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January 2, 2008

10 Management Lessons From Donald Trump

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Whenever I visit Borders, I see a new Donald Trump book front and center on the display with some catchy title and a corny picture of him on the cover. I am not a big Don fan, but am intrigued enough by the title and his success to flip through it, but not intrigued enough to buy/read it. Over the holidays, MSNBC ran an interview with the Don at The Wharton School in front of a bunch of students at which he summarized the points from his recent book. This was a perfect opportunity for me to get the highlights and not have to slog through the book. I figured some of you might have the same feeling at Borders, so I took a few notes and summarized his top ten lessons here:

1. Work Hard - This is a platitude uttered by every speaker at every event like this, but the Don gives this more than the usual lip service. He basically said that everyone he knew that made a lot of money and was ultra successful, worked 7 days a week. He suggested to the audience that if they wanted to succeed, they should be prepared for 80 hour weeks for a long time. I wish it were not the case, but most of my friends that have reached lofty career goals are workaholics -- don't shoot the messenger!

2. "Love" What You Do -- Another platitude, but he spoke about this in a passionate way that resonated with me. He discouraged the audience from joining or switching to a hot "industry" (i.e. hedge funds) or from going into consulting in favor of getting involved with an industry you love (antiques, baseball, marketing), even if that industry is not currently doing well as a whole. His message was that you will perform so well in your imperfect industry that you will rise above the fray and end up being a star in the top 1% of that industries earners, but if you joined an industry you weren't passionate about, you'd end up in the 50th percentile of earners in that industry. He thought the pay in the top 1% of a crappy industry (in a job you love) would top the 50th percentile in a hot industry (in a job you loathe).  [editors note after the fact:  see Steve Job's Stanford commencement speech for more on this topic:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA]  

3. "Know" What You Do -- Whatever industry you are in and whatever role you play in that industry, work hard to become a worldclass expert in it. For example, if you are a marcom manager in a security software company, he suggested that you ought not just focus on getting good at seo and email marketing campaigns horizontally, but that you ought to become an expert in that security industry yourself, so that you can communicate with all levels of people about the technology simply , so that you can have detailed conversations with analysts, so that you can write credible blog articles, so that you can explain the future competitive dynamics to potential investors, etc.

4. Luck -- According to Don, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

5. Education -- A huge advantage that is expensive in the short run, but cheap in the long run. Don's perspective reminded me of a quote I read from Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard, when asked about the rising cost of education, "If you think getting an education is expensive, try ignorance."

6. Management -- Donald fought the platitude pattern and said "You want to be smarter than your people." He thought the notion that you should hire people smarter than you was a poor one.

7. Persistence -- He talked a lot about riding the ups and downs of the real estate market, losing everything, and coming back. He credited his success and the demise of many of his competitors to being patient and persistent over long periods of time to wait out market fluctuations. This one might be more relevant to Donald's business than most, but still interesting.

8. Negotiation -- Always do it face-to-face. In this era of telephones, teleconference, and video conference, Donald suggests that if it's an important negotiation, you should do it face-to-face, so you can read the other person's body language.

9. Middle men -- Donald is not a fan of middle men who do not add value and who extract outsized returns. He tells the story of how he "goes around" a broker on a billion dollar (that's the number of zeros the Don deals in these days) deal where he was losing a negotiation and flew to Dubai to deal directly with the principal and struck a great deal. ...I must say, I liked this piece of advice. There are so many industries that have middle men filled with old boys clubs that take money out of your pocket. If you want a good example, try getting leasing some office space or dealing with a technology "analyst."

10. Marriage -- Marry someone who understands #1 above and make sure to get a prenuptual agreement. No comment...

I hope you enjoyed these nuggets from the Don.


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