Donald Trump’s tax returns and his net worth have come under intense scrutiny since he won the Republican nomination for President. Forbes estimates Trump’s net worth around 4.3 billion dollars. The Trump organization claims it to be closer to 10 billion for one simple reason. Trump. Donald Trump has been consciously nurturing his “brand” for almost 40 years now. Initially, the real estate developer put his name on just about everything he was involved with in an effort to further “brand” the Trump name. There are Trump buildings all over the world not to mention Trump golf resorts, Trump hotels, Trump merchandise and even a Trump University. You would think by his name being on so many products and buildings Trump is a diversified industry. The dirty little secret the Trump organization won’t tell you. They are not involved in much real estate development anymore. They haven’t been since about 2007. Because of nurturing his “brand” he is now able to license his name for millions of dollars to developers and entrepreneurs to which Trump has little to no connection. The Organization deems this “brand” to be worth upwards of 4 billion dollars.
Throughout the 20th century, rich people have lent their names to various buildings and institutions so Trump’s gambit is not new. The funny thing is, however, when the Rockefeller’s and the Getty’s and the Vanderbilt’s and the Carnegie’s name was put on a building or institution it was because they gave millions of dollars to that institution. They did not take money from that institution for the use of their name. Advertisers have been in the celebrity endorsement game for years to increase the perceived value of a product by associating it with a name brand. In that framework, Trump’s efforts are a sort of hybrid of the two. Brand identity for the purpose of self-enrichment.
I have some personal experience with this phenomenon. My father was a very strong supporter of The University of South Carolina. When the USC branch campus was being built in my home town, my father took the better part of 2 years off from his regular job (that of a real estate developer and country club developer) to oversee the construction of that facility. 20 years later, after he had passed away, the local administration wanted to honor him and name the main building after him. The USC board at the main campus balked because he had not given millions of dollars to the University. In other words, he had not “paid” for the naming rights to the building. Believe me, he had given as much as he could afford but didn’t have millions of dollars. It finally took an act of the state legislature to over ride the USC board and allow the naming to go forward. The irony here is that he would not have approved. He believed that “blowing your own horn” was crass and boorish. Those were the values with which I was raised and I marvel at how easily Trump does it and how it is not thought of in any negative context these days.