George H. Ross is no stranger to long-time viewers of The Apprentice. Since 2004, Ross was the mild-mannered, firm boardroom adviser to Donald Trump, offering his critique to contestants and recommending to whom Trump should offer the fateful “You’re fired!” catchphrase. His counsel to Trump extends quite far past the boardrooms of the hit NBC reality program, however. In 1996, Ross left his successful legal practice to take a job as Senior Counsel and Executive Vice President at the Trump Organization after years of friendship with Donald Trump.
Though Ross is less visible on The Apprentice in recent seasons, having been replaced by Trump’s children, Ivanka Donald and Eric, he’s still as busy as ever off camera. With two widely popular business books in publication and his role with the Trump Organization, he has more on the go than many ever will. All the more impressive considering George Ross’ recent celebration of his 84th birthday.
Though retirement appears to be nowhere on the horizon, George Ross is taking advantage of his seniority and experience to share his craft with the next generation of businessmen and women, as well as to bring awareness and financial support to the various charitable causes he works with.
On June 12th, Ross will be delivering a presentation at a dinner in Hamilton, Ontario’s Liuna Station with proceeds going towards the Billie and George H. Ross Foundation, a charity he formed to link contributions to worthy causes. The dinner, presented by G.S. Maher/Queensbury Securities and Powergroup Communications, will feature lessons from Ross’ experiences in business aimed at teaching individuals how best to reach out and try new things in their careers, namely real estate.
G. Shawn Maher, the chair of the event, first met Ross at a fundraiser a few years ago and was most stricken not by Ross’ business acumen, but rather his heart and passion for charity.
Andrew Lawton: You’ll be speaking in Hamilton, Ontario in a couple of weeks at a charity event. The proceeds are going to the Billie and George H. Ross Foundation. What does your foundation do?
George H. Ross: My own foundation redirects the money to one of three charities, such as for cancer, the terminally ill, and things along those lines. Rather than have the people make out the money to these individual organizations, they give it to us and we pass it along to charities that we work with.
AL: A charitable middle man?
AL: I know charity has been an important issue for you for quite some time–as it has for Donald Trump, I’m aware. Do you feel business as a whole needs to be more charitable?
GR: I definitely think business can do more to support charitable causes. Especially smaller causes. There’s always room for charity. Send your people to give time and effort; donate volunteers; get involved. The fortunate should help those who are less fortunate. I don’t think most businesses give anywhere near what they should be.
AL: Your first book, Trump Strategies for Real Estate: Billionaire Lessons for the Small Investor reduces big business principles to simple, fundamental ones. Is that a concept a lot of people understand–or agree with?
GR: Let’s put it this way, I think most people don’t agree, but that’s because I think most people don’t understand it. They feel that if you’re dealing in a lot of big deals–transactions with a lot of zeroes–that it’s different than dealing in small deals. That’s where they’re wrong. Human nature is the same at every level. How you negotiate successfully in a little deal is the same way you’d negotiate in a big deal. People on the other side are going to be impressed by what you do if you do it the same way. People are people. It doesn’t make a difference whether they’re billionaires, millionaires, or less. They can be negotiated with on the same basis. Most people say, “I can’t negotiate like a Donald Trump.” The answer is “Yes, you can.” You’re not necessarily negotiating in the same league or with the same amount of dollars or exposure, but you certainly can negotiate like he can.
AL: Do those concepts–the theory of business and real estate–change or evolve over time, or is it just the technology that changes?
GR: The basic principles of how to negotiate successfully don’t change. Those things will remain the same. They always have been for as long as men have walked the earth. But there are changes that involve real estate and other businesses because of developments in technology. You can do pro formas and spreadsheets and you can Google people. There’s so much information available that you now can use for guidance. That has changed the landscape of every business.
AL: For someone like yourself who’s been in business and real estate for so long, is it difficult to stay up to date on changes in the industry?
GR: It’s not hard to keep up to date. There are a lot of periodicals that come out. I have a number of contacts in the industry that will speak to me if something unusual happens. It doesn’t change dramatically. What has changed is the availability of information related to what’s going on in the industry. And that can be very suspect, because it depends on who gave you the information.
For example, newspapers write generalities. They say, “Business is bad in Toronto” or “Real estate is bad in Toronto.” What does that mean? There’s a lot of real estate in Toronto which is fantastic. There’s other real estate that will never survive. When you generalize, you end up with misconceptions. Every piece of real estate is unique and can be handled separately. You have to look at everything individually rather than put it all in a basket and say “This is good” or “This is bad.” I find that’s a major fallacy of most people. They listen to what the pundits write, but the pundits are dealing in averages that can be totally distorted.
AL: What do you feel is the biggest misconception about real estate?
GR: That it takes a tremendous amount of money to get involved.
AL: So it’s available to everyone?
GR: It’s available to everybody if you have enough basic intelligence on how to operate a business. You have to have some source of income that you can use to get involved. You do it on a scale that you can afford and you learn from your failures more than you learn from your successes. Over a period of time, if you have more wins than losses, you’re going to be very successful. Anybody can get into it if they so desire, but there’s a certain fear of it.
AL: What can people expect to hear from you in your talk in Hamilton?
GR: Basically, what I’m going to be talking about is negotiating successfully in business transactions. To teach the people there how to be more successful in whatever business endeavor they’re in. How to improve it and how to keep up with what the changes are in the industry. Basically, tell them that if they’re really interested to get out of the niche that they’ve found themselves in. Most people fall that way and say “Gee, I’d like to do something else. But how do I do it? I don’t have the money.” The purpose of what I’m going to be lecturing on is how it can be started. What the basic raw materials are and how you can do it and negotiate successfully. In whatever level you want.
AL: One of the bigger business stories of the week is Facebook’s disappointing display after going public. Any insight on what happened there?
GR: Facebook is a service business. My personal feeling is that it was way overvalued. What Facebook does is provide a venue for companies that want to get out into the marketplace and market their product. It gives them an opportunity to market their product and get a tremendous database of people who are interested in social networking and use that information in their own marketing of whatever product or service they’re trying to provide. The problem that I see is that it’s not definitive. Yes, Facebook did it. What’s to say there can’t be ten other Facebooks? As it is, you have Twitter and any number of entities doing the same or similar business. It could be very hazardous if somebody comes out with something better. The need is to grow and improve what you have, and that’s difficult.
Look at Sony Television, for example. Sony owned television years ago. They owned it. Now, they’re basically out of business. Samsung and LG came out with new product and people bought it. People weren’t buying the Sony name, they were buying a particular product and as long as it worked, they were happy. Unless you have an entity that has something unique, you have a serious problem. My feeling is that Facebook sold at a tremendous price and I question whether or not they could keep the momentum going. Maybe they can. Look at Apple, they did. But look at all the others–like BlackBerry–who didn’t. That’s how a service business is different from a piece of real estate. A piece of real estate is always there. You own it. There it is. It has a certain intrinsic value because of what it is.
As long as people have to live somewhere, there are going to be apartments. As long as people run businesses, they’re going to have to have commercial space to do their business. They can live without Facebook. Personally, I’m very much concerned with Facebook. All of that information, which they gather, that people give them, can be utilized to the detriment of people who are on Facebook. Basically, you’re opening your whole life history to strangers. I don’t think that the elimination of the right of privacy is something to be desired.
AL: Celebrity Apprentice versus The Apprentice: Do you think one gives you a higher caliber of candidates than the other?
GR: There is always a difference in the contestants that you’ll find. The whole premise was different. Initially, the premise was that somebody was going to work for Donald Trump and earn money and a position they could never otherwise attain. Effectively, it was a great premise, but it’s changed. The audience has changed. The audience loves the celebrities doing the tasks–struggling and fighting amongst themselves. The key element is that you’re attaining money for charity, and the celebrities really work hard for that. They really are very much interested in making money for their charities. And that makes it work. The philosophy is different. I think it’s worthwhile, and the audience seems to love it. The ratings are sensational.
AL: After listening to you, I have to ask where you draw your energy from to keep doing what you do. A lot of people your age have been retired for twenty years already.
GR: I love to work. It enables me to take the money that I earn and give it to worthwhile charities. As far as I’m concerned, it’s give-back time.
AL: So you’re not retiring any time soon?
GR: [Laughs] I’ll retire when my mind goes. When my mind tells me it’s time to retire, I will retire. But personally, I feel that retirement among people my age is seceding from life. They start to vegetate, but they have so much they could give. These are successful people in business. They could devote their time to mentoring or using their skills to contribute to the community or to society. It’ s a shame if they don’t do it. My feeling is that if I can give a part of my background of information and make some people’s lives better, that’s great. If I can help raise money for charity, that’s the other side of it. A double win. I’m making people smarter to deal with their lifestyle and business and the proceeds go to my charity, which goes to other charities.
I keep going for myself and for charity.