Donald Trump: From Entrepreneur to U.S. President

American businessman Donald Trump in his office in Trump Tower, Fifth Avenue, New York, 1999. (Photo by Michael Brennan/Getty Images)

Michael Brennan/Getty Images

While controversial U.S. president and entrepreneur Donald Trump may have been best known in pop culture for his television show The Apprentice, he built his reputation and his fortune (then lost it and built it again) in commercial real estate.

Donald Trump has developed office buildings, residences, and hotels, as well as casinos, hotels and golf resorts in locations like Atlantic City, Palm Beach, and Palm Springs.

Early Life

Donald Trump was born June 14, 1946, into a wealthy family. He attended New York Military Academy and Fordham University before transferring to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a bachelor's degree in economics in 1968. From there, he joined his father's real estate business in Brooklyn. "My father was my mentor and I learned a tremendous amount about every aspect of the construction industry from him," says Trump.

Real Estate Boom

In the early 1970s, Trump shifted from his father's focus on middle-class rental housing and turned toward commercial real estate development. The city of New York was offering sizable tax breaks to willing investors. Trump's deal-making skills allowed him to secure construction loans with little collateral, which allowed him to build an empire in real estate and entertainment, becoming a celebrity in the process.


During the recession of the late 1980s, Trump, unable to meet loan payments, declared business bankruptcy in 1990. Rather than risking a court fight, his creditors agreed to a debt restructuring. Although this allowed him to stay out of personal bankruptcy, he still accumulated some $900 million in personal debt.


Bad times forced Trump to relinquish his new airline, Trump Shuttle, and to sell off his largest Manhattan real estate parcel. He did, however, oversee the construction of the buildings placed on the site, in exchange for a cash fee and a portion of future profits. By 1994, Trump had repaid much of his personal debt and some of the $3.5 billion in business debt. But the rollercoaster continued. In November 2004, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts filed for Chapter 11 but emerged from it in May 2005. Eventually, his primary financial involvement in many of these properties was in licensing the Trump name.

The Donald

Nicknamed “The Donald,” Trump is well-known for his flamboyant personality. He is a proven master at commanding media exposure. His admirers cite how he stands out from the others and he speaks his mind. He criticizes others publicly and exploits his “know it all” persona. He is a consummate self-promoter who understands the power of branding. The name "Trump" always appears in the name of his buildings.

The Apprentice

Trump was host and producer of NBC’s reality series The Apprentice, where several lucky candidates fight to become part of his organization. Each week, one contestant is asked by Trump to leave with the now-familiar, "You're fired!" (Trump has filed a trademark claim on the phrase). Trump was paid a mere $50,000 per episode for the first season but eventually commanded a reported $3 million per episode.

Family Life

In 1977 Trump married fashion model Ivana Zelnièkova, and they have three children: Donald, Jr. (1977), Ivanka (1981) and Eric (1984). They were divorced in 1992. In 1993 he married actress Marla Maples, and together they have one child, Tiffany (1993). They divorced in 1999. In 1999, he began dating model Melania (born Melania) Knavs, and they were married in 2005. Knavs gained some notoriety after a tell-all about her sex life with Trump on the Howard Stern show, followed by a nude layout in GQ magazine.

Books and More

Donald has co-written several best-selling books detailing his career and opinions, including:

  • Trump: The Art of the Deal
  • Trump: Surviving at the Top
  • Trump: The Art of Survival
  • Trump: Think Like a Billionaire - Everything You Need To Know About Success, Real Estate, And Life

He also created the defunct Trump University, which was the subject of two class-action lawsuits which Trump settled for a total of 25 million. He also contributed to The Trump Blog, featuring "ideas and opinions from Donald Trump and his circle of experts."

President Donald J. Trump

Although he earlier claimed to have no interest in politics, Trump—at one point a registered Democrat—announced his Presidential candidacy as a Republican in 2015, eventually winning the party's nomination and becoming the 45th President of the United States of America.