Q&A: Andy Litinsky on Trump and Branding

Andy Litinsky started his first company—complete with dozens of employees and six-figure revenue—when he was only 13 years old. Today, the wunderkind is the president of Trump Productions while still in his twenties. He came into the Trump family as a contestant on the second season of The Apprentice. Although Andy didn’t win, Donald Trump quickly hired him back after the show ended. In addition to his duties with Trump, Andy speaks regularly with various business groups—everything from chambers of commerce to college students—about the direction of business in the 21st Century.

You speak to a lot of young professionals and business majors. What are some emerging challenges and opportunities that young professionals face today that their parents’ generation didn’t?

Technology has changed, but I think the obstacles to becoming a successful young professional have stayed the same. In my experience, the biggest obstacle to success is—and always be—a lack of access to capital. There are always good ideas, but there is never enough money! However, money can always be found through persistence and networking in the community—that is why YP groups are so important.

When speaking with college students, what is the biggest misconception that they have about business, marketing or work in general?
My favorite group to talk to is college students because I was one just a few years ago. College students have all the motivation in the world, but they get frustrated because they don’t have a road map to success—because there is no road map! After 22 years of finding answers in textbooks, college students find it very scary to enter the real world without guidance. I think it is fear of the unknown that holds college students back from exploring their dream career or entrepreneurial ideas. In my speeches, I try and talk with—not at—college students to let them know that it is OK to not have the answers. The fun part of business is embracing and overcoming unknown obstacles. When you love what you are doing for a living, the answers come quickly and with little effort.

What’s the single greatest lesson that you’ve learned from Donald Trump?
The importance of enthusiasm. My first year working for Mr. Trump, I sat in his office three to four days a week for many of his meetings watching everything. And whether Mr. Trump was working on a real estate project, a golf project or a media project, he was always excited about the task at hand. Trump’s enthusiasm and passion for business are so important in exciting his employees—and it also helps when talking to potential investors. It’s a lot harder to say yes to investing in a project if the person pitching the idea is extremely excited.

What is something about Mr. Trump that most people don’t know?
Mr. Trump is very funny and extremely loyal. This comes across somewhat on TV but even more so in person. Most people think Mr. Trump is incredibly tough—which he has to be sometimes—but the reason why most of his employees work for him for 20 years or more is that he is extremely engaging and loyal to people who work hard for him.

The Trump brand has endured through good times and bad. Why do you think that brand is so successful?
I think the Trump brand works because it is an aspirational brand—the brand is not fixed to a specific product. Trump builds high-end real estate, creates TV shows, designs business suits, and builds and manages golf courses. The brand does many things, but in every aspect of business, TRUMP is always larger than life. It is a fun brand that is high end without being stuffy—a reporter once called Donald Trump, “The People’s Billionaire”—and I think that’s the best way to describe the person and the brand. Just like any person, Trump has had his ups and downs, but it is the constant battle to rise above and win that people identify with Mr. Trump and the Trump brand.

Why is this such an important aspect of building and sustaining a business?
I love talking about branding in my speeches! Creating and maintaining a “unique brand” is so important to creating a successful venture of any kind, business is all about the brand. On my PremiereSpeakers.com page, I go into detail about the topics of my speech called “Leveraging the Power of a Brand.” Here’s a specific example, you know the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” I think that whole statement is incredibly ridiculous – if I’m in a book store, and there are 50,000 books, and I have to pick one book to buy – of course the book cover is extremely important. It is the outward manifestation of the entire book. That is exactly what a brand is for a company. It is the book cover. It’s what people first see and experience, and in business when there are 50,000 competitors competing for attention, you better have a great cover!

Does the struggling economy affect either the role or strategy of brand development?
Absolutely. In a struggling economy, you have to tailor your message to what people are going through at any given time. Brand development is a living thing, and it must evolve with the times. If you run a high-end restaurant when the economy tanks, you need to shift your marketing strategy to appeal to lower cost items. The same is true for any product or service. However, the flip side to that coin is that you don’t want to go too far and alienate your core consumer. It’s a balancing act in the real world.

As someone who has accomplished a lot at a young age, what do you think is the single greatest attribute of successful people?
Thanks for the loaded question. Ha!. Honestly, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished that much because there is so much more to do—and I’m not trying to be humble! I’ve always enjoyed working hard and asking a ton of questions. I think the single greatest attribute of successful people is not being afraid to admit that you do not know something. The people I dislike the most, and I think we all do, are the people in business who think they know everything. My favorite business people are the ones who constantly ask questions—the ones who are honest when they are confused.

What inspires you?
America has always inspired me. I know that sounds a little corny, but I think everything that we are and everything we do stems from how great of a country we live in, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that. I also am inspired by hard work, and I love the quote, “It takes a lifetime to become an instant success.” This quote always reminds me that behind every big news article you read in Fortune magazine about some brand new success there was a lifetime’s worth of work to get to that point.

What would you like to be doing 20 years from now?
I think the best way to answer that is to think if I were asked that same question 20 years ago. Is there any way to foresee what happened to me in the ensuing 20 years? No way! But I just hope that if I keep working hard and looking out for new opportunities, things will work out just fine. I also hope my golf game improves 20 years from now because it hasn’t improved over the past 20 years when I first started playing.

Why do you think that you have something to significant to say to young professionals?
I really feel passionately that I have important ideas and experiences to share with young professionals. Being so close in age to young professionals, I understand their mindset and the struggles they face. I have been fortunate enough to work for a global business icon like Mr. Trump and to be on The Apprentice. So I enjoy sharing my stories and experiences, and, hopefully, young professionals can pick up a helpful tool for their daily lives. I also most enjoy the Q&A portion of my presentations. I really consider that to be the most important part, because I can answer specific questions about specific business issues.

Would you ever consider doing another reality show?
Ha ha! As long as I’m not stranded on a desert island or covered in mud, I would think about it. I think I’d rather be on a game show like Deal or No Deal. Thanks for letting me do this interview. I enjoyed it!

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