Trump: The Art of the Comeback


Trump's story begins when many real estate moguls went belly-up in what he calls the Great Depression of 1990. Trump reveals how he renegotiated millions of dollars in bank loans and survived the recession, paving the way for a resurgence, during which he built the most successful casino operation in Atlantic City, broke ground on one of the biggest and most lucrative development projects ever undertaken in New York City, and outsmarted one of ...
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Trump's story begins when many real estate moguls went belly-up in what he calls the Great Depression of 1990. Trump reveals how he renegotiated millions of dollars in bank loans and survived the recession, paving the way for a resurgence, during which he built the most successful casino operation in Atlantic City, broke ground on one of the biggest and most lucrative development projects ever undertaken in New York City, and outsmarted one of South America's richest men for rights to the Miss Universe pageant.

Blunt, outrageous, smart as hell, and full of hilarious stories—check out his chapter "The Art of the Prenuptial Agreement"—Trump tells it like it is: the women in his life; the wild and woolly deals; negotiating tactics; his investment philosophy; and his strategy for success or coming back from adversity.

Whether you love him or hate him, one thing is certain about Donald Trump: He is a true American original, with great instincts and billion-dollar dreams. The Art of the Comeback is Trump at his best—unpredictable, irreverent, and irrepressible.
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Editorial Reviews

James Poniewozik

If Donald Trump has nothing else -- humor me -- he has timing. And if the prospect of an Axl Rose comeback album weren't enough to infuse the air with Eau de Late '80s, on Monday the markets took a 10th-anniversary dive, just four days before Trump's new book, The Art of the Comeback, would hit the stands, as if to kick off a grand nostalgia week for a beloved crony from the old days. Crank up the Poison and cut me a line, baby, it's 1987 again!

Certainly, for these past few weeks, Trump himself has been working overtime to recall his "Art of the Deal"-era heyday of media omnipresence, spasmodically grabbing headlines wherever the news cycle offered an opening: His penciled-into-the-galleys regret that he never dated Princess Diana garnered The Art of the Comeback a jolt of pre-publication buzz in the New York tabloids, and he interjected himself into the New Jersey governor's race with a surprise broadside against Christine Todd Whitman, apropos, apparently, of nothing but his own self-importance.

Yet Comeback is on its gold-plated surface the story of a business resurrection, not a public-profile one. At the beginning of the decade Trump nearly went bankrupt in what he insists on calling "the Depression of 1990." (No pointy-headed economist is going to tell Donald Trump he got clocked by a mere "recession.") The book begins in the real-estate dealmaker's dark hour and establishes early on his idea of a touching vignette -- it's like reading Frank Norris' evil but equally unsubtle twin:

"I pointed across the street to a man holding a cup and with a Seeing Eye dog. I asked, 'Do you know who that is?'"

"Marla said to me: 'Yes, Donald. He's a beggar. Isn't it too bad? He looks so sad!'"

"I said, 'You're right. He's a beggar, but he's worth about $900 million more than me.'"

We can only hope the beggar was able to renegotiate his debt with 90 international banks on favorable terms. Trump was, and Comeback is ostensibly the story of how he thus bought himself time to get out from under. The problem is, he could, and does, tell that story in one chapter. The rest of the book is a how-I-spent-the-'90s report rehashing Trump's deals, divorces and controversies -- the Mar-a-Lago renovation, the Riverside South saga, the legal quashing of Ivana -- through self-serving elision and indirection. Here's the Atlantic City kingpin on his campaign against casino gambling in New York: "Gambling would've been a very bad thing for New York, and the politicians ultimately realized that." Coauthor Kate Bohner must have either a surgically constructed poker face or permanent tooth marks in her tongue.

But that's run-of-the-mill revisionism. The book's real dishonesty is that it's passed off at least partly as an advice book, in the swimming-with-sharks mold of corporate vanity tomes like Peter Lynch's or Trump's own past blockbusters. But although Trump throws us a list of 10 comeback tips -- "be passionate," "stay focused" -- that he never expounds on, what real lessons can Joe Waldenbooks draw from Trump's exploits? If your business tanks, make sure you're in so deep the banks have to save your keister? Foreign investors don't understand Manhattan real estate?

Comeback does have its pleasures -- for instance, the taut narrative tension between the authorial id and the legal department's superego: "Then I fired him. (He says he quit.)" Another lies in Trump tip No. 9: "Get even." Trump settles scores deliciously: An Upper West Side antidevelopment activist "was easy to defeat ... I enjoyed grinding her into the ground"; a bothersome Citibank official "thinks she's hot shit"; Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett is "a jerk" (Trump devotes a whole chapter to his loathing of the media). And give Trump credit for one kind of honesty -- he doesn't pretend he's a nice guy. In a chapter on prenuptial agreements, he essentially says there are three types of women -- two who won't sign the prenup and one who will, just to screw you -- and a sane man shouldn't marry any of them.

So why write such a pointless and ultimately ugly book, besides generosity toward Binky Urban? After all, as Trump would gladly tell you, he could have made twice as much money trading buildings in the time it took the typist to input the copyright page. The short answer, sure, is pride. The long answer is wounded pride.

See, the dirty secret is, Donald Trump never came back. Oh, he got his money back. But being Donald Trump was never quite about the money. It was about leaving his stamp -- his golden T -- on his age. The Donald Trump of 1987 was American power embodied: He was our gluttony artist, poised to take Manhattan and more. Today, he's what? A rich landlord. A regional celebrity. A museum piece with no more grip on the popular imagination than a railroad tycoon. For while Trump regained his mere shekels, he was eclipsed and outbillionaired by Gateses, Ellisons and Turners, the ones who capture the popular imagination the 1990s way, by buying and selling pieces of it.

Trump's cock-crowing all over Comeback is an elegy for his own lost relevance. Even the name-dropping reeks of sad '80s reverie -- Michael Jackson, Madonna, Carl Icahn -- and the book is plastered with more celebrity photos than a Planet Hollywood franchise: How dare you call me a has-been! Look at me with Sly Stallone! He complains petulantly that no one recognizes that "real estate is the backbone of this country." He coyly denies his rumored political ambitions, as though anyone has cared about them since three administrations ago.

Donald Trump is today worth over a billion dollars; he may yet be worth several billion. But until marketing hunks of dirt regains cultural-commercial parity with developing operating systems, he will be a Master of the Universe in a Mortal Kombat era. He may score another bestseller, but he will never be Donald Trump again. -- Salon

Library Journal
Six years ago real estate developer Trump (Trump: The Art of the Deal, LJ 2/15/88) was several billion dollars in debt, owing in part, he says, to his complacency and the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Now, thanks to some skillful negotiating, hard work, and luck, he says he is back. Trump's goal for this third book is to provide "inspiration" for almost anyone, and some of his top-ten comeback tips are to play golf, stay focused, be paranoid, get even, and always have a prenuptial agreement. He even includes investment and marital advice he has offered to friends and acquaintances, e.g., "If he doesn't lose the ballbreaker, his career will go nowhere." Trump comes across as smug, crude, and self-impressed, but one remains fascinated with his business acumen. He dislikes shaking hands because it spreads germs and even informs readers to "simply bow" if they ever meet him. Recommended for curiosity seekers.Bellinda Wise, Nassau Community Coll. Lib., Garden City, N.Y.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812929645
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/7/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 244
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald J. Trump is president and chief executive officer of the Trump Organization.  He lives in New York City.  He is the author of two previous bestselling books, Trump: The Art of the Deal and  Trump: Surviving at the Top.

The co-author Kate Bohner, began her career in the mergers and acquisitions department at Lazard Freres after studying business and international studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  She is a graduate of the Columbia  University  Journalism School where she received a Reader's Digest Literary Foundation Fellowship.  She wrote for Forbes for three years and is currently a correspondent fro CNBC.

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Read an Excerpt


It helped me relax and concentrate. It took my mind off my problems; I only thought about putting the ball in the hole. And, the irony is, I made lots of money on the golf course--making contacts and deals and coming up with ideas.

I am convinced that if I had maintained the same work ethic I had during the 1970s and most of the 1980s, there would have been no recession for me. I wasn't focused and really thought that life and success just came hand in hand. I thought I was better than the rest. When I began to relax and take it a little--or perhaps a lot--easier things got began to fall apart.

I have noticed over the years that people who are guarded or, to put it more coldly, slightly paranoid, end up being the most successful. Let some paranoia reign! You've got to realize that you have something other people want. Don't let them take it away.

This is a key ingredient to success and coming back. If you don't have passion about who you are, about what you are trying to be, about where you are going, you might as well close this book right now and give up. Go get a job and relax, because you have no chance of making it. Passion is the essence to life and certainly the essence of success.

When I decided to keep 40 Wall Street as an office building, everyone in lower Manhattan was converting their buildings to residential space--and with good reason. The apartment market is hot as a pistol. I decided to head in the exact opposite direction, and now I am signing up tenants at rents farhigher than anything I expected.

Some of the greatest investors I have ever known invest by instinct, rather than research, study, or hard work. If you look back over history, this is the way the greatest fortunes have been built. People had ideas that they truly believed in.

If you go to the office and don't find the energy in the people you are with, it is highly unlikely that you will be energized toward success.

I hate to put this in the book because it can't be acquired. People who inherit fortunes are lucky; I call them members of the lucky sperm club. But you can help coax luck into your life by working hard and being at the right place at the right time.

During the bad times, I learned who was loyal and who wasn't. I believe in an eye for an eye. A couple of people who betrayed me need my help now, and I am screwing them against the wall! I am doing a number...and I'm having so much fun.

Anyone in a complicated business should be institutionalized if he or she gets married without one. I know firsthand that you can't come back if you're spending all your time fighting for your financial life with a spouse.
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Table of Contents

Introduction Xi
The Battle Begins: Bargaining With The Banks 3
Rebuilding The Boardwalk: Trump's New Skyline 25
Wall To Wall--Plush: How I Got 40 Wall Street 45
Mar-A-Lago: From Vision To Victory 61
Trump International: Four-Star Living 81
Master Of The Universe: How I Got The Beauty Pageant 95
Trump Tower: Old Faithful 109
The Women In (And Out) Of My Life 115
The Art Of The Prenup: The Engagement Wring 143
The Really Big One: Breaking Ground 151
The Press And Other Germs 175
Investing: Caveat Emptor 187
Dealing: A Week In The Life Of The Comeback 197
Ingredients For Success 219
Acknowledgments 235
Index 237
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First Chapter




It never occurred to me to give up, to admit defeat. True, I was billions of dollars in the hole. The real estate market had disintegrated. Bodies were dropping right and left. Banks folded. The junk-bond market was collapsing. There was no end in sight to the bad news.

Front-page headlines heralded my downfall. I became the poster boy for the recession. Friends and family called to offer condolences and support. Oddly enough, I wasn't that miserable. Sure, the chips were down. There were some dark moments. But I never had any doubt that I'd come back.

I will never forget what happened on March 26, 1991. Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal had front-page stories predicting my demise, detailing the financial trouble I was in. Anybody with a brain who read those stories would have said I was finished. The stories were picked up by radio and television and blasted throughout the world. This was by far the worst moment of my life.

I was in my office, and there was dead silence. The phone had stopped ringing because even my closest friends felt it would be better to stay away from me rather than call in their regrets--something I always hated anyway. It was then that Rhona Graff, my very loyal secretary, came into my office and told me that Ivana was on the phone. We were separated at the time, and I thought to myself, how nice, Ivana was calling with her sympathies or, even better, with encouragement. That really was sweet! As it turned out, that was not at all the purpose of Ivana's phone call. I picked up the phone and said, "Hello, Ivana, how are you?" Ivana said, as cold as ice, "I vant my money now. I vant my money now. I have decided to honor the contract, and I vant a check for ten million dollars and all the other things immediately. I am no longer going to court. I vant my money now."

Then she hung up, and I said to myself, "Wow, what a mess!"

At that moment I realized it was time to go back to work. I had taken a siesta. I had relied on other people, many of them "highly trained and educated executives." Sure, success in business takes education and training. But it all comes down to feel and touch. I've got the instincts. That's how I'd gotten on top in the first place. I wasn't using my instincts anymore. I'd gotten bored, taken my eye off the ball. Why, I thought, should I work my ass off when I can get somebody to do it for me? Everything had gotten too easy. My life had been a series of wins with few, if any, failures. I went to the great Wharton School of Finance and did well. I'd quickly built a huge and successful company. I'd made few mistakes, certainly none I could remember as having great consequence.

I'll always remember that day in 1980, standing at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street, watching Trump Tower begin to rise. Even before the construction started, I was selling apartments at a rate that few people had witnessed before. While I was looking up, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hi, Donald, how are you doing?" I looked over, and it was Jerry Speyer, head of the Tishman Realty firm. He's a development pro. Jerry's a little older than me and, as it turns out, at that time at least, a little wiser.

I began to tell him what a great success I was having renting the retail space and selling the apartments in Trump Tower. The atrium, I said, was a spectacular success. He had heard that and congratulated me. Then he paused and said, in effect, "Be careful of the markets because when the markets change you could take the best apartment in any building in New York City and it's got virtually no sale value." I listened to him but sort of laughed to myself. That was impossible, I thought. Look at the way things were going. Even in a bad market I'd be able to sell apartments at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street!

I got a little cocky and, probably, a little bit lazy. I wasn't working as hard, and I wasn't focusing on the basics. I traveled around the world to the spring fashion shows in France. What the hell did I have to travel to Paris for when we have better fashion shows in New York? The models were the same. Believe me, the clothes were beautiful, but I wasn't looking at the clothes.

I began to socialize more, probably too much. Frankly, I was bored. I really felt I could do no wrong. Sort of like a baseball player who keeps hitting home runs or a golfer who keeps winning tournaments--you just get a feeling of invincibility. Ultimately, this invincible feeling, while positive at times, can be destructive. You let down your guard. You don't work as hard. Then things start to go in the wrong direction. And that's what happened to me--and I never thought it could. Sadly, Jerry was right that day on Fifth Avenue. Eleven years later, in 1990, the market was so horrendous that prices, for even the best buildings in town, were plummeting. Apartments were being bought at prices you never thought possible. It was a complete disaster.

I personally witnessed the end of the real estate market and the beginning of what I term the Great Depression of 1990. That's right: I use the word depression. It was not a recession. It was, in fact, a depression, more severe than anything that had taken place since the early 1930s. Real estate markets were reeling. Banks were failing. Certain industries--retailing, the airlines, and countless others--were being virtually wiped out. You had to be really good to survive. And, sadly, you had to be lucky. Many of my friends were talented but not talented enough. Those friends are gone--never to be seen again on the business front. Many filed for bankruptcy, and many just gave up. They cashed in their chips or, far worse than that, were forced to work for someone else--pretty tough when you have always worked for yourself.

Take my good friend, a real estate executive who had built up a fairly good fortune. Before writing this, I asked if it would be possible for me to say something about him. "Absolutely, Donald," he said. "But please don't use my name. I'm starting my new life, and it's beginning to work out okay." This guy had a number of successful buildings and was well on his way to "going to the top." In 1989 he was worth at least $50 million. He's a terrific guy, but he believed in laying all his chips down at once. It turned out his timing was wrong. By the end of 1990 he was completely wiped out. His wife and family had left him, and he started to drink heavily. It was a very sad day when he came into my office and asked me to help him get a job. I was certainly having my own problems at the time. But he had no money and, in fact, was overqualified for any kind of a job available to him. Because he had helped me in the mid-1970s, which I was just starting out, I made a concerted effort to help him. It paid off. Today he is a successful executive within another company. But he will never be able to attain the success he once had. He refers to those times as just a chapter in his life.

Another good friend of mine, a very successful guy in the seventies and eighties, built a fortune of about $500 million, mostly in real estate. He had four children whom he loved very much and decided, in 1988, to give each child $10 million. He made this gift without hesitation and not knowing that shortly thereafter a very bad time would be upon us. In 1990 and 1991 he was experiencing tremendous financial difficulty. He decided to go back to his children, to whom he had given this gift of $40 million, and ask each for $7.5 million so he could pay off bank loans at substantial discounts. It was a great opportunity for him, and he never had a doubt that they would gladly give him the money. He called a meeting, and to his amazement the kids were dead set against returning even the smallest amount. They said to him, "Look, Dad, you got yourself into trouble. That's not our fault. You shouldn't ask us to give back the money you gave us."

He walked out of that room in total disbelief. I saw this man recently, and his business is again doing well. He was able to survive without the help of his kids. When I said to him, "How are your children? Have you ever forgiven them?"

He said, "Donald, what children are you talking about? I have no children, they're dead."

I think this is a very sad story and truly feel that his children should be totally ashamed of themselves.

In contrast, my father and I are very close--he really helped me through the bad times. Fred Trump is a rough-and-tumble guy and a wonderful businessman. He has always taken great pride in my success and for fifteen years he has backed me wherever possible, never wavering once. Well, when times got bad, he continued to stand by me. He had no doubt that I would make it back. He would tell people, "Don't worry about Donald, I've watched him all of his life. Donald is a winner and will have no trouble. Times are tough for everyone, but Donald will be the one who ends up on top." I have always appreciated his confidence in me.

Another horrifying story, again the opposite of my own experience, involves a man I know who made a large bequest to a well-known university. The bequest was to be paid over a long period, but the amounts of money were substantial. When this man got into trouble in the early 1990s, he went to the university to ask its indulgence and essentially seek a temporary reduction or cessation of payment. He left the meeting feeling really good and believing his was a routine request that would be honored. Unfortunately, the following week he was delivered a legal notice demanding payment in full and stipulating that if the payment was not made, the university would immediately start a court action seeking the money and damages based on his pledge.

He told me that never again would he get involved in such a situation, and as he makes his final payment to the school next year, he will be happy in the knowledge that he will never have to make another payment to that institution. He is a very rich man again, and had this school behaved properly, the money it could have ultimately received would have been far greater than what he had already given. Because of this, whenever I make a long-term commitment to a school or charity, I stipulate that I have the right, at any time and for any reason, to stop payment. Times change, economies change, and the world changes--and I won't be caught.

My blip--as I call my difficult time--was much different from that of my friends. It was more a sabbatical of sorts. If I'd had my eye on the ball, I'm sure I would have seen more of the problems on the economic horizon. The truth is, I did see some. I got nervous when Washington passed a ludicrous tax law in 1986--it ended up being a disaster for both real estate and banking and caused the depression of 1990-1993. More on that later.

The fact is, I saw the signs. So I started selling. Unfortunately, when I want to sell, nobody else wants to buy because they figure I know something more than they do. Why should they buy something Donald Trump doesn't want?

Fortunately, I did get off one deal before the deluge--and it was a beauty. I had acquired a terrific property in midtown Manhattan for $70 million from Harry and Leona Helmsley, and a short while later, in 1989, I sold it to Alan Bond for $180 million. That's about a $110 million profit on the deal, which just reinforced what I stated before, that I felt I could do no wrong, that I didn't know how to hit anything less than a grand slam home run. Here I'd bought a building from the great Harry Helmsley (and he was indeed a great man who, unfortunately, married the wrong woman) and sold it at a huge profit. In my eyes this further proved my invincibility. How could I possibly fail? I'd had incredible success with the Grand Hyatt Hotel; cash poured in from my casinos in Atlantic City; Trump Tower condos stayed on the market for about a minute. It was a fantastic time, like the Roaring Twenties. But of course, it couldn't last. I learned at the Wharton School of Finance that the economy runs in cycles. I guess I forgot the second half of the lesson, along with everyone else in business: Eventually, something's got to give.

This time, the give was precipitated by the U.S. government, more specifically, by Congress. It was 1986, the peak of the real estate market's boom. Some pundits down in Washington, D.C., decided it was time to rein in a few overzealous developers, who, the pols claimed, were unfairly taking advantage of tax breaks and favorable depreciation schedules. The 1981 tax code was revised, and the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1986 (TEFRA) was passed, destroying just about any incentive anyone might have for investing in real estate. And, you may remember, it included a stipulation that the tax laws be applied retroactively. Overnight developers and investors went bust by the thousands. The banks did just as badly.

Here's why. First, TEFRA eviscerated the tax shelters--in place to encourage investment--thereby leaving investors virtually no incentive to put their money into any type of development--including low- and moderate-income housing. Second, the upper-income tax rate was lowered from 51 percent to 32 percent. Investing involves risk. With a 51 percent tax, investors might take a chance on a new housing project. If the project went south, the investor could recapture his losses in the form of a tax break. If an investor is taxed only 32 percent, why bother with the risk?

The most damaging effect of this law was, of course, that it would be applied retroactively. Property values fell so precipitously that developers who had never missed a loan payment were being foreclosed upon because regulators, pointing to the abruptly devalued worth of their mortgaged property, demanded millions more in additional collateral. I couldn't believe that a government would allow deals to be made and then wipe them out. It's one thing to establish a new set of guidelines; it's another thing to say, Guess what, the rules you were playing by, and basing already done deals on, are dead. Some people had to pay for tax shelters while, at the same time, paying taxes on the shelters they were buying. Most surprisingly, while I can understand politicians doing the wrong thing, I couldn't believe that the retroactivity provisions would be upheld by the courts, but amazingly, they were. It was a total disaster and incredibly unfair.

People don't seem to understand this (and apparently members of the Supreme Court don't either), but in terms of economics, real estate is the backbone of this country. The industry alone accounts for 20 percent of the gross national product, employs eight million workers, and generates $200 billion in tax revenues. Construction not only creates jobs, it spurs manufacturing. And consider the retail aspect: If people buy houses, they buy carpets, furniture, and so on.

These politicians--many of whom had never functioned in the world of big business, or any business, for that matter--couldn't see past their fingertips. They passed this thing into law without giving one thought to the long-term consequences. Witness the domino effect: By 1993, 62 percent of all airlines had gone bankrupt. Fewer houses were under construction than in 1946. Not since the Great Depression were so few construction workers employed. The Resolution Trust Corporation was forced to sell its property at five cents on the dollar. Real estate values sunk trillions of dollars during this time. Imagine my despair as I watched every single asset I owned--condominiums, hotels, casinos, my airline--hit the skids.

One day, while walking down Fifth Avenue, hand in hand with Marla, I pointed across the street to a man holding a cup and with a Seeing Eye dog. I asked, "Do you know who that is?"

Marla said to me: "Yes, Donald. He's a beggar. Isn't it too bad? He looks so sad!"

I said, "You're right. He's a beggar, but he's worth about $900 million more than me." She looked at me and said, "What do you mean, Donald? How could he possibly be worth $900 million more than you?"

I said, "Let's assume he's worth nothing (only from the standpoint of dollars)--I'm worth minus $900 million."

This was an interesting period of time, because as I told the story I realized in my own mind that what I was saying was true. I also began to realize that I had better get back to work!

My net worth had been in the billions. By the spring of 1990 I was deeply in the red; my empire was hemorrhaging value. When the Supreme Court upheld the retroactivity provisions in 1992, I knew that not only for me, but for my colleagues as well, prospects were grim. Even for the awesome Olympia & York, headed by the powerful Reichmann family, the future looked bleak.

I remember reading about the trials and tribulations of Paul Reichmann and his O&Y empire. The company owed a staggering $20 billion and was in deep, deep trouble. Its investments were shaky, and getting shakier all the time. It was unthinkable that O&Y could be going down, but it sure as hell seemed that way by reading the papers.

Paul Reichmann made a huge error: He let his ego get in the way of his financial recovery. I remember the day I knew his end would come. I picked up the paper and read a "death knell" story about O&Y, and Reichmann was quoted, saying O&Y still had a net worth of $5 billion. First of all, this probably wasn't true. Second, if you have $5 billion, why in the world would banks pity you and discount your debt? Forget it! I guess Paul just couldn't put his ego aside for a second and tell the banks how much trouble he was really in. It ended up hurting him badly. The company, as we knew it, was totally wiped out. And Reichmann was left holding the bag.

I wasn't quite at that point yet. But I was close. The casinos in Atlantic City weren't throwing off enough cash to service the debt. I felt trapped. So in March of 1990 I told Wall Street I might miss Trump Castle's $43 million principal and interest payment. This announcement reverberated around the world because I had never missed any payment before. Suddenly bankers--some I'd worked with for a decade--were doubting my ability to make upcoming payments on my other loans. They were right to be skeptical. I wasn't sure myself where the money would be coming from. The problems at the Castle could have triggered a series of defaults, forcing me into personal bankruptcy. And there was no way Donald Trump was going bankrupt! I would talk about bankruptcy and I would use that possibility as a tool to negotiate, but I'd never do it. That would end the game.

So I dug in. I waited--waited and watched. I took tremendous punishment as I watched my empire collapsing around me. Finally, it became obvious to me and the rest of America that the economy was crashing for all. When this realization hit me, I decided I'd do everything in my power to suffer the pain as early as possible. Negotiate, I thought, before everyone else starts getting into the game. I now realize that, if I had waited just six months longer to renegotiate terms with the banks, I might have lost everything, because six months later I would have had to stand in line with a whole bunch of other moguls who were trying to do the same thing--work out a deal, get a discount on debt, buy some time. In retrospect, that decision was perhaps the smartest thing I did.

Sure, it crushed my ego, my pride. I hated having to go to the bankers with my hat in my hand. And yes, my lifestyle was a little cramped for a while. I guess all that's important. But getting a deal on the table--without filing for bankruptcy--was the most important thing of all. I decided there was no way I'd make the same mistake Paul Reichmann had made--I wasn't going to let my ego get in the way. I figured I'd sell off a few assets and suffer a small hit to my ego in order to keep my 18,000 employees and kept afloat the thousands of family firms and suppliers that were dependent on the Trump Organization for work. After all, these people would have found it much tougher to recover. I wouldn't have been able to look in the mirror if I'd let them down.

I knew I had to protect myself--by being flexible. I never get attached to one deal or one approach. I keep a lot of balls in the air because most deals fall out no matter how promising they seem at first. This was particularly important now, since after I missed the Castle payment, the bankers involved in my loans would certainly get more involved. I was fortunate enough to work with some tremendously talented people: Ann Lane of Citibank, Joe Manganello of Bankers Trust, and Peter Ryan of Chase Manhattan, to name a few. They were big-picture types--not middle-management bureaucrats lost in the minutiae. They often shared my vision, and they brought to the table much vision of their own.

I dealt with some real jerks also. One was named Ben Berzin, who worked for Midlantic Bank. He sometimes gave more than you ever thought you could get, and sometimes gave nothing when it wouldn't have mattered to him. He was an amazing phenomenon. I cut a deal with him on a loan in Atlantic City that was secured by a casino property, much of it guaranteed by me. The discount was tremendous. Frankly, I was a little surprised I was able to get so much out of him. During this period Berzin acted normal and seemed very calm.

But after he made the deal, he turned into a monster. For the smallest nothing he would threaten to issue a default notice. Berzin would call up and scream at people at the top of his lungs about nonsense, and yet he gave me tens of millions of dollars in discounts. After I was finished with this jerk, I called him to ask why, with his attitude, he made the deal in the first place, and after having made the deal, why he was so obnoxious? He really had no answer.

I knew--and I think he knew, in the end--that if he'd just sat back with me, as I had originally asked him to do, he would have been paid out in full. Instead, I am proud to say, he lost a lot of money on the transaction.

I recall my first meeting with Berzin; it was very strange. He brought me into his office, and suddenly he started smiling. He showed me a plaque of a golf ball and golf club and happily told me this long story of how he'd foreclosed on the developer of this club. How he'd taken the club away from the guy. I asked him if the developer was hurt, what kind of a guy he was. Berzin didn't know; he didn't care. All he knew was he'd "beat this guy into the ground." I knew immediately what kind of jerk I was dealing with. Had I not made my deal with him at the beginning, he would have been impossible to deal with at the end. He was a huge detriment to the bank. On my loan alone, I believe he could have gotten the bank tens of millions of dollars more.

Another hanker who was incredibly disappointing to me was Patricia Goldstein of Citibank. She's a tough, hard woman with very little social grace. She's not well liked by those who know her, and she's particularly disliked within the real estate industry. Because she has Citibank on her shoulders, she thinks she's hot shit. And believe me, she's not.

I'll never forget the time, during my ongoing struggle, that I got a call from Pat crying hysterically into the phone. She told me that her husband was dying. He was being cared for at a hospital somewhere in the Bronx where, she said, they were treating him horribly. Was there anything I could do, she asked, to help get him into Mary Manning Walsh, a home for the terminally ill run by the Carmelite sisters and the Catholic church? It is also a place that is virtually impossible to get into. I called a good friend, who called the cardinal, who in turn called the bishop of New York, and essentially I worked like hell to get her husband into a place that was harder to get into than the Wharton School of Finance. The next day I received a call from the bishop asking me if Mrs. Goldstein could be at the hospital at six o'clock in the morning for a tour and if the husband could be brought in immediately. Mr. Goldstein was admitted and, for the rest of his life, had nuns hovering over him, praying for him, taking care of him like no one did before.

Not only did Pat Goldstein never even thank me, but as hard as it is to believe, when I dealt with her she was nasty and mean. To top it off, she made a truly stupid deal for Citibank. Had she listened to my advice about the Plaza Hotel, the bank could have made hundreds of millions of dollars more than it ended up making. But she wouldn't listen to anybody. And the fact that I helped her in the most important way meant absolutely nothing to her. She tried to screw me at every corner. As a result, she prevented the bank from being able to take advantage of a great situation.

I will never forget the day I was forced to call the banks to renegotiate my loans. This was something that I never thought could happen to me. It was awfully tough when you had come from the top--and had been there so long. I called a meeting. Most of my major banks were there, and my conference room was packed. I told them, in as nice a way as possible, that I was in deep financial trouble and that, on top of that, I wanted more money, about $65 million. Their jaws fell to the floor. Their eyes glazed over.

After the initial shock had worn off, we began to talk. Some were angry; all were concerned. But this was very early in the process. The reason I wanted the $65 million, I said, was that my business was good, but there was no liquidity in the markets. My projects were great, unlike a Canary Wharf that was sucking O&Y dry. They were well located, with well-built, magnificent buildings. I hadn't incurred cost overruns or the other problems attendant to most properties. What I did have, I explained to the dropped jaws in front of me, were great properties in a terrible market. The asset values had dropped precipitously, but the borrowings had not. In 1989, with approximately the same debt, I had a net worth of almost $2 billion, maybe more. By the end of 1990 I had the same debt levels, but I was in the red. The problem: property values had plummeted so dramatically that many of my projects were worthless. In retrospect, it all seems easy to understand. Nevertheless, at the time, it was one of the toughest meetings I've ever had.

Essentially, I placed a big bet. "Look," I said. "I can tie you guys up for years--in court proceedings, bankruptcy filings, and the other legal maneuvers I'm good at--when forced. But I'm willing to do something else." I told them that if they gave me a $65 million line of credit, used only to keep my valuable assets and good business going, I'd agree to end any thought of legal skirmishes. My side of the deal looked like this: First, the banks would float me $65 million to keep my head above water. Second, no single bank could lay claim against me for five years (until June 30, 1995). Third, all interest and principal on loans would be deferred until that time. It was a win-win situation for all. I was able to buy some time in hopes that the casino or the real estate markets would rebound. And the banks were able to collateralize their unsecured debt and consolidate the rest.

This was the biggest bet of my life, and boy, did it pay off! Had I tried to make this deal six months later, it would have been impossible. The banks were becoming more and more illiquid--there's no way they would have been able to allow any more money to go out. They were as tight as I was then. Timing, once again, was everything.

The short of it is, the banks got smart. In order to save the vast amounts of time and money entailed in what would have been one of the most complicated proceedings ever, the banks more than capitulated--they enthusiastically agreed to my proposal. I kept my business going; I had liquidity. And I never took down more than $45 million of the $65 million credit line. I started paying off one loan after another. I was working like never before.

While I had my miscues with some bankers, I also earned a respect for bankers in general. Some of the people I dealt with were as smart and cunning as you can imagine; they were also good people. Some of them, such as Manganello, Ryan, Ann Lane, Peter Bauman, Tony Terracciano, and Steve Busch, would do well wherever they went. And I really owe them a lot, not only for their wisdom, but for their flexibility and understanding.

It was three o'clock in the morning when Ann Lane of Citibank called me and said, "Donald, sorry to wake you up, but can you get up and immediately come to our war room? We're having trouble with three banks--one in Austria, one in Japan, and one in Singapore. We think you should be here to talk to the presidents of the banks yourself. If we don't get them, the whole deal will collapse because we must get all ninety banks, unanimously." At 3:15 A.M. on a cold, wintry morning with sleet falling from the skies, I got up and walked ten blocks to Citibank--my driver was at his home, and so, I guess, were the rest of New York City's taxicab drivers. I arrived drenched and cold. I turned to Ann and said, "This is a new low point." Anyway, Ann's a star--she's the one who guided Rupert Murdoch through his troubles at Citibank, which launched his tremendous comeback and success. She met me with an army of assistants. We placed the calls, one by one, and I was able to convince the banks to do what was in their best interest and also in mine. I may have been successful, but it certainly wasn't fun.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2004


    I felt The Art of The Comeback was a very interesting book. Donald Trump gives some very interesting advice on how to be successful with your money. The book tells you how Trump went from being a nobody to being one of the most successful Billionaires in the world. I liked the fact that he was honest about things yet he appears to be a little cocky. I would probably suggest this book for people to read. Trump got started with his fame by building the Trump Towers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2000

    A Comeback Only Donald Trump Could Do

    Donald Trump Has Done It Again In This Book , 'The Art Of The Comeback.' He Talks About Many Issues That Any Billionaire Should Know About!

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