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The rules of the game were learned long ago in Queens, N.Y., where Trump's grandfather, a hard-drinking Swedish immigrant, left his son Fred an orphan at eleven. Fred soon began building middle-class houses, and eventually he put up some 24,000 apartments in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, including a 23- room spread where he and Mary Trump raised their five children. Young Donald was no more than five when Fred began taking him to inspect building sites, and at 13 he was driving a bulldozer. "I learned a lot from him," says ( Trump. "I learned about toughness in a very tough business." He also learned, as an adolescent rent collector, that he didn't much like that kind of work. "It's much easier," he says now, "to sell an apartment to Johnny Carson or Steven Spielberg for $4 million than it is to collect a couple of dollars of rent in Brooklyn."
His older brother, Fred Trump Jr., rebelled against carrying on the family business. He became an airline pilot, took to drink and died of alcoholism in 1981 at the age of 43. "He was a really wonderful guy who didn't particularly like this business," says Trump. "It was a sad thing. It is something I have never been able to figure out. It was one of the most difficult things I've had to deal with."
Young Donald was, in his own words, so "rambunctious" and "aggressive" that his father sent him to the New York Military Academy, where he became captain of cadets in his senior year. After two years at Fordham, he got his degree from the Wharton School, then returned to the New York real estate wars.
His first major coup came in 1976, when he persuaded the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad to sell him for $10 million the dilapidated Commodore Hotel adjoining Grand Central Station. It was typical of the kind of deal that Trump now calls "my favorite art form." An unknown and unwealthy hustler of 30, he had to persuade some bankers to lend him $80 million (he did) and some politicians to give him a $120 million tax abatement (he did). It did not hurt that Fred Trump was a regular contributor to the Brooklyn Democratic machine, or that Governor Hugh Carey and Mayor Abe Beame both happened to be Brooklyn Democrats, or that Trump put Carey's chief fund raiser on his payroll. Young Trump also had to find an architect to build a reflecting glass sheath over the decaying hotel (and he did: Der Scutt of Gruzen & Partners) and to find somebody who knew how to run a hotel (and he did: Hyatt).
It all took four years, but the glittering Grand Hyatt Hotel that opened in 1980 established Trump as a man who could get things done. It also brings in, he says happily, an annual profit of $30 million. Most of Trump's other projects are essentially more of the same -- more bargaining, more building, more bucks.