How family values helped Donald Trump build his empire

Donald Trump Jr., Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump on Celebrity Apprentice
Douglas Gorenstein | NBC
Donald Trump Jr., Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump on Celebrity Apprentice

Watching Donald Trump in action, whether as a prospective presidential candidate or on his show Celebrity Apprentice, can help anyone become a better leader. I know it's helped me at my eight companies.

Trump is undoubtedly the heart of the Trump Organization—a global superbrand worth several billion that includes a host of luxury commercial and residential properties; resorts, country clubs and golf courses in the U.S. and abroad; and a long list of entertainment assets. Yet his children are an integral part of the organization as well, and his successful collaboration with them has helped accelerate its growth.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview The Donald and his children about how they have coalesced as a team around the show and their real estate ventures around the globe. It was fascinating for me, as an entrepreneur, to hear their perspective. Here are some takeaways.

It's ultimately about winning. Many leaders try to mask what their organization is really about by pointing to feel-good goals. Trump is famously direct. Asked what the most fulfilling part of working on Celebrity Apprentice has been just before the season finale this spring, Trump pointed to its high Nielsen ratings. "It's very gratifying to see ratings, because ultimately, it's a cruel business," he told me. "There have been 15 copies of The Apprentice, and they failed almost immediately. We're in the 10th year, Season 14, and [the show] continues to lead the pack. The fact that so many people have copied it and failed and we're continuing to get great ratings, it's an amazing thing."

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Do it your own way. "Oftentimes, a problem will come up and everybody will say, `You have to do it this way,'" said his son Eric, executive vice president of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization. "If you ask 99 out of 100 people, they would all do it that way. He (The Donald) goes, `Why don't you try this? ... He says, `Just trust me. I've been around this block a couple of times,' and he does the exact opposite of what a lot of people would do, and it's turned out remarkably well."

Find a hidden competitive advantage. One reason The Trump Organization can move so quickly in its hotel endeavors and other projects is the fact that it is a family business. When Trump's son Donald Jr., executive vice president at The Trump Organization, meets with partners, "they realize that if and when I have a problem, I call Don at midnight and I have a response in five minutes—as opposed to perhaps another brand, where they call someone in middle management who brings it up to a regional manager who brings it up to another manager who brings it up to a decision maker and then three levels back down."

Understand how work has changed. As technology has made it easier to stay connected, The Trump Organization has become more flexible about when and where its team works. "There has been a major shift for women and for men where technology enables us to not have to live a compartmentalized life," said Trump's daughter Ivanka, executive vice president of development and acquisitions.

"It used to be when my mother was at work, she was at work, and when she was at home, she was home, and there wasn't tremendous overlap between the two functions. That doesn't exist anymore. I'm at home playing with my kids and then jumping into the other room to take a conference call at 8 o'clock at night. I'm in the office and I'm calling in to check on my kids as they're leaving school or arriving at school. There's this continuity that didn't exist before, and technology has enabled it to be really one life rather than a siloed experience of the working woman and what she looks like in the office versus the woman who's staying at home with her children. Now it's all blended."

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The change has affected men, as well. "They're choosing to be in an environment that recognizes that people have interests outside the office and also recognize the fact that people are working beyond 9 to 5," said Ivanka.

Live a balanced life—no matter how busy you are. The Trumps may be more ambitious than most, but they prioritize life outside of work, too. "Perhaps very differently than I was growing up, if you're a father that's not there and you're not present for your kids' sports games and you're not there for their play, you're the only guy—and it's not like you're dealing with a bunch of other people that aren't equally as successful or more so," said Donald Jr. "People just make an incredible effort today that you didn't see. If there was a father at my games when I was a kid—not my father; if it was anyone's father—it was an unusual thing. Now it's a conversation point if you're not there, and I think people have really decided that you've got to do it and you just have to figure out how to do it."

For the Trumps, family and success don't have to be in conflict—they're intertwined.

—By Eric Schiffer, chairman and CEO of Patriarch Equity and chairman of Reputation Management Consultants. Mr. Schiffer is an advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and Forbes 400 billionaires. He is the author of "Emotionally Charged Learning" and can be reached @ericschiffer.