Every industry and profession has its bottom line for what is required to succeed. If you can’t stand to practice every day, being a musician is out of the question. If you hate to exercise, being an athlete is not for you.

In business—every business—the bottom line is understanding the process. If you don’t understand the process, you’ll never reap the rewards of the process. You’ll never last long enough to achieve your overnight success.

Part of the process is doing your homework. You have to know what you’re getting into first. That was one of my father’s strongest beliefs. We’ve all heard the phrase You’re barking up the wrong tree. It brings to mind a funny image, but in reality it can be embarrassing. Not doing your homework can result in something analogous, so do a few things first to avoid this.

We can learn from our mistakes, but it’s better to learn from our successes. When I hear people say, Well, it was an interesting experience, I can usually safely assume they are referring to something that didn’t work out the way they’d planned. I don’t find my goof-ups to be amusing or interesting.

Can you imagine hearing a surgeon say, Well, it didn’t go quite right, but I sure learned a lot? I wouldn’t want that guy operating on me. The same applies to anyone in business, because if you’re in business, it’s not just your money involved, but very often the money and well-being of others as well. In my business, I can’t take chances. If something is not quite right with the design or construction of a superstructure, a lot of people could be injured or killed. I’ve got to know what’s going on. Bottom line, it will be my responsibility.

People see the finished product. Wow, a skyscraper! What goes into it is another story. Construction isn’t glamorous. It’s a serious and often dangerous endeavor. Fortunately, I understood this from my earliest days in the business, so there’s a certain gravity in my approach to the construction of any building.

That’s where having learned to do my homework comes in handy. It’s a necessary requirement, not an extracurricular course to enhance my productivity. Not only do I have to know exactly what I’m doing, but I’ve also got to make sure I find contractors who know exactly what they’re doing as well. That’s why I’m tough on them, and that’s why I’m equally tough on myself. A lot of lives are at stake in our work. We don’t want any interesting experiences!

We all know what it’s like to pretend to study. There are some courses in school that just don’t hold your attention. If you are choosing a career, keep that in mind. What most holds your attention?

Consider a pyramid. Did you ever notice how large and solid the foundation is? Did you notice the carefully graduated levels that eventually lead to the pinnacle? Now turn the pyramid upside down. That’s a representation of topsy-turvy thinking. You don’t start at the top. You start with the foundation—the stronger, the better.

The world moves along at such a fast clip that we have little patience when things are slow, whether it’s the line at a supermarket or Internet access. We’ve become intolerant of those things that cannot be accelerated or skipped entirely. I can’t speed up the foundation work for a building, nor can I expect to play piano like Glenn Gould just because I want to.

Know the limitations as well as the possibilities of everything you do. Find out as much as you can yourself about what you plan to do, and don’t expect anyone to act as your favorite grandmother in wanting what’s best for you. Most people want what’s best for themselves, not for you. If those people have already spent a great deal of effort on their homework, why should they share it with you?

Listen to a Ping-Pong Game

I learned a long time ago to listen, but to listen judiciously. You can learn a lot from the people around you—you just have to be discerning about the information that comes your way. A lot of the so-called information I receive turns out to be someone’s personal opinion. We’re all entitled to our two cents’ worth, but sometimes that’s all it amounts to.

Be aware of the marketplace. Know what’s going on now. That’s one reason I devote several hours a day to reading. That’s how long it takes to both keep up with current events and learn from the greats in history. How can you expect to be successful if your idea of what’s happening in the world is vague or nonexistent? That’s like saying, I know that September 11 happened, but I choose not to acknowledge it. It gets in the way of my positive outlook on things. That approach is fine if you’re a professional fairy-tale writer.

There’s another side to everything, so develop your ability to see it—or even hear it. I once met a young woman from Hong Kong who worked on Wall Street in emerging markets. She had an uncanny ability to predict certain events in the marketplace—it seemed almost like a psychic gift to me.

One day, I asked her how she could be so on target in her work and she likened knowing and predicting the global markets tolistening to a Ping-Pong game.

At first, I thought she was joking, or perhaps just being evasive, but she went on to explain her theory.

I’m not kidding you, Donald. When I was growing up, we had a Ping-Pong table in the den, and I could hear the games my brothers would play, sometimes for hours, when I was studying in my room. I discovered that I could discern the tilt of the paddle, and the outcome of the volley, just by the sound of the Ping-Pong ball being hit, and the sound of it landing on the other side of the net. I knew the results, the repercussions, and the recovery that would be required to successfully handle what had been dealt.

Later, I applied this to my work in emerging markets and found I could often predict what would be happening just by concentrating on world events and thinking of the sound of Ping-Pong balls being hit around the globe. Ping-Pong is really the reason behind my success.

I was astounded.That’s my idea of tuning in.

I must add that this young woman had all the education in finance that her position required. She was a bright student. What set her apart from everyone else was the way she applied her knowledge and her keen analysis of the game of Ping-Pong to her work. She may even have done this on an unconscious level initially, but tapping into this resource gave her an uncanny edge. The lesson I learned from her story is never to underestimate the power of awareness.

Find out what other people have done to succeed, and then be prepared to do ten times more. There are no guarantees.

Comparing ourselves to others is a waste of time. I’ve heard people say, Well, Mr. Lucky had a million dollars before he was thirty and I’ve worked just as hard as he has. Well, Mr. Lucky has nothing to do with you, your possibilities, your success, or your failure. Don’t let anyone else be your yardstick. That’s taking power away from yourself in a big way.

You’ve got your own personal blueprint to attend to. We can’t all be Tiger Woods, J. Lo, Bill Gates, or whoever it is you would like to be, and sometimes that’s a hard fact to face. You may have already experienced defeat. That happens. It happens a lot! But the fact that you have aspirations to begin with is putting you on the road to success right now. No matter how defeated you may feel, you’ve still got a chance. But it won’t happen by itself. Get to work!

I’ll sum up with two of my favorite quotes:

There are no short cuts to anywhere worth going.


The harder I work, the luckier I get.


Reflect for Three Hours a Day

I read an article recently in which European exchange students living in the United States all agreed on one aspect of American life: The noise level here is very high. We seem to avoid quiet moments. Even lapses in conversation are quickly filled with banter or some kind of interference.

It made me realize how much I need a certain amount of quiet time—usually about three hours a day—in order to stay balanced. It’s time I use to read and reflect, and I always feel renewed and refreshed by this. It also gives me material to feed my extroverted nature.

For me, the early morning hours are best for this kind of reflection. I’m an early riser, usually up by 5 A.M ., which gives me a few hours to read newspapers and magazines of all sorts—local, national, and international.

In the evening, after a black-tie dinner, I’ll unwind by stopping at my local Korean grocery for snacks—potato chips and pretzels. That will be my dinner. I rarely get to eat at those black-tie events, and I’d rather have the junk food, anyway.

Once I’m home, I read books—usually biographies. Now and then I like to read about philosophers—particularly Socrates, who emphasizes that you should follow the convictions of your conscience, which basically means thinking for yourself, a philosophy I tend to agree with. It may not make you too popular, but it’s essential for lucid thought, and it’s a good way to avoid being part of a herd mentality of any sort.

I read as much as I can, but not as much as I’d like, because there are so many constraints on my time. I am grateful for the contribution Oprah Winfrey has made to our country in regard to reading. In my book The America We Deserve, I wrote about the deplorable state of reading in this country. Since Oprah decided to do something about it, there has been a noticeable upswing in book sales, and writers are once again considered to be cool people rather than dinosaurs. I cannot thank Oprah enough for what she has done, and I hope every person in this country realizes the positive influence she has had. We all owe Oprah a big thank-you, and I’d like to lead the crowd in saying so.

I like movies and television as much as anyone else, but reading is a form of replenishment for me. The potato chips and pretzels help, too.

Dress for Your Culture

I used to pride myself on buying very inexpensive suits and other clothing. It just didn’t make sense to pay thousands of dollars for great clothes when you could buy something for a hundred dollars. Who would know the difference?

Over the years, I’ve learned that this is wrongheaded. I now buy very high-quality shoes, and they seem to last forever, whereas the cheapos used to wear out quickly and always looked as cheap as the price I’d paid for them. The same is true for suits. These days, I go for Brioni, whose service and attention to detail is second to none. They supplied most of the clothing for The Apprentice, so I have tremendous loyalty to them (and I got a good deal). They also make great overcoats.

The way we dress says a lot about us before we ever say a word.To me, dressing successfully means understanding your environment: knowing the culture and making an effort to reflect—and respect—it.

The look in Beverly Hills may be attractive, but that same look may be met with scorn on Wall Street. Success is hard enough to achieve without showing up on casual Friday in a three-piece suit. Don’t put up unnecessary hurdles for yourself.

Make it easy for people to take you seriously. I would wonder about someone who arrived for a meeting or an interview and was dressed inappropriately for the culture of that particular workplace—for example, a guy showing up at Trump Tower in a cowboy hat, boots, and a fringed cowhide jacket. It’s more about culture than style. Be aware of your surroundings and dress accordingly.

Some people can get away with anything. Most people can’t. Micha Koeppel, who works at The Trump Organization, usually looks like a Canadian Mountie in full regalia. To look at him, you’d think he was about to lead an expedition through the Rockies. Then again, my buildings are tall, and he scouts the right locations for them, so maybe there’s a reason for his getups. It works for him, and he does a good job, so I don’t mind.

It’s certainly not groundbreaking news that the early victories by the women on The Apprentice were, to a very large extent, dependent on their sex appeal. The fact that sex sells is nothing new. However, women are judged harshly when they go too far, so be careful in how you present yourself. If you want to be acknowledged for your intelligence as well as your beauty, don’t stand in your own way. Not everyone can tune out a knock-em-dead appearance. Think of how you would like to be perceived, and proceed from there.

I tend to notice what people are wearing only if they look exceptionally well put together—or exceptionally badly put together. It has more to do with style than which designer they may or may not be wearing. As I said, expensive clothing usually looks like it was worth the price.

Have you ever noticed how we tend to pigeonhole people in certain professions by their appearance? It’s a form of shorthand to just be able to say your basic accountant type or a typical advertising type when describing someone. Every profession has a certain look or standard. Just say banker and you’ve saved yourself a hundred words. It’s not always fair, but that’s how it works.

However, you don’t have to be a typical anything.

For example, Frank McKinney looks like a cross between a rock star and a surfer dude. You would never guess by looking at him that he’s a real estate entrepreneur who sells ultra-high-end residential real estate in Florida. When he speeds by you on his motorcycle in his Versace vest with his two feet of blond hair blowing in the wind, you can bet he’s on his way to a business meeting. But that’s Frank’s style, and he’s very successful.

I’m a conservative dresser due to business considerations and to save time. I enjoy flamboyance in other people—I’m more interested in what a beautiful woman might wear than in anything I might ever put on.

Be aware that your attire can literally become a costume. I’ve known a lot of terrific-looking scoundrels and a lot of well-dressed bums.

Being tasteful is being tasteful, no matter what line of work you’re in. Sure, it helps to have the money to buy great clothes, but a little style can go a long way.

Here I am on top of Trump World Tower at the United Nations Plaza. I like to check up on things, even without my helicopter.

Be Your Own Best Financial Adviser

Many people go out and hire financial advisers, but I have also seen a lot of those advisers destroy people.

Athletes, in particular, make a great deal of money at a very young age. Too often, some manager squanders the athlete’s fortune and they wind up in their thirties with nothing left but their past glory—and are forced to get jobs just to survive.

A good friend of mine and truly one of the greatest basketball players who has ever lived, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was in the NBA for over twenty years, only to find that some bad advice had destroyed much of his wealth. I don’t know whether it was theft or stupidity, but it was a shame.