2006 Flashback: Donald Trump talks to me about Trump University

NEW YORK - MAY 23: Real estate mogul Donald Trump gestures as he holds a media conference announcing the establishment of Trump University May 23, 2005 in New York City. Trump University will consist of on-line courses, CD-Roms and other learning programs for business professionals. (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images)

NEW YORK – MAY 23: Real estate mogul Donald Trump gestures as he holds a media conference announcing the establishment of Trump University May 23, 2005 in New York City. Trump University will consist of on-line courses, CD-Roms and other learning programs for business professionals. (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images)

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed February 18, 2006

With all the publicity regarding Trump University and accusations from former employees that it was a big fraud, I went back a decade to dig up my one phone interview with now Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump about his university. You know this story is a decade old because I reference TiVo. Remember that?

Real estate mogul Donald Trump has doled out endless gobs of advice in his many books and on his 2-year-old NBC series, “The Apprentice.”

Yet the man who has never met a superlative he couldn’t wrap his mouth around believes people want more. Stop the presses . . . welcome to Trump University!

It isn’t exactly a replica of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Trump’s alma mater. But he isn’t shy about talking up his new school, because promotion makes the Trump world go ’round.

“I’ve always been a big believer in education, and you know I’ve had an interesting life and learned a lot, ” he said recently by phone from New York. “This is a way for me to impart some of this knowledge, if not all of this knowledge, to people who want it.”

It’s primarily an online venture (www.trumpuniversity.com; courses range from $300 to $500), but the company recently started Trump Institute seminars in various cities, including free intro meetings in Atlanta this weekend. The curriculum features topics such as entrepreneurship, real estate, management and wealth creation. Trump won’t be there.

“We try to respect his time, ” said Michael Sexton, president of Trump University. “He runs more than 100 companies.”

But Trump will be in Atlanta in early May as keynote speaker for the Real Estate Wealth Expo, sponsored by the Learning Annex, at the Georgia World Congress Center.

This one isn’t free: Attendees pay $179 to $499 to be in his hallowed presence.

The Learning Annex, a New York-based alternative adult-education organization, pays Trump at least $1 million per appearance.

“I enjoy doing it, ” he said. “It’s not about the money.” Yet Trump made sure to note that his presence helps bring people to these events, racking up monstrous attendance figures in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.

“I’m the bargain of the century!” he said ever so modestly.

The fifth edition of his “Apprentice” series launches Feb. 27.

Despite stumbling ratings and a move to 9 p.m. Mondays from a more coveted Thursday slot, Trump is sanguine about the latest version.

“The cast is amazing, ” the Donald said. “It’s very international.”

The series, already taped, will feature his daughter Ivanka, who will sub on occasion for his righthand man George Ross. “She’s going to play a major role, ” Trump promised. He couldn’t resist adding, “She’s beautiful and very smart.”

Trump is also psyched about a new game show leading into his show at 8 p.m.: “Deal or No Deal, ” which is based purely on luck and risk. Contestants eliminate, one by one, 25 suitcases with dollar amounts ranging from 1 penny to $1 million. At predetermined points, they decide to take a banker’s offer or keep picking off suitcases.

The series, hosted by Howie Mandel, did well in a brief test run in December.

“I like it, ” Trump said. And get your TiVo ready to go: “I’m actually on the ‘Deal or No Deal’ episode before our launch.”

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