Donald Trump grinned out from the cover of Savvy Woman magazine in November of 1989 flanked by three women wearing big shoulder pads, high collars and plenty of kohl eyeliner.
“Trump’s Top Women,” the headline read. And the subhead: “Surprise! Mr. Macho’s Inner Circle Isn’t An All-Boys’ Club.”
For those who see Trump as a paradox and a conundrum — a billionaire Republican who favors taxing the wealthiest, a man who has described himself as both “very pro-choice” and “very simple, pro-life” — add one more contradiction to the list. While he’s spent his whole career saying things that are arguably sexist, like “You wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful,” and things that are seemingly patronizing, like “I cherish women,” and “I will be phenomenal to the women,” Trump has consistently hired women for positions of real power in his organization and been darned proud of doing so.
As he told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week”: “I’ve had such an amazing relationship with women in business. They are amazing executives. They are killers.”
Twenty-six years ago, for instance, when Savvy Woman ran him on the cover, four of the eight people in Trump’s innermost circle were women, including his then wife Ivana, who was not in any of these particular photos but who was running the Plaza Hotel at the time. The others, all executive vice presidents, were: Barbara Res, who was in charge of construction of Trump Tower and then the Plaza; Blanche Sprague, head of project development; and Susan Heilbron, who was Trump’s chief lawyer.
Heilbron did not return repeated requests for an interview, but Res and Sprague both described Trump as a supportive boss who gave them a shot in an industry that was particularly unwelcoming to women.
“When I first started at this, I’d find nasty drawings of myself on the job site, and men would try to intimidate me by peeing on the girders,” says Res of the years right around the time she met Trump.
Which makes it all the more striking, she says, that he hired her for his signature project, because he liked the way she stood up to the men when he was working for another builder. This was before his bodyguards, his bestselling books, and his comb-over, Res says, back when there were just six people in the entire Trump Organization, back when Trump drove his own limo to Res’ father’s funeral because the chauffeur was off that day. Overnight Res went from earning $25,000 as an assistant supervisor to $55,000 as vice president. She had never run a project before, but “he told me he knew I could” build Trump Tower, she says.
Sprague tells a similar story. She entered the real estate business as a 19-year-old divorced single mother who worked her way up through the sales part of the business, landing on Trump’s radar at a meeting where she more than held her own in a roomful of men. He said something like “I love that mouth, and I have to have it,” before offering her a job at about the same time as Res.