As Ivanka Trump Enters Her Prime She Has Never Been More Important To The Family Business
On a bright and breezy late winter day in Miami, Ivanka Trump saunters up to the first tee of the Blue Monster course at Doral. She moves–here and everywhere–with the easy grace of a model: shoulders back, a little sway to her hips, leading with her chin, coming at the world head-on. She’s wearing a sky blue short-sleeve top and form-fitting khakis. The golf gloves she sports on each hand hide her black-painted fingernails.
Eric–Ivanka’s 29-year-old younger brother–and I have already teed off, and we’ve made a mess of things. I hit first, hopelessly burying my ball in a sand trap on the left side of the fairway. Eric, tall and broad-shouldered like his father, had swung from his heels but sliced the ball sharply into a nearby concrete fountain. His ball had plinked around the decorative font for what seemed like an eternity before finally being spit out and coming to rest by the cart path. It was up to Ivanka to save some face for the family.
She takes some practice swings–a fluid backswing finished with a limber follow-through. She clearly has some innate athletic talent, something she likely inherited from her mother, Ivana, a former Czech national ski team member. But when Ivanka hits her drive, the ball careens into a nearby tree. “That tree has no idea what it just did,” she says with a smile as she walks back to the cart, twirling her club in her hand. Dwight Eisenhower once famously asked that a certain tree at Augusta National–which seemed to magnetically attract his ball–be removed. The former President and Augusta member had his request denied. But this tree at Doral faced a bit more peril: Ivanka is not only a member here. She’s the owner.
As I would discover over the next two and a half hours on what is regarded as one of the tougher courses on the PGA Tour, Ivanka is not quite there yet as a golfer. She has the tools: Many weekend duffers would kill for her natural swing. But she took up the game only a year and a half ago. “She just needs to play more,” says her father, Donald, who is, by admission of his own and others, an accomplished golfer. But Ivanka won’t be out there playing five-hour rounds a few times a week anytime soon. And that’s good news for Donald.
Now 31, Ivanka is entering her prime in both her personal and professional lives. She and her husband, the real estate company owner and newspaper publisher Jared Kushner, have a daughter, Arabella, who turns 2 in July. Ivanka says she would someday “love to have three children, maybe four.” Motherhood, she says, is her priority. But she has managed to balance it with a career that has never been more successful. Or more important to her family’s business.
Ivanka runs her own eponymous fashion company, which includes lines of jewelry, handbags, footwear, apparel and a fragrance. Her collection is widely distributed through big-box retailers, like Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Dillard’s. She says her goal is to one day make her own company a billion-dollar enterprise. But, for now, it remains a side gig. Her main work, of course, is for the Trump Organization, where she and Eric and older brother Don, Jr. (35), work for their father. (The three siblings have side-by-side offices on the 25th floor of the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City; Donald’s office is one floor above.)
While their jobs and responsibilities within the company are somewhat fluid and collaborative, each Trump kid has gradually gravitated to more specific duties. Don, Jr. generally handles commercial leasing. Eric does the golf courses and construction. And Ivanka specializes in acquisitions and design. Recently, though, her role has expanded, especially as the Trumps have ramped up their hotel and golf resort portfolios. “Ivanka was always a natural-born dealmaker,” says Donald. “But she’s become a very good builder and manager.”
In the last year, Ivanka has spearheaded two major projects: the purchase of the Doral Resort & Spa in Miami and the renovation of the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, D.C. In the process she has grown into a force in the boardroom. “I’m not sure Donald appreciates her enough,” says someone who has negotiated with her but wished to remain anonymous for competitive reasons. “He’s kind of an old school, seat-of-the-pants type of dealmaker. She’s the opposite: She’s done the work and put in the time. When she asks for something, she has all the research to back it up.” Says brother Eric about her negotiating skills: “She’s someone you do not want to underestimate. She can turn on the iron shield and give and take punches with everyone else.”
But much of Ivanka’s importance to her family company is less tangible. The Trump Organization, Eric admits, is very much a “masculine brand.” Ivanka has begun to transform that image somewhat, giving it a welcome femininity. With her design sense, style, looks and way of comporting herself, she brings glamour and elegance to a brand once known for its brawny architecture, gold-heavy interior design and the macho projections of its founder. But it goes further than that: Ivanka is now often put in the role of the ballast in a ship periodically tossed by waves created by her increasingly embarrassing father. After Donald publicly and persistently questioned President Obama’s birthplace late last year, it was Ivanka who appeared on The View and, with a light touch, dispelled rumors about interfamily turmoil and calmed everyone down. Her virtues are only enhanced in the contrast. “Donald is Donald,” says her mother, Ivana, who divorced him in 1992. “He’s the promoter. Ivanka is calm and very composed. She knows how to deal with people.”
Ivanka accomplishes all of this by working both sides of the aisle, managing to remain loyal to her father while putting out public relations fires. On his illogical birther fixation, she simply states: “I support him because he’s my father, and I will always go to the mat for him. But I don’t always agree with everything he says.”
It is on the Blue Monster’s third hole, a long par-four bordered by a lake on the right–the hardest hole on the course according to the scorecard, number 18's tough reputation notwithstanding–that Ivanka’s frustration with the game starts to show, just a bit. She grimaces after another imperfect shot that nearly dribbles into the drink. She is clearly competitive by nature but mainly, it seems, with herself. “It’s hard for me to do something I’m not very good at,” she says. And yet she has the self-assurance to do that something not very well in front of a reporter. She is, it must be mentioned, a very companionable player on the course, attentive and encouraging to her partners. Several times during the day she pauses to watch Eric hit and yells a hearty “Good shot, buddy!” from across the fairway.
Indeed, she has a very close relationship with Eric, one that seems, at times, almost maternal. They live five minutes from each other and work in adjacent offices (“I can hear her on conference calls,” he says). Their jobs often go hand-in-glove: Ivanka will acquire a building, Eric will handle the construction side, then Ivanka will come back in and design the interiors. Eric, who is unmarried, spends weekends with her family and often travels with them. “She is smart and funny and a great person and a fantastic mom to Arabella,” he says.
Working together with their father, Ivanka says, has made all four Trumps much closer. “We are really lucky, first of all, for our father and what he’s given to us,” she says. “But these things can go either way in a family business.” She admits that they do fight on occasion, but even then she sees the family connection as an advantage. “At least we can be honest with each other.”
Ivanka was born in New York City. She was 10 when her parents went through their messy divorce, a time of her life that she doesn’t talk much about publicly other than to admit it was trying. Like her brothers, Ivanka went to boarding school. She dabbled a bit in modeling as a teenager, appearing on the cover of Seventeen magazine, among other places. She attended Georgetown University for two years before transferring to Donald’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. Her career path was pretty clear to her at the time, though not to her father. “I always envisioned Ivanka in fashion, heading up Vogue , ” he says. “ But she loved real estate, and I’m very glad she chose it.” (She did in fact get a job offer from Vogue ‘s Anna Wintour after college but declined it.)
One forgets how easy it would have been for Ivanka to have chosen the life of a feckless socialite, as her contemporary Paris Hilton did. For all the barbs that can be lobbed, Donald and Ivana must be given credit for their kids: The progeny all take their jobs seriously, and if they appear in the gossip pages at all, it’s usually for rather innocuous matters. They did grow up with wealth, but Ivana’s own upbringing in a communist country was never far from her mind (she took the kids on trips to visit her former country). Ivanka had a role model in her mother, too: Ivana was involved in the business early on, in the Atlantic City properties and the Plaza Hotel in New York. “Our kids were raised with discipline and tough love,” says Ivana. “If they wanted a new bicycle, they had to work for it.”
After Penn, Ivanka spent a year working for real estate magnate Bruce Ratner at Forest City Enterprises. “She wanted to work a year for someone else,” says Donald. “At the end of the year, Bruce called me and asked, ‘Can I keep her here longer?’ The answer was ‘No.’ ” Ivanka joined the Trump Organization in 2005. Early on, she says, she just tried to fit in the very male-dominated world of New York real estate. “ I tried to assimilate. I wore my hair in a bob. I wore a black pantsuit.” But as she grew more confident, she began to realize that there were benefits to being the only woman in a meeting room filled with 20 men. “I think being a little different has its advantages,” she says. “And I used to joke with my brothers that whenever we had a meeting with men, they were always more likely to follow up with me.”
In October 2009, Ivanka married Jared Kushner, a part-owner of the real estate group Kushner Companies (founded by his father, Charles) and the publisher of the New York Observer. Two years later, they had Arabella. Ivanka says that she and Kushner never really stop talking about real estate. “We can’t help it. Both of our families are in the business. It’s what we both love, so it doesn’t seem like work.” One time a few years ago, she and Kushner discovered that they were both looking at the same commercial building. “We were both like, ‘You take it. No, you take it!’?” Neither ended up bidding on it.
Ivanka has been an integral part of the company since she started, says Donald. But her recent deals have put her on another plane entirely. Early last year, she beat out the Waldorf Astoria, Hilton, Pierre Omidyar and Penny Pritzker, among others, to win the right to redevelop the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, D.C. The Trumps have said they will spend $200 million to refurbish the iconic building and turn it into a high-end hotel. But perhaps her biggest deal came last summer, when she closed the purchase of the Doral Resort & Spa, where we happen to be playing our round of golf.
In recent years, the Trumps have ramped up their collection of luxury hotels and golf courses. (The company now has nine hotels and another four that will open in the next three years. Six years ago the Trumps owned 4 golf courses. They now own 14.) Doral offered not only a combination of the two but also something else entirely unique: a resort and golf courses 5 miles from Miami International Airport. “It’s an incredible place,” says Ivanka. “Normally to get to a place like this, you have to fly into a city, then drive for two hours. This is really not replicable -anymore.”
In 1959, a New York City developer named Alfred Kaskel purchased 2,400 acres of swampland in Miami and christened it “Doral” (a shortened combination of his wife’s name, Doris, and his own). Eight hundred of those acres became the Doral Resort & Spa, which would eventually boast 700 guest rooms and five golf courses, including the Blue Monster, host of the Cadillac Championship, one of the PGA Tour’s richest events. (Donald used to take the family to Doral on vacations.) The resort has gone through a handful of different owners. It was sold to KSL Recreation in 1994, then picked up by Morgan Stanley for $500 million in 2007. In 2011, mired in debt from the real estate crash, it was bought by a group that included hedge funder John Paulson and the Winthrop Realty Trust. But they, too, were unable to fix the debt problems. And that’s when Ivanka swooped in and got the deal of a lifetime.
The Paulson/Winthrop group put the real estate portfolio that included Doral into bankruptcy in mid-2011. The Trumps were immediately interested. Ivanka, though counseled by her father, was the lead negotiator. “It was her deal,” says Donald.
There was, however, one slight complication: Ivanka was pregnant throughout the early negotiations. In the ninth month of her pregnancy the sellers called to tell her they were accepting a higher bid. “I thought the deal was dead,” says Ivanka. Then, just a few days after she delivered Arabella in July, she got another call: The deal was back on. The Trumps became the “stalking horse bidders,” which gave them the right to match any subsequent bids, and the sellers were pressured to divest quickly. The only problem: Ivanka had to fly from New York to Miami to take one last look at the property, just to make sure, meaning she had to leave her week-old baby. “I hated leaving her, but I had to,” says Ivanka.
Within five days the contract was signed. Ivanka had worked out a deal, which closed last summer, to pay a bargain-basement price of $150 million (the Trumps got four of the five courses). The land alone is worth close to $1 billion. Michael Ashner, the chief executive of Winthrop, came away impressed with Ivanka’s negotiating skills. “She’s one of the smartest people I’ve worked with,” he says. “She’s got an even temperament, she’s articulate, she’s tough, and she is superb on due diligence and understanding the deal.”
Despite the price, the Trumps still have their work cut out for them. Doral has lost much of its luster over the years, its elegance waning into shabbiness. The signage, the fountains and the guest rooms all seem locked in some disco-era Miami kitsch. The Trumps plan to spend $200 million over the next two years renovating the entire resort, including the Blue Monster course, which has been shut down for eight months.
The Doral deal, though successful, did bring to a head a complication that Ivanka has had to learn to deal with: how to balance motherhood with career. She and Kushner have help with Arabella, but Ivanka has worked hard to be with her daughter as much as possible while keeping up with her work demands. “I basically just don’t sleep anymore,” she says. In the first few months, Ivanka left work every few hours to walk the two blocks to her apartment to feed Arabella. And since then, she’s done all she can to be with her in the morning and evening, often going home at 6 p.m. to put her to bed, then returning to the office. She’s taken Arabella with her on business trips to Prague, Vienna and Istanbul. “She’s my priority, but that doesn’t mean I would forgo what I’m doing, which I love,” she says. “It’s been hard, though. My husband has the ability to compartmentalize. When he’s home, he’s present. When he’s away, he’s not worried. But it’s different being a female. As a mom, you just have to learn to deal with the guilt of not being there.”
It’s on the sixth hole, a long par-four, that I finally ask Ivanka about her hair. She had recently dyed it brown, much to the delight of the gossip rags and her 1.5 million followers on Twitter, where she had posted a picture of the new do. Hair seems to be a particular obsession of the Trump clan and those who gawk at them. You have, of course, Donald’s orange-Creamsicle tuft, the boys’ cheeky slicked-back manes and even Ivana’s formidable blonde dome. Ivanka says she’s a natural blonde and went brunette “to try something new and have a little fun.” The brown hair actually seems to put the natural beauty of her face–the high Slavic cheekbones, the porcelain complexion, the hazel eyes–into greater relief, without the platinum locks that distract the eye. Alas, a few days after we met, she went back to being a blonde.
Two holes later, on the short par-five eighth, Ivanka starts to show some flashes of her potential, having persevered through her rough start. She’s hitting the ball with more authority now, making solid contact on every swing. She makes a bogey on the hole, then hits a nice drive on the par-three ninth and sinks a 6-foot putt for another solid bogey. Her game seems a bit like Doral itself: The foundation is there. It just needs a little work.
The ninth turns out to be our last hole. Ivanka and Eric have been called into a meeting with their Doral contractors. Before she goes, the two of us sit for a few minutes on an outdoor patio and rehydrate. She tells me Arabella is flying down later that day with Donald. The entire family will be in Florida for the weekend. I ask what Donald is like around his grand-daughter. “He’s great with her as long as it doesn’t involve changing diapers,” she says. “We all have to recognize our own strengths and weaknesses.”
Source: Forbes | March 25, 2013