Next in line

As Trump gets closer to the presidency, which of his kids will be tapped</br> to run his firm?

From left: Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump
From left: Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump

On the Trump Organization’s website, a video titled “Trump: The Next Generation” marks the official red carpet unfurling for Donald Trump’s three oldest children, already longtime executives at the company. Through interviews that together form a kind of corporate corollary to a debutante ball, each of the Trumps takes turns talking about how they, too, are like Dad.

“We all have certain characteristics that are a lot like my father,” reflects Eric, the youngest of the triumvirate. His sister, Ivanka acknowledges her tendency for “Trumpisms,” while Donald Jr. concludes that they are all pretty similar to the big guy “from a business standpoint.”

Since joining the company, each of the Trump children have taken over their own areas of the business, but not without a considerable amount of overlap — they each hold the same title of executive vice president of  acquisition and development.

As with any dynasty, involving the kids in the family business early is a logical approach to a future succession. But for the Trumps, the handoff could come sooner than expected.

With every passing Republican primary, the Trump Organization — a brassy builder and brander of hotels, golf courses and residences both in the U.S. and abroad — inches closer to the no-longer improbable possibility of continuing on without its eponymous figurehead, Donald J. Trump. The presidential candidate has already said that should he win, he would hand over control of the company to his three oldest children — who he had with his first wife, Ivana. (The couple divorced in 1992.)

In addition to the family brass, the Trump Organization’s other top executives include Michael Cohen, special counsel; CFO Allen Weisselberg, Jason Greenblatt, chief legal officer; and Andy Weiss, executive vice president.  However, the question remains: Who will take Trump’s place on top when he leaves?

It’s no secret that Trump’s presidential campaign has already forced the candidate to relinquish more of his duties to his children.

“It seems the torch has already been passed to the next generation,” Kim Mogull, a former Trump executive who now runs her own brokerage that does regular business with her former employer, told The Real Deal in an email. “The transition is natural and smooth,” she added.

Smooth or otherwise, it’s a transition that comes with a long list of projects and deals that stretch across the globe. More than a decade ago, the focus of the Trump Organization shifted from more traditional, New York-focused development to licensing the Trump brand to hotels, resorts and residences outside the U.S., including in India, Uruguay, the Philippines and Vancouver, Canada.

One thing is certain, whoever takes the helm will have to navigate a public relations crisis. Following his controversial comments about Mexican immigrants, Trump has lost a string of business deals with top companies including NBC Universal, Univision and Macy’s. In December, the Dubai-based Landmark Group announced that it would remove Trump-branded products from 180 stores across the Middle East after Trump declared that as president he would temporarily block the entrance of Muslims into the U.S.

And in the first sign that the company’s real estate properties may be taking a hit, some brokers listing units in Trump residential buildings have ceased mentioning the Trump name in their listings all together (see related story on page 166). Meanwhile in January, Politico reported on a survey of American consumers conducted by BAV Consulting and Young & Rubicam that found Trump’s brand popularity has tanked among his key demographic: those who can afford to either live or play at Trump properties. The survey showed that his potential consumers were significantly less likely than they once were to associate the Trump brand with keywords like “upper class,” “prestigious,” “intelligent” and “glamorous.”

With these crisis management issues in mind, TRD spoke to current and former members of the Trump Organization and to others who have worked with the family to assess how power is currently spread among the three Trump children — and who might be best positioned to inherit the throne.

The siblings work closely with each other and, according to Eric, will jointly run the firm as co-CEOs. But no official succession plan has been formally announced.“Let’s hope Donald doesn’t create the rivalry he’s created in the Republican political field with his own family,” joked R. Couri Hay, a longtime publicist and friend of the Trump family. Read on for a closer look at Trump’s three oldest offspring.

Ivanka: ‘The apple of her father’s eye’

Last month, Ivanka Trump gave the opening speech at her father’s presidential rally in Bethpage, New York. The six-minute minute address was one of many she has given as an important political surrogate on her father’s campaign, but her presence there stood out nonetheless. Just a week before, the 34-year-old had given birth to her third child.


Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago

Ivanka has raised her profile considerably over the last year. The former model is known as a savvy business executive. After graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, she worked at Bruce Ratner’s Forest City Enterprises before joining the family firm.

Ivanka, who also runs a multimillion-dollar lifestyle brand for working women, is undeniably shrewd at managing her image. As of last month she had 1.86 million Twitter followers. Hay, who worked with Ivanka when the latter opened a jewelry store called Ivanka Trump on Madison Avenue in 2007, called her “the apple of her father’s eye.”

He said Ivanka “might be the top choice to guide the company,” adding that “none of the sons have the pizzazz of Ivanka.”

In terms of her responsibilities at the Trump Organization, she is notably spearheading the company’s largest U.S. venture — the $200 million luxury hotel conversion of the Old Post Office in Washington, DC. Trump has reportedly pumped in at least $42 million of his own money into the project, making it perhaps the biggest personal risk he has made in American real estate in more than a decade.

Back in 2011, Ivanka was the lead negotiator on a $150 million deal to buy the 700-room Doral Resort in Miami from the Paulson/Winthrop group.

She’s one of the smartest people I’ve worked with,” Michael Ashner, the CEO of Winthrop, told Forbes in 2013. “She’s got an even temperament, she’s articulate, she’s tough, and she is superb on due diligence and understanding the deal.”

While her father still has final say, she now personally negotiates almost all of the company’s major deals, according to a New York Times profile of her last month.

On a day-to-day basis, Ivanka, who declined to comment, works on a number of other hotel projects and focuses on interior design and customer experience across the Trump holdings.

She was, for example, “involved with every facet” of the Chicago Trump International Hotel and Tower, according to Todd Siegel, a CBRE broker in the Windy City who represented the project’s retail space.

“Ivanka stands out as the single most influential and unique business person I have ever collaborated with,” he said, touting her as the most innovative and creative thinker of the three siblings. Siegel declined to speculate on whether Ivanka would be most likely to be tapped as president of the company but did say she was the most likely to lead “a company.”

In addition to her duties at the Trump Organization and with her lifestyle website, Ivanka also manages a fashion company. The brand, which includes clothing and accessories, is sold at Macy’s and Nordstrom. In 2013, it generated nearly $250 million in retail revenue, the New York Times reported.

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Given her comfort — and success — in the spotlight, the decision to have Ivanka take over the reins might also be favored by her brothers. “I think Donald Jr. [and Eric] would rather be the ones doing the work in the background,” Joo Kim Tiah, CEO of Holborn Holdings and developer of the currently under-construction Trump International Tower and Hotel in Vancouver, told TRD. “They kind of push Ivanka to the forefront and the two brothers are okay with not being in the limelight and [just] doing the work.”

“Ivanka,” he added, “is the gatekeeper of the look and feel [of the firm’s projects].” 

Donald Jr.: The commercial dealmaker

As the oldest of Trump’s children and technically the most experienced, Donald Jr., 38, would seem the most obvious candidate to succeed him as president. While Ivanka has lately garnered press as Trump’s closest adviser, Donald Jr. has nonetheless carved out a reputation as the company’s commercial dealmaker. He heads up leasing at buildings like 40 Wall Street and Trump Tower, as well as spearheads international deals and works on hotels.

And Mogull, the former Trump exec, said that while she previously worked with Donald Sr. directly in leasing deals, it’s recently been Donald Jr. managing them.

Although the young scion was a self-acknowledged partier in college at Wharton  as an undergrad and took a year off to live in Aspen after graduating, he has since established himself as a serious real estate apprentice.  Back in the mid aughts when he was in his mid-20s, he oversaw the development of the 92-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, which Ivanka later also got involved in.

Holborn’s Tiah called him “the guy on point” at their joint project in Vancouver, Canada. He added, “Anything we have to make a decision on, anything we have to solve, he would be the guy we deal with, he’s very hands-on.”

More than his siblings, Donald Jr. frequently makes TV appearances to talk about presidential politics. And he’s also been outspoken about his vision for the Trump Organization’s hotels. “We’re doing a lot in the resi world,” he told CNBC in 2014. “But as we sort of grow the brand and continue to do this, the hotel sector’s been what’s huge with us.”

But unlike Ivanka, Donald Jr., who declined to comment, has caused more PR ruckus.

In March, he gave an interview to a panel that included Tennessee-based white supremacist radio show host James Edwards and set off days of media controversy. (He said that he had no clue who Edwards was.)


Trump’s winery in Virginia

And in 2012, he was skewered worldwide when a photo surfaced of him posing with a dead elephant he had just hunted in Zimbabwe. Although incidents like these might be points against a potential head of a firm at other companies, there is probably no business mogul on Earth to rack up as many public controversies at the Trump Organization’s current president.

But contrary to his more intense father, “[Donald, Jr.] exhibits a sense of calm,” Siegel said.

Mogull called him “formidable, fair and genuine” and said he’s quick witted. She recalled one call led by “Donny Jr.” with opposing principals and attorneys on the line. “He orchestrated the resolution of over a dozen very tough, final outstanding issues in under an hour and not one person lost their temper — impressive in this industry,” she said.

Eric: The construction manager

When directly asked who will take the top spot, Eric Trump said flatly, “That’s not the way it works in the company.”

The 32-year-old Georgetown University graduate told TRD that should his father become president, the Trump Organization will be run as a kind of equal triumvirate of Don, Ivanka and himself. That’s how the company has been run for years — in conjunction, of course, with their father, he said.

“The difference now is he’s 100 percent involved in the campaign,” he said. “We run every aspect of the business.”

The response suggested that while he may be the youngest of the trio, he is not ready to concede a less-than-equal role in the family company.

His primary responsibilities at the Trump Organization include managing its golf course portfolio, some of the hotels and “most” of the firm’s construction projects, he told TRD.

“I’m building the tallest building in Manila. We’re building the tallest building in Vancouver right now. We have the tallest building in Toronto. Our building in Las Vegas is the tallest building in the city other than the [Stratosphere] spire, which isn’t really a building; it’s more of an art piece,” Eric Trump said, citing some of the recent projects and echoing his father’s penchant for hyperbole.

It should be noted that the Trump’s Vancouver tower will be the city’s second-tallest building. At 700 feet, Westbank Projects’ Living Shangri-la hotel and condo tower is 43 feet taller.

Aside from overseeing construction, Eric is also in charge of Trump Winery, which sits on a 1,300-acre estate in Charlottesville, Virginia, that his father bought for $20 million in 2011. The winery has since been registered in Eric’s name. It is reported to be the largest winery complex in the state.

Like Donald Jr. and Ivanka, Eric has penciled in plenty of rallies, debates and press conferences into his schedule for his father’s campaign and is perhaps the most frequently spotted beside his father at various televised campaign events.

“I don’t think there’s been a partner who’s come into the office and we don’t get into a half-hour discussion about politics because of what’s going on,” he told TRD just after Donald Trump received the official endorsement of now ex-Republican candidate Ben Carson.

But he maintained that the campaign has been their secondary focus.

“Our priority is the business,” he said.

While the company has a lot of projects abroad, Eric left open the possibility that it could once again develop in NYC. “New York is in our blood,” he said.  “There’s no question we’ll do something in Manhattan again.”