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Sunday, February 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


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Trump's rich lesson in high finance

Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — How do you get rich? Well, if you were to follow Donald Trump's example, one way might be to get someone to pay you $1 million for an hour's work.

That's what the Learning Annex says it paid the ubiquitous real-estate tycoon for showing up at the finale of its heavily promoted two-day Real Estate Wealth Expo in Rosemont, Ill.

Trump was the headliner at the combination trade show and seminar for property investors and wannabes.

On a Sunday night, the promise of 60 minutes of Trump wisdom packed a room at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, which has a seating capacity of 7,000.

Walking onstage through a shower of confetti and a gaggle of dancers in tight tank tops emblazoned with the word "FUN," Trump announced to the crowd — many of whom had paid $499 for upfront VIP seating: "Tonight, we're going to learn how to make money."

It was a lesson in high finance presented by someone who knows something about the art of finance and making money.

For the record, the star of television's "The Apprentice" worked overtime, logging 112 minutes of chat about his favorite topic — himself — via a series of anecdotes about his triumphs, disasters, divorces and hair. (It's real, he said).

Eventually, he wound his way to a checklist of the keys to success:

• "Never, never, ever quit."

• "Go against the tide."

• "Always stay focused."

Periodically, he ventured into grittier territory, sometimes eliciting loud applause.

He advised: Revenge is good. "When a person screws you, screw them back 15 times over."

And later: "Get even. People try to take advantage of you, but when you go after them, they'll want to make peace. Don't let people push you around."

Loyalty is good, but trust is overrated.

"Be a little bit paranoid," said Trump, who said that in the early 1990s he found himself $990 million in debt to 99 lenders.

"Get the best people [to work for you] and don't trust them. Watch them. They're really after you.

"It is a vicious, vicious place we're living in."

Marriage also is good — with a prenuptial agreement — said the man who has had two rather public divorces and whose third wife is expecting his fifth child.

In a question-and-answer session after the speech, he said that he's probably been a better father than a husband and that he really isn't sure just how much money he's worth.

"Forbes [magazine] says I'm worth $2.7 billion, others say $5 billion," said Trump, who rebuilt his development and gaming ventures after his 1990s financial meltdown, and today has his name on deals spread from Las Vegas to Chicago to Bahrain.

"I think Forbes is way low, but who cares?" he said.

"Once you have a certain amount of money, it doesn't matter. It's a game."

It is a game, according to his latest biographer, who says that Trump is worth far less.

"People who are familiar with his finances say it's in the hundreds of millions," said Timothy L. O'Brien, a reporter for the New York Times and author of "Trump Nation: The Art of Being The Donald."

"Some people close to him are dubious that he's a billionaire."

O'Brien described Trump's appeal as "smoke and mirrors," but the Learning Annex, the quirky New York institution

of "alternative learning" that's known for such classes as "How to Talk to Your Cat," says Trump is gold.

Accordingly, it has bumped up his salary for next year's expo appearances in several cities to $1.5 million per. Trump was also paid $1 million by the Learning Annex for appearances at expos in New York and Los Angeles.

The high-flying salary makes a degree of economic sense, considering the high traffic that Trump and other real estate biggies such as "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" author Robert Kiyosaki are credited with generating, said expo spokesman Heather Moore.

The 125-plus expo exhibitors paid a minimum of $5,000 for a booth on the expo floor. Attendees — the announced figure was 50,000 — paid from $49 for admission just to the exhibit floor to $499 for various degrees of access to the seminars.

In addition, many of the weekend's two dozen seminar leaders also sold books, games, software, DVDs and tickets to attend future, in-depth training sessions — many of them priced at $1,000 or more — and a portion of those sales was rebated to the Learning Annex, according to participants.

The bottom line seemed irrelevant for many at the entrepreneurial extravaganza, some of whom described Trump as an "icon" or "hero."

"Everybody responds to him," said Matthew Adams, a fledgling investor who said he had driven all night from Cincinnati to get to the expo and see Trump, whom he credited with inspiring his real-estate career. "He's a larger-than-life figure."

Not to Irv Segal of Skokie, Ill., who was buying a course on Internet marketing shortly before Trump's appearance. "I don't like him," said Segal, who was at the expo because his wife wants to invest in real estate.

"We watch 'The Apprentice,' and he comes off as a sourpuss. He's not somebody I'd want to work with."

Nonetheless, he said he had plans to attend the speech.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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