When it comes to women in business, there is a common assumption that being super-rich and beautiful, with long blonde hair and an elegant 5’11″ frame, usually means you are not taken as seriously as your male or mousier colleagues. Some would consider that a beauty bias, but Ivanka Trump, a living embodiment of all of the above, says, “Bring it on.”
“I never mind when somebody underestimates me,” she says. “I joke about this with my father all the time. If somebody has a meeting with Donald Trump, they will come in fully armed, whereas if they have a meeting with me, they are less likely to be prepared. That’s an advantage for me.”
One surprising advantage in a life full of many others. The 28-year-old Trump is the daughter of real estate personality Donald Trump and socialite Ivana Trump, an alumna of the Wharton School of Business and wife of Jared Kushner, an executive at the Kushner Companies, a New York real estate firm, and publisher of The New York Observer.
She is also the author of this year’s The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, vice president of development and acquisitions at The Trump Organization and principal of her own jewelry line and boutique. And, as the world knows, she also appears as a judge on reality shows The Celebrity Apprentice and The Apprentice.
That kind of brand diversification is one reason she’s fully embraced the social Web, where she has 828,000 followers on Twitter and a Facebook page that features her must-haves (shoes, handbags, jewelry) and must-gives. Providing funds for the United Nations’ “Girl Up” campaign through sales of a specially created bracelet (recently seen on the wrists of Wendy Murdoch and Indra Nooyi) is her current cause. She also took the time to answer several of ForbesWoman’s Facebook followers’ questions–”If you could ask Ivanka Trump any question, what would it be?”–when she sat down to talk with us last month about being a female entrepreneur, life in a fish bowl and her personal style.
ForbesWoman: What are traits of a successful negotiator and deal-maker?
Trump: Fundamentally you are born with an instinct to read people and to understand people. You need a sense of confidence, which you may be born with or develop over time. If you don’t develop this it is hard to command respect in a negotiation. The person who is most prepared and has the most information always has a competitive advantage. Do your homework. It is also very important to try to fully understand what the other party most values in terms of the outcomes of the negotiation. It is often things that you don’t value or give a premium to that would be an easy concession that you can still accomplish your goals by conceding.
I think it’s also important to define your own goals prior to starting to negotiate. A lot of my friends will say they want to ask their boss for a raise. I say, “What are you looking to get?” And they say, “I don’t know.” You should always walk into a transaction discussion knowing what your end goal is.
Do you believe negotiation skills are important in all facets of life, even outside of business, to get what you want?
Ask any married woman that question and she will tell you yes–and my husband happens to be a good negotiator too. The key in these marital questions is not letting the other one know when you have won.
I do think the No. 1 saying in a relationship is mutual respect for the other person, including the other persons goals and aspirations, whether that is professionally geared or philanthropically focused. I think that is so important that you are with somebody who supports your ambitions. If you have somebody who tries to undermine it, it is a recipe for disaster. That really does narrow the playing field for people.
What is your vision for business opportunities in todays marketplace, particularly in emerging markets?
I think there are tremendous opportunities, but they are harder to come by because more people are competing for distressed assets. Back in the days of 2006 banks were throwing money at you. Now they have their purse strings closed, and you have to do a lot more work on each deal to secure financing. This is exactly the time when people should be transacting–not at the height, but at the trough. It represents an opportunity for companies who have been conservative and didnt expose themselves and now have the ability to be more predatory in terms of what they are looking for.
Ashlee Thames Woods, via Facebook: How would you advise businesswomen to reinvent themselves in a competitive market?
Businesspeople constantly need to be reinventing themselves. Naturally there are more challenges that entrepreneurs are facing today than in the past, and it is always more difficult in a depressed economy to grow and flourish. It’s important to get in the habit of growing as a human being, developing and refining leadership and management skills and entrepreneurial instincts and changing to accommodate the times. In a business such as ours, which touches so many different aspects of luxury goods, and bringing the entertainment element into it too, it is very important to remain relevant and a front-runner.
Faten Abdallah, via Facebook: How can women remain competitive in the business world?
I try not to think too much in terms of gender distinction. It is something we try to all get away from in America, although abroad it is more apparent. That said, often in real estate development and finance, as opposed to the sales and marketing, there are very few women. I joke with my brothers that we will be in a meeting with 10 bankers and we will all give our cards, and they tend to call me back first. I have never had a problem with standing out in a crowd.
How do you deal with people who may underestimate you because you are a young, attractive woman?
I never mind when somebody underestimates me. It often means they are not well prepared. I joke about this with my father all the time. If somebody has a meeting with Donald Trump, they will come in fully armed and fully prepared, whereas if they have a meeting with me, they are less likely to be prepared, which is an advantage for me. It is always better to know more than the person you are speaking with.
How does it feel to have the media follow your every move?
I don’t think I have ever known anything other than living in a fishbowl most of my life. Even prior to The Apprentice my parents were very public figures, and that was my childhood experience. My parents did shelter us to the best of their ability, and any decisions we made to be more public were done so understanding the consequences of that behavior. One of the things I went into with my eyes wide open was the disadvantages of trying to maintain a personal life when you become a public figure building and extending the brand.
How have you used social media to market the Ivanka Trump Collection and the Trump brand?
Social media is something I started exploring in a more focused way around a year ago. It was Tony Hsieh, the founder and CEO of Zappos, who introduced me to the possibility of being able to push your company’s core values and core beliefs in a personal way, and also get you to have real time personal feedback. For example, I noticed the ForbesWoman tweet this morning asking your readers what they would like to ask me if they could ask anything.
Through my social media efforts, I try to show a personal side to my brand, because people want the authenticity. Showing who we are as a family is a credence good as a family brand. I will post a rendering of a project’s lobby that is under renovation or in a design phase and ask fans, “What do you think about the conceptual design for the lobby in the soon-to-be-open Trump Toronto?”
Do you ever power down?
Technology is a tremendous asset but can also be very destructive. While you have to be available all the time today, it is so important to prioritize bigger-picture initiatives. I spend a lot of time on the weekends reflecting on what I want to accomplish and seeing if my goals are being met. Mornings are also a great time to reflect before the phones start ringing.
Kara’s A King, via Facebook: Do you purposely dress in a muted, low-key way to not attract too much attention?
My top three style tips for women at work are context, modesty and femininity. If you work in a law firm, you can’t wear the same thing you would wear if you worked at an ad agency. Understand what is appropriate for your industry and in terms of how much skin is being shown. Dress modestly. My office style has changed pretty drastically, and a lot of it became being comfortable with expressing femininity in a way that, when I was younger, I was nervous about. I was almost afraid to be feminine on the job, which in retrospect was probably a mistake. I wear pink to the office now, whereas when I was 22, I was nervous to wear anything other then a black pinstripe suit.
How can young women today avoid “concealing their femininity”?
You have to grow into your confidence to express yourself. Self-expression in some form isn’t always appropriate in the office–overly funky styles or multiple tattoos–but it is in the form of being feminine. We should embrace that as women. The instinct is to suppress our femininity, which is rooted in a concept that we should blend. But how you get there is not through shoulder-pads or pinstripes. You gain the respect of your colleagues. If you have their respect, they will not criticize you for dressing like a woman.
Kris Ruby is the president & founder of Ruby Media Group, a public relations, personal branding and social media agency. Kris also leads national speaking engagements on branding for Microsoft and the ABA has been featured on MSN Money, AOL Small Business, ABC Good Morning CT, NBC and News 12. She is the youngest ever to be chosen for the Business Council of Westchester’s “40 Under 40″ Rising Stars.