Q&A with Donald Trump Jr.

At the Meet the Money National Hotel Finance & Investment Conference, held last month in Los Angeles, Hotel Business sat down with Donald Trump Jr. for a one-on-one interview. As an EVP at The Trump Organization, Trump works in tandem with siblings Ivanka and Eric to expand the company’s real estate, retail, commercial, hotel and golf interests nationally and internationally. Trump directs new project acquisition and development for the company throughout the world and also actively oversees The Trump Organization’s property portfolio. He shared some of his secrets of success and talked about current and future projects, both here and abroad.

 

What are some of the global markets that you would like to get the brand into? U.S. markets?

I think in terms of development these days, some of them aren’t that easy to get into and, if you do, you’re in tertiary locations. For us, the most obvious one is waiting for the right opportunity, like the Old Post Office (OPO) deal: DC is a market we were looking at for quite some time. Nothing had really availed itself until the OPO came up for bid. Once it did, we went after it aggressively, competing against the biggest guys in the world. It’s a great telltale sign of what we’re doing—our wealth and depth of experience—because not only do we have the hotel operations side, we have the construction, rehabilitation and historic sides. We’re spending a lot of time in Asia, a little time in India and Latin America. And because we’re a family business, we can take our time, choose our markets and enter the locations we want to enter correctly.

You recently signed a deal for a property in Rio. What was the appeal of that market?

We think it’s a very good story down there with Rio. We plan to be open in time for the Olympics. It’s an amazing property right on the water. I think Rio has been an incredibly underserved market given the nature of the high-end demographic that exists there. To have new development and construction on the beach in that market is going to be incredible.

Speaking of OPO, how is the redevelopment of the site coming along? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

OPO is moving along well, and is expected to open at the end of 2016. Any time you’re dealing with a historic property, there are some natural challenges—a lot of complicated processes and a lot of agencies involved in the nature of the development. But, in my mind, there’s probably not another opportunity in the U.S. to make another hotel as special as that. Hopefully, in the next few weeks, we’ll be able to give you an announcement, at least restaurant-wise. We’ve been diligent about getting that ready along with everything else.

The Chicago property has been a top performer in its market. To what do you attribute its success?

The success is the product. Again, it’s locationally incredible with river views over Michigan Ave. Here, you’re going up against some of the best stock in the country and to have the numbers we do speaks volumes as to what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish in the hotel world. Moreover, we created a great team that acted very pragmatically. And I think that’s one of the things we did when we got into the hotel world and then we just did what we’ve historically done: made it better, efficient and made it make sense for people. We’ve performed for owners when we’re in the management position and performed for ourselves when we’re in the ownership position. Now that we’re managing for others, we’re able to say we understand where you’re coming from because we’re normally wearing your hat. Our partners pick up the phone, call me and we come up with a solution. It doesn’t go to Joe Q, regional VP, who has to bring it to national. A simple solution that took me a minute to answer, they’d have to go through a four-week process and chain of command with others. By eliminating a lot of that nonsense, we’ve been able to be efficient and get deals over the finish line.

So being a smaller, more nimble company gives you an advantage over some of the other luxury players?

Without a question, in terms of the deals we’re looking at, certainly at the high end, being small, running as a family business, not reporting to shareholders—we have one shareholder and his opinion really matters—is advantageous. The accessibility of not just him, but myself and my siblings, is key. When our partners call us, they know they’re effectively dealing with the principal, not someone else. It just takes issues that are deal killers and makes them go away.

In terms of developing and financing luxury properties, what’s the key to success?

Being a family business, we also have a great balance sheet. We’re not scrounging around looking for financing. We’ve been active ourselves as developers and looking at projects very opportunistically as they pop up. We’re also unique in that we do urban hotels, as well as resort-type properties incredibly well. And, frankly, no one has done more in the golf world than what we’ve done. We also bought Doonbeg about three months ago. That was a deal we found out about on a Friday and went hard on the deal with a significant deposit the following week while everyone was still scrambling. The ability to say “I want it, done, just write the check” is nice. I think speed of action in this world with this economy is critical. It’s not about the volume of deals but picking the right deals with the right partner. By growing intelligently nad organically, we’re going to make it happen.

There’s lots of talk about Millennials. What are your thoughts on developing for the next generation?

I am that generation. It’s always interesting to see 65-year-old guys talking about what I want. I think I have a pretty good understanding of that; my sister does, my brother does. For us, it’s a very natural market to target because that’s us, our friends. We understand how to cater to that demographic and that aspirational demographic. We don’t just talk about doing it, it’s actually the lifestyle we live. We understand what that market is and so we can work very intimately with the designers to get it right. We’re essentially catering to ourselves… and we know what we like.

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