesn’t want anyone to know. That could very well be that he is not as rich as he wants us to believe. (Source)

What is stunning to see when you examine the bulk of his business career is the amount of money Donny has lost. The amount is breathtaking. We’re not talking about the Walton family seeing a 10% drop in their stock price and losing a few billion on paper. We’re talking about huge losses in real value. If he was worth $200 million in 1982, and his net worth is now less than $8 billion, as most experts suspect, that’s a hell of a loss that, again, could have been avoided by simply investing in the stock market or in any investment that returns five percent or more.

You may recall the one New York State tax return Trump himself leaked, from 1995. In that, Trump reported a $916 million loss for the year. That was the culmination of a number of really bad deals he entered into, such as the Ill-fated (and over-priced) purchases of Eastern Airlines Shuttle ($365 million), which he tried to turn into Trump Air, and the Plaza Hotel ($400 million), as well as the (over-budget) building of the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, which cost Trump $600 million to build, then opened in 1990 and filed for bankruptcy in 1991. Some estimates suggest the Trump Organization was in debt to the tune of more than $3.4 billion, with about $800 million of that being personal debt.

As one can guess by the fact that it no longer exists, Trump’s airline is defunct, as are most of his casinos. He envisioned turning the Eastern Shuttle fleet into a luxury airline, but Trump Air never turned a profit, primarily because he spent so much money on refurbishing the planes to meet his sense of “style,” meaning the airfares he had to charge were not at all competitive. He mistakenly thought people would say double or triple the fare just to feel like a trailer park version of what a “rich person” experiences when they fly. He was wrong.

In fact, the list of business failures in Trump’s wake is extremely long and most of them failed based on his narcissism and his inflated sense of importance. He seems to start businesses based on his sense that his name is like gold to many people and he was under the impression masses of people wanted to buy things with his name on them, or that his name made products better. For instance, there was Trump: the Game, a board game that went defunct in less than a year, even though he tried to bring it back in 2005 as a tie-in to “The Apprentice,” one of his few successful ventures. Trump: The Game ceased production later that year. There was also Trump Vodka, which managed to hang on for five years, only because it hit the market just before the economy crashed, and a lot more people would drink anything. And there was GoTrump.com, a web-based travel site that was set to compete with Travelocity and Expedia, but that went out of business in about a year because the online market for luxury travel just wasn’t there. Who knew, right?

Trump Steaks was another flop because, as it turns out, most people who want a quality steak to take home and throw on the grill, don’t usually shop at Sharper Image. They went on sale in May 2007 and were discontinued in July 2007. According to Trump Steaks CEO Jerry Levin, “The net of all that was we literally sold almost no steaks, if we sold $50,000 of steaks grand total, I’d be surprised.” Since the steaks, burgers and sausages were sold in prepackaged boxes for $199-$999 (The $199 box contained two bone0-in ribeyes, two filet mignon, and a dozen burgers), Trump seems to have assumed there were enough rich people in the country willing to throw their money away on meat to make such a venture worthwhile. (Source)

Trump Ice was another doomed venture, in which Trump sold bottles of “pure spring water” under his name. He first started selling the water at his hotels and casinos and claimed the people who stayed there loved it so much, they wanted to buy it by the case. So, Trump decided to brand Trump Ice water for the masses. The masses largely passed on the opportunity, so Trump Ice was only available to those outside Trump properties from 2003-2010.

That is not to say all of Trump’s business ventures have failed. He’s had some successes, including some that have been successful for a long time. According to estimates, Trump’s success rate is about 42 percent, which would be a phenomenal batting average, if he were playing baseball. However, that means 58 percent of his ventures have failed. And when you look at ventures like Trump University, which was an obvious scam that he kept going for six years, to the point that he had to pay a fine of $25 million over fraud charges, it’s difficult to see his successes as anything but luck.

Trump’s most successful business ventures have been hotels in Manhattan and one in Chicago. Those do not indicate a keen business mind. He is praised as a sales genius, but when you look at business ventures in which he went outside his comfort zone, he has no sense of a target audience for his goods and services, which is something any salesperson must know. Businessmen who take a plane to a destination for a business conference really only want a comfortable seat and enough space to work if they want. They don’t care if the cabin walls are cedar or the seats on the plane are leather. People who want a bottle of vodka are more likely to trust a Russian name on the bottle, not that of a self-described “non-drinker.” And given that people can buy a case of bottled water for $3-4 at Walmart, why would anyone think throngs of people are going to spend that much for a single bottle of water, just because it has Donald Trump’s name on it? Only Donald Trump could possibly think that.

A “great businessman” would know this shit going in. Also, would a “great businessman” spend so much making a casino ornate that he would have no money left to actually serve the customers who entered the casino to hand over their money? Trump seems obsessed with “opulence,” but his sense of same seems to be the same as that of a trailer park resident who dreams of winning the lottery. A truly good businessman would understand that his taste is not a standard by which all people operate.

Donald Trump is not a “great businessman.” As the late great Ann Richards once said, “(George W. Bush) was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” The same can be said of Donald Trump.


Also published on Medium.