You could have sold tickets: Bernie Madoff approaching Donald Trump in Palm Beach, asking whether Trump would like to invest some money with him. The Donald, as he recalls in his new book, Think Like a Champion, said no. He also calls Madoff "a scoundrel without par." And refers to himself as "a genius." For those who see Trump's blazing self-confidence as a perfect antidote for these depressing, recession-wracked times, the Donald also continues to buoy spirits with his hit NBC series, The Apprentice. TIME senior reporter Andrea Sachs reached Trump at his Trump Tower office in Manhattan. (See the Top 10 TV feuds.)
You write that Bernie Madoff asked you to invest with him, and you turned him down. How did you know it wasn't a good deal?
Well, I didn't know too much about Bernie Madoff, other than so many people in Palm Beach were investing with him. But I just believe in investing my own money. I don't like paying fees to people to invest my money. I can invest my own money.
Why do you think Bernie Madoff did what he did? Was it about money, or something more?
I think it was greed, pure and simple. To do what he did on such a large scale and to so-called friends is reprehensible. He had to know what he was doing. I don't think he deserves any excuses for being a sleazebag. (See photos from the downfall of Bernie Madoff.)
Do you think he had accomplices?
Yes. One man operating on that level is not possible.
You refer to yourself as a genius in the book. Most people aren't that confident! Where do you get all that self-confidence?
Well, it's not a matter of self-confidence. You know you have a series of successes in life, and after a while, you start to say 'I guess you must be pretty smart." But I was being a little bit sarcastic and just friendly when I said that.
You've been called the world's most famous capitalist. How is the recession treating you?
We've been doing well. I finished many jobs a year ago, two years ago, sold things a couple of years ago not because I had any great vision, but I guess in retrospect I did. But we have many great jobs that were finished a couple of years ago, as opposed to now. We really missed a large portion of the depression.
What do you think of Obama's plan to rescue the economy?
He's trying very hard. You do have to either rescue or nationalize the banks, but other than that, I think that everybody should probably be on their own.
Tell me about Celebrity Apprentice. Have you enjoyed it? Is it very different?
I like this format very much. The fact that the money goes to charity is especially rewarding. The celebrities are diverse and surprising. Seeing these very accomplished people work so hard for charity when they're already established is a terrific thing to be involved in. It's a great experience for everyone.
Do you have advice for people who have been fired or laid off in real life?
Go to an area where the unemployment rate is the best. Go into a field that you love, but at the same time, that has potential. So many people study the wrong things, they go into the wrong fields, and no matter what they do, it's always going to be a battle throughout life. So find a great area, even if it means that you have to move your family. Find a great area, and a business that works.
Is it a good time for people to try and start their own businesses?
Necessity is the mother of invention, but it's important to be careful. Cover your bases first, and then proceed from there. Creativity is important what are the gaps that have been created by this situation? What will people need, what can they afford? The pieces of the economic puzzle have been changed and we need some new edges. Entrepreneurs thrive in these situations, and it's a good time to look for the opportunities. Remaining positive is important look for the solution rather than dwelling on the problem.
What do you think about investing in the real estate market now, while prices are so depressed?
It's a buyer's market and it's a good time to buy. If anyone is selling now it's probably due to one of the three D's: debt, divorce or death.
Do you think there will be a turnaround in real estate anytime soon?
Real estate is cyclical and it will even itself out, but it would help if the banks would lend some of the money they've received.
Is staying in the stock market now a mistake?
I'm sure some people will make a lot of money at a time like this, but you have to be very well informed as well as in a position to take risks.
Are you getting more job applications these days?
We have always been inundated with them, but now more than ever.
Has the pool of applicants changed since the recession?
I don't deal with applications until the person has been screened and highly recommended to me, but my people tell me the caliber of applicants is significantly higher than ever.
What are the main qualities you look for in an employee?
Loyalty and a strong work ethic. I work hard and I get along with people very well provided they work hard too. Loyalty is important, and I like people to stay around, so I look for their work history. I have people who have been with me for 25, 30 years. Loyalty creates a solid base, and I need people who can keep up with me.