Donald Trump was in midst of buying the failing Commodore Hotel, he was negotiating with the Hyatt hotel chain to locate its flagship New York hotel on the site. He says he negotiated a deal with Hyatt executive that was full of contingencies. Proud of himself, he nonetheless saw the deal eventually fall through. He renegotiated and shook hands, only to see pattern of failure emerge again and again. Finally someone higher up in the Hyatt organisation whom Trump had befriended gave the then young real estate developer some friendly advice: he should meet Jay Pritzker, whose family had a controlling interest in the Hotel chain. His source added something else- Pritzker was the guy who was actually running the company.
As Trump says, “It comes down to the fact that everyone underneath the top guy is just an employee and an employee isn’t going to fight for your deal.” He will fight for a raise or a bonus, but the last thing he wants to do is upset the boss. He’s more likely to promote your deal with no opinion. To you, he might sound enthusiastic, but that enthusiasm fades quickly when he goes to his Boss and states your case. It’s so often not worth the risk of the employee.
Trump says he picked up the phone and called Pritzker himself. Turns out Pritzker was on his way from Chicago to New York and said they should meet. Trump picked him up at the airport and they talked while Pritzker was in the city. While both men played cards close to the vest, a mutual respect grew between the two. Before long, they had a deal: Trump would build the hotel, Hyatt would manage it, and they would be equal partners.
Lesson learned: None of this would have been possible without eventually going to the boss.
De-Briefing of this Story
It pays sometimes to go straight to the top. Trump learned that the hard way. Intermediates may be enthusiastic in shaking your hand on a deal, but don’t expect them to carry that enthusiasm to their own boss. They have their own political agenda to worry about. So many a times, we are able to get through the door but we are not able to seal the deal. At that time you need to go high enough the ladder and meet the decision maker if you really feel that your deal is win-win.
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Donald J. Trump, The Art of the deal (New York Random House, 1987), p.86