It's 30 minutes past our scheduled meeting time. I sit on a comfy banquette in the waiting area of Donald Trump's office, high up in his eponymous tower on a ritzy stretch of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. His assistant has stopped by a couple times, telling me it won't be much longer, apologizing for the fact that Trump is still in the midst of a big meeting, with an important person, that's running late. Is he in there with Mayor Bloomberg, strategizing for a project that will transform the city? Or is he brainstorming with a world-class architect on plans for a new addition to the Manhattan skyline? Neither. Moments later, he emerges at the side of Jeff Zucker, the president of NBC Entertainment, the network behind 57-year-old Trump's runaway hit show The Apprentice. The men were sequestered, hammering out the fine points of a contract that guarantees two more seasons of the brassy mogul telling quivering Gen-Y coulda-beens, "You're fired!"
The Apprentice was an unlikely success in a career that is full of audacious victories, all meticulously engineered by the relentlessly hard-driving tycoon. Trump's rise to his lofty position is rooted in the example set by his father, Fred, a well-heeled developer of buildings in Brooklyn and Queens. Donald graduated from Wharton business school and briefly worked on outer borough projects, but in 1975, at 28, he started wheeling and dealing in the world of Manhattan real estate, purchasing a piece of land that was eventually developed into the Jacob Javits Convention Center. As his reputation grew, gilt-edged structures bearing the Trump name sprouted up all over town. Then came a casino in Atlantic City, blue-chip resorts around the country, private golf courses, and a modeling agency. There were two high-profile marriages and divorces (and most recently, Trump's engagement to model Melania Knauss), and a very public restructuring of enormous debt after the Manhattan real-estate market tanked in the early 1990s. Through it all, love him or hate him, Trump has emerged richer, more powerful, and more public than ever before.
Another few minutes pass before I'm escorted into Trump's sprawling office, where he's buffered by a big wooden desk and backdropped by a breathtaking view of Central Park. Dressed in a dark-blue suit, The Donald, at this moment, is the polar opposite of the cold-blooded dismissal machine he plays on TV. Manning the speakerphone and wielding a positive bit of press that has just run in The New York Times, he's jocularly fielding congratulatory calls from friends and doing a bit of business with Danny Bennett, son of Tony, who's working on getting his dad a place in one of Trump's buildings.
"I have not personally shown anyone an apartment in 10 years," Trump tells the singer's son. "But I love Tony, and I'm going to show him an apartment with 13-foot ceilings and great light."
They discuss the unit's particulars, and then Trump reminds Bennett that he and his dad have a standing invitation to visit Mar-a-Lago, Trump's private resort in Palm Beach, Florida, for a weekend of golf. "There's nothing hotter than Mar-a-Lago,"
Trump insists. "It's even hotter than The Apprentice."
"I don't think so," Bennett fires back. "That's not possible."
Trump hesitates for a beat, possibly wondering whether or not this is a compliment. Then he agreeably responds, "Maybe not."