The banks seemed to accept the version of him depicted in his first book, “The Art of the Deal,” which we now know from his previous ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, was entirely invented. They believed it over what they saw on his balance sheets or heard coming out of his mouth, and they never said no to his requests for more money. Often they came up with things he could say yes to before he could think of them himself. As a result, a failing real estate developer who had little idea of what he was doing and less interest in doing it once he’d held the all-important press conference wound up owning three New Jersey hotel-casinos, the Plaza Hotel, the Eastern Airlines Shuttle and a 281-foot yacht.
A real go-getter, right? But Trump’s portfolio did not jibe with what I saw each day — which to a surprisingly large extent was him looking at fabric swatches. Indeed, flipping through fabric swatches seemed at times to be his main occupation. Some days he would do it for hours, then take me in what he always called his “French military helicopter” to Atlantic City — where he looked at more fabric swatches or sometimes small samples of wood paneling. It was true that the carpets and drapes at his properties needed to be refreshed frequently, and the seats on the renamed Trump Shuttle required occasional reupholstering. But the main thing about fabric swatches was that they were within his comfort zone — whereas, for example, the management of hotels and airlines clearly wasn’t. One of his aides once told me that every room at the Plaza could be filled at the “rack rate” (list price) every night, and the revenue still wouldn’t cover the monthly payment of the loan he’d taken out to buy the place. In other words, he’d made a ridiculous deal. Neither he nor the banks had done the math beforehand. Or perhaps Trump knew it because someone had told him, but didn’t want to think about it. The one thing he is above-average at is compartmentalization.
On days when there were no broadlooms or chenilles to ponder, we would sit around his office and shoot the breeze while (as we now know) out there someplace in the real world, his businesses were hemorrhaging cash. [Continue reading…]