Thanks for having a beer with us.
I love Blue Moon. I’ll try and talk slowly so you can understand my accent. Should we say cheers to good health? Sláinte!
Being Donald Trump’s right-hand-man doesn’t come easy. How did you get into the hospitality business?
I’m from a very small picturesque town called Killarney in the South-West of Ireland where my family owns a small hotel so I grew up in the business. I went to hotel school in Ireland then worked in Europe before coming to the states 25 years ago. It’s something I enjoy doing, everyday when you come to work it’s something different and exciting. When you’re working with a group of inspired people like I do in this building if you have a day that you’re lacking a little bit, you can come to work and they pick you up. It’s great.
For those just starting out in the industry, what should they be prepared for?
It’s important you go into this industry with your eyes open and understand it’s inevitably hard work. It will be long hours. I think as much as anything, success in this business is determined by your ability to communicate, your ability to execute and your ability to build a culture and support a culture. It’s based on having a respect towards your guests and towards your fellow employees and a common sense approach. Common sense is something that sometimes gets lost along the way. My father would always say to me, “When you hit a bump in the road just keep moving forward, don’t just sit around feeling sorry for yourself.”
Do you ever worry about hearing Mr. Trump’s trademark phrase, “You’re fired!”?
My wife is the only one who worries about that! [Laughs] It’s quite the contrary actually. He’s been very supportive and he loves this building. He is very, very proud of it. He comes in once a quarter for our board meetings. He’ll walk around the property and you can sense he really loves coming here. He doesn’t always need to come here but he wants to come here and wants to be involved. He’s our biggest fan and our biggest ambassador. As a hotel operator it’s great to have somebody like that as a marketing card in your back pocket. I can say to a media person, “Donald Trump is coming in, would you like to meet him?” and they’ll show up on very short notice.
What is the latest doing of Mr. Trump around here?
We just expanded Rebar and Mr. Trump was very much involved in making that decision. He said, “This bar is doing great, it’s always busy. Let’s do it,” and we were happy to do it.
Does he stay in the same room for each visit?
He’s got one of the best suites in the hotel. He stays in one of our two-bedroom suites with a view looking out this way but much higher up. You could stay there the day after he checks out if you wanted to. You’d get the Donald aura. Maybe we could sell it that way!
Is it common for your celebrity guests to check-in under a fake name?
Many celebrities will come under a pseudonym, yes. Particularly the musicians will pick bizarre oddball names. They’re kind of funny actually.
Do the musicians ever throw crazy parties and trash their rooms or is that passé?
Fortunately, no. We’ve had a great experience with everyone who has stayed here. I think that was the ’70s and ’80s with rock ‘n’ roll and the Rolling Stones in the early days. That doesn’t happen so much any more.
We’re about to head up to the highest residence in the world. In the four years it’s been on the market, how many people have seriously considered purchasing the 89th floor penthouse with a price tag that reads $32 million?
You’d be surprised, there has been quite some interest but Mr. Trump is holding fast. He’s not in a rush to sell it. Only when he gets the right buyer he’ll sell it. It’s a white box right now, in other words it’s not furnished or fitted out because somebody who is going to spend that kind of money will want to make it their own. We’ve had people who have come into some of our penthouses that were decorated and they’ll take everything out and put everything back in the way they want it or they’ll buy the unit beside it and combine the two. There is no other building in the city that shows off Chicago like this one does. When you look out the windows, it’s just remarkable.
This is a spectacular 360° view.
When U2 was playing here in Chicago a few years ago they had their spider set up in Soldier Field and I brought some of the band members up here. They were up here taking photos of it and were pretty excited!
It feels like you’re in the clouds.
Chicago is known for the skyscrapers. Back in the 1920s it was the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower that were the skyscrapers, now they top out around our 16th floor while we’re up here on the 89th. The person who designed this, Adrian Smith, is now designing the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The Burj Khalifa is 50 percent taller than this and the Kingdom Tower is going to be even taller once again. The folks that are working on that come here every other month to meet with Adrian Smith. They stay here and love it and say, “We’re getting this but it’s going to be much bigger, twice the size!”
Looking out over the entire city, what does Chicago mean to you?
I’ve been in the states 25 years and lived here maybe 17 of those years so for me it’s certainly home. I love it because the people are very much like the people where I come from in Ireland where they are down to earth and very genuine and sincere. I think there is a very real spirit of hospitality in the Midwest. As I look around the city there is never a day that I’m not amazed by the views. I was the first person hired here so I look out at these views everyday but I never get tired of it. There is nothing I enjoy more than bringing Chicagoans like yourselves up here and walking around and seeing your surprise. Chicagoans come in and say, “I kind of knew our city was pretty cool with great architecture but, wow, when I see it from here I really get it.”
When you get a break, where is your getaway?
Quite frankly I would go back to Ireland, I love going back there. There’s a great little hotel called Aghadoe Heights overlooking the Lakes of Killarney, just a beautiful place.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
I might get in trouble if I say this but it would be Beyonce! I know you are probably expecting me to say something like James Joyce but if I couldn’t get Beyonce—because I wouldn’t want to mess with Jay-Z—I’d want to sit with someone who would make me laugh. Someone like Robin Williams.
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