The Calico Cat
A weblog about business, economics, law, politics, and current events - nothing about cats
Donald Trump vs. Gordon Gekko
As a birthday present, my sister sent me the book How to Get Rich, by Donald Trump. Sadly, the book did not reveal any roadmap to getting rich, nor even any tidbits of advice that have not already been written before by others.
The book contains a lot of very short chapters, each containing what Trump considers a pearl of wisdom, but none of these pearls of wisdom are the least bit original or eye opening. The book is a mishmash of management advice, lifestyle advice, negotiating tips, factoids about Trump the person, a week in Trump’s life, and an inside (but not very deep inside) look at The Apprentice.
The book only gets interesting when Trump confesses some weird facts about his personal life. I found it very interesting that Trump hates shaking hands, because he says that it spreads germs. I also discovered that Trump is fond of junk food, and he will eat nothing at a fancy dinner, and instead head home and have a bag of pretzels. He also reveals a fondness for McDonalds. Yesterday evening I had Coke and pretzels for dinner, and thanks to Trump’s new book, I felt good about it.
After reading the book, it occurred to me that the movie Wall Street is a better and more entertaining source of information on how to get rich. Most of the important pieces of advice covered by Trump are also covered in the movie.
Wall Street is the story of Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen. Fox is a stockbroker who is not doing too well, but who very much wants to get rich. Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas (who won an Academy Award for the role), is a Donald Trump-like tycoon who takes Fox under his wing and teaches him the ropes. One could say that Fox is his apprentice.
Early in the book, Trump writes about the importance of having a good executive assistant, who screens his phone calls among other things. In Wall Street, Gekko’s executive assistant is Natalie, who steadfastly prevents Fox from getting to speak with Gekko. Fox finally gets past her when he shows up at Gekko’s office on his birthday, with a box of Cuban cigars for a birthday present.
It is interesting to note that the sign in Gekko's office reads “Gekko & Co.”, while Trump’s company is named The Trump Organization. Both Gekko and Trump have big egos, so they both name their companies after themselves. The difference is that Trump’s ego is bigger than Gekko’s. Trump puts his name on everything. Instead of the movie tycoon being a parody of the real life tycoon, the real life tycoon is a parody of the movie tycoon.
The most important theme in the management section of the book is about hiring and retaining the best employees. Gekko also has the best people working for him. During Fox’s initial meeting with Gekko, Gekko introduces him to his trader, Ollie. “Doesn’t look like it, huh? This guy’s the best.”
Donald Trump recommends that you wear expensive clothes, and specifically endorses Brioni. (Have you ever priced Brioni at Neiman Marcus? That stuff is expensive.) Gordon Gekko tells Bud Fox to get better suits. “And buy a decent suit. You can’t come in here looking like this.” This is despite the fact that Fox already wears $400 suits, which is a lot of money for a suit in 1980s dollars.
Donald Trump writes, “I rarely go out for lunch. I still consider it an interruption in my workday.” Gordon Gekko says more simply, but much more memorably, “lunch is for wimps.” If you recall The Apprentice, one of Omarosa’s great failings is that she was often more interested in eating a leisurely meal than working.
Donald Trump advises you to “know every aspect of what you’re doing.” Gordon Gekko says “the most valuable commodity I know of is information.”
Donald Trump writes, “when somebody hurts you, go after them as viciously and as violently as you can. Like it says in the Bible, an eye for an eye.” An important part of the plot of Wall Street is Gekko’s quest for revenge against corporate raider Lawrence Wildman.
Donald Trump advises you to get a prenuptial agreement before getting married. Trump’s friend tells him “Donald, I’m so in love with this woman that I don’t need a prenuptial agreement.” Donald writes, “I didn’t have the courage to tell him what I was thinking to myself. Loser!” Gordon Gekko says that love is “a fiction created by people to prevent themselves from jumping out of windows.” We can be sure that Gekko has a prenuptial agreement.
Trump and Gekko both see relationships as a business deal in which money buys a gorgeous girlfriend, wife, or mistress. Gekko explains to Fox that one of the benefits of being rich is that he will be able to “afford a girl like Darien.” Darien Taylor is the interior decorator played by the very beautiful Darryl Hannah, and definitely the “best that money can buy.” (However, Frank McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes, back when he was my high school English teacher, said that Darryl Hannah was “just another tall blonde.”)
Trump's book includes several chapters of advice on public speaking. He covers the basic public speaking tips, such as to be enthusiastic, entertain your audience, and not to read from a prepared speech. In a scene from Wall Street, Gekko addresses the stockholders of Teldar, a company he is trying to buy out. The scene begins with Cromwell, the CEO of Teldar, giving a boring speech. He stands before the podium, frequently looking down, presumably reading from a prepared text. Then Gekko takes the microphone, and we see Michael Douglas, who plays Gekko, give one of the greatest speeches ever to grace cinema.
Although Gekko isn’t reading from any notes, it may be pointed out that Michael Douglas, the actor, has memorized a written screenplay. However, the difference between a regular person giving a speech, and Michael Douglas giving this incredible performance, is that Michael Douglas is an Academy Award winning actor performing from a screenplay written by professional Hollywood writers. Don’t think for a minute that you can write your own speech, then read it, and be anything but incredibly boring. Even President Ronald Reagan, also known as the Great Communicator, and an actor himself before he became a politician, was at his best when he was ad-libbing and not reading from a teleprompter.
In his book, Trump reveals that he wakes up every morning at five o'clock. In Wall Street, Gekko calls Fox at sunrise, waking him up. Gekko’s first words are “money never sleeps.” Rich people are too busy making money to waste time sleeping. The wakeup call scene from Wall Street is one of many in which it is subtly revealed that Fox just isn’t made of tough enough stuff to become rich like Gekko.
In writing this comparison between Donald Trump and Gordon Gekko, it would be incomplete if I didn’t address the issue that Gordon Gekko was supposed to be the bad guy. A very simplistic synopsis of Wall Street is that Gekko is the crooked business tycoon, and Fox is the innocent lamb who initially falls under Gekko’s evil spell, but eventually, with the help of wise advice from his upstanding father, he sees Gekko for the crook that he is, and betrays him. Fox will probably have to go to jail himself, but those are his just desserts. With Fox’s assistance to the SEC, Gekko will also probably wind up in jail.
That’s the simplistic synopsis. The way I see it, despite the left-wing anti-business message that Oliver Stone may have intended, and one that Michael Douglas may have agreed with, Michael Douglas transcended the screenplay and gave Gordon Gekko his own life and reality. Oliver Stone explains in the additional features that come with the DVD that he wanted to leave the morality of the movie open ended. When the investigator from the SEC tells Fox that he “did the right thing” by helping to gather evidence against Gekko, the audience is supposed to wonder if he truly did the right thing.
Comparing Donald Trump to Gordon Gekko, it is Gekko who seems like the real person, and Trump who comes off as the fictional character. Trump’s big ego and penchant for putting his name on everything seem a tad bit too overblown to be part of the real world. So if Gekko is a villain, what does that make Trump?
posted May 2, 2004