I have this theory: Brainwash your kids. Mozart’s composer-father made him write music at 5. Picasso’s artist-father made him draw at 7. As a result, you know their work.
I shared this theory with Eric Trump, youngest son of Donald, while we sat in a cabana at Trump International, overlooking a Thursday night pool party of brokers in business suits.
Eric Trump. Thirty. Blond. Suit. Tie. Breitling wristwatch. Strong handshake. Unapologetic smile. Eye contact. Deep voice.
I asked Eric if Donald brainwashed him.
“Do you remember the first business thing you did?” I said.
He answered immediately.
“I was at my father’s office, and I’d be in the back of his office, building Lego skyscrapers, as he was negotiating million-dollar deals,” he said, happily.
Young Eric listened to his father’s conversations and studied his mannerisms, ranging from respectful and victorious to adversarial and guarded.
“Business, unfortunately, isn’t all sunshine and lollipops,” Eric said.
“I think every kid wanted to fly F-14s and be a fighter pilot for a little while, but it was very soon thereafter, I was probably 10 or 11 or 12 years old, I said, ‘I want to build.’ ”
So Donald put his kids to work in construction jobs. Real jobs.
“Since I was 11,” Eric said, “I was running wire with our guys. I was cutting rebar with torches. I was cutting down trees. I was using backhoes. And laying marble and stone. And demo-ing walls. It kind of taught us the building blocks of actual building.
“I have a lot of scars on my hands to prove it. It was great. It taught us the value of a dollar.”
Eric will even climb a ladder at home.
“I just bought a house with my fiancee, and I’m in the dining room hanging chandeliers myself, and she goes, ‘You’re gonna get electrocuted.’ I go, ‘Honey, trust me, I’ve done this a couple of times before.’ ”
He reveres his dad.
“We’re inseparable. We’re incredibly close. We have many $1 bets,” Eric said.
“Oh, like in ‘Trading Places?’ ” I said.
“He’s won many of them, and I’ve won many of them, and I have a little stack of $1 bills,” Eric said.
A typical bet would be if father and son can’t agree on whether a window appears in a certain place on one of their many buildings.
Eric said his siblings Donald Jr. and Ivanka work hard, too, while the family has been buying and renovating high-end hotels, golf courses and wineries around the planet and raising money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“We also have the extended Trump family,” Eric said. “If you look at the general manager here, he’s a guy who, when I was 6 years old, drove me to school. Now he’s managing a billion-dollar building in Las Vegas and doing such an amazing job.”
The Trump extended family includes a group of employees who “saw me rollerblading around Trump Tower as a kid. That special family connection is kind of fun, even outside the actual DNA family,” he said.
Eric is always on the run.
“I spend a LOT of time on the plane,” he stressed. “I came back from Scotland yesterday, went home, grabbed a bag, came here. We’ll go home, grab a bag, go to Panama, come back, and we’ll go someplace else. I travel probably four days a week,” he said.
“That’s the game of international development. You have to be at your properties. No developer is successful sitting behind their desk.”
I said to Eric he must have an internal joy in empire building.
“Yeah. Sure,” he said. “At 30 years old, to be building buildings like this, and Chicago, and Turnberry (in Scotland), and Doonbeg (in Ireland), and all the golf courses I’ve acquired and rebuilt, it’s so cool.
“The three of us (the siblings) are machines. We’re the first people in the office in the morning, we’re the last to leave; my father is the same way,” Eric said.
“We get out of bed in the morning thinking about real estate. We fall asleep thinking about real estate. We work seven days a week. We put in an immense amount of travel miles,” he said.
“We have a lot of fun.”
Doug Elfman’s column appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Email him at email@example.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/entertainment/reel.