The Executive Series: Jason Greenblatt
About ‘The Executive Series’
Through ‘The Executive Series’, The Commentator provides its readership with access to the thoughts and experiences of highly accomplished individuals in the business world. The column has a conversational style and expresses the unique story of each business leader, including their motivations, struggles, successes and failures. ‘The Executive Series’ also serves as a forum for a broader conversation about leadership in business and in life.
About Mr. Jason Greenblatt
Jason D. Greenblatt (’85YUHS, ’89YC) received his J. D. degree in 1992 from the New York University School of Law. Following graduation, Jason worked for Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. In 1997, he joined The Trump Organization. For over 19 years, Jason has represented Donald J. Trump and his children (Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump) in legal and business matters, concentrating on all aspects of domestic and worldwide real estate development, financings, acquisitions, operation and management, including luxury condominiums, office buildings, and hospitality (hotels, hotel condominiums, clubs, and golf courses).
Jason is responsible for corporate, real estate, lending, entertainment and general legal matters, as well as diverse business affairs. Jason currently serves as Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer to Donald J. Trump and The Trump Organization. Jason currently teaches a course at Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business called ‘Anatomy of a Real Estate Deal’. Jason is a frequent lecturer and public speaker about a variety of topics, including "Ethics in the Corporate Workplace, "The Art of Negotiation, "The Intersection of Today's Technology and Ethics," and “Keeping Shabbos in the World of Donald Trump”. He also lectures to teens, college students (and their parents) about "How to Work Hard and Succeed," and on various parenting topics.
Jason lives in Teaneck, New Jersey with his wife and six children.
This interview was conducted by Raymond Cohen
Raymond Cohen: When was the first time you considered yourself a leader?
Jason Greenblatt: I'm a big believer in teamwork, as opposed to leadership. I wouldn't say that I consider myself a leader in the classic sense; I consider myself to be a person who can identify when something needs to be accomplished and does everything he can to make sure the job is completed together with teammates, colleagues or family members. While I am the head of the legal department at Trump, I would be worthless if not for the terrific team I have behind me. I think that if you approach things solely as a leader and think that you're at the top of the hill and can push everyone around to get things done, you won't accomplish your goals.
Raymond Cohen: Tell me about a time when you failed, what did you learn from the experience?
Jason Greenblatt: About twenty-plus years ago, I started a cappuccino company. This was right before Starbucks made its mark on America. I partnered with a company in Italy who manufactured one of the initial coffee-pod machines and I was able to get their machines into many high traffic locations in New York City, including numerous food outlets in Penn Station and several airport restaurants.
The business eventually did not succeed, though I was fortunate to be able to sell the equipment off to the users and get my investment back. But I learned two valuable lessons from the experience. Firstly, I chose the wrong company to partner with; it was an Italian company and their work ethic was completely inconsistent with the work ethic in New York. For example, if a machine broke down or if I ran out of product, I would call up the company to ship it overnight and would get responses such as 'it's the month of August and we're off, call us in September.' I learned to be careful who you partner with, and ensure that you're aligned in terms of your goals and expectations in relation to the business.
Secondly, I didn't do adequate market research in the sense that I didn't see Starbucks coming. Perhaps if I had looked more into it, I would've noticed companies like Starbucks starting to percolate in Seattle (no pun intended).
Raymond Cohen: Who were some of your role models throughout your career?
Jason Greenblatt: I would say Mr. Trump and his three grown children who work with at the company (Don, Jr., Ivanka and Eric) have had a significant impact on me and have served as great role models. They each have different styles, but all of them are consistently inspiring and motivating. They are demanding in an appropriate way and they instill a desire throughout the organization, at all levels, to seek to achieve the highest standards in all that we do.
Raymond Cohen: In your experience, what intangible qualities separate the successful from the unsuccessful?
Jason Greenblatt: Going the extra mile will really separate you from the pack. You can do your job and be average, or you can go above and beyond in doing your job and you'll end up miles ahead. So many people are satisfied with simply doing a 'good enough' job. If you really want to impress the people around you, you have to take that job - own it, live it, breathe it - and deliver it back to whoever gave to you in as good a package as you possibly can.
Raymond Cohen: Would you recommend law school to current undergrads?
Jason Greenblatt: If somebody has a passion for law, then I would definitely recommend it as a solid and challenging career. For those who aren't interested in becoming a lawyer, but want to use law school to get into the business world, I would say that while you will gain important skills in law school, there are others paths to get into the business world that often are more useful and practical. I would say that it is a great field if you have a passion for law, and it is possible to move from law onto the business side if you have the right training, experience and luck. But I would not view law school as necessarily the correct path to become a business person.
Raymond Cohen: How are you able to manage the elusive 'work-life balance'?
Jason Greenblatt: The work-life balance is probably one of my most difficult challenges. I have a demanding job, and a large family that I want to enjoy and spend as much time with as I possibly can, and I have obligations to the community. Each Shabbat I ask myself three questions: 1) Did I give everything to my employer to do the job that is expected of me? 2) Was I a good father and husband so that I gave my family everything that I'm obligated and want to give them for them to achieve, succeed and be happy? 3) Did I help my community?
As much as I love my job, I know that I'm not put on this earth just to be a lawyer for The Trump Organization; I recognize that I need give back. And so I make sure that those three legs: family, job and community are always a part of my life. Some weeks I add more attention to one and detract from another, but on a long term basis I always strive to try to have answered those questions with a confident “yes.”
Raymond Cohen: What was one personal weakness that you had to overcome in order to achieve success in your career?
Jason Greenblatt: I'm generally a shy person, and that does not help when you're trying to make an impact at the type of job that I have. I've had to work on myself to be more outgoing and, to learn how to speak publicly. For example, probably the first time I spoke about what it’s like to be an Orthodox Jew in the world of Donald Trump was a pure chance opportunity when I got stuck somewhere for Shabbos, and the Chabad Rabbi at the University of Virginia that was hosting me asked me to get up and speak to that point. From that opportunity, I have now spoken at many places about keeping Shabbos in the world of Donald Trump.
Raymond Cohen: What was the toughest moment of your career?
Jason Greenblatt: This goes back to the challenge of being Shomer Shabbos in the world of billion-dollar deals. I was the lead lawyer on a huge transaction that was supposed to be finished before the upcoming three-day Jewish holiday when I would be completely out of contact. I did everything I could to get it done, I slept in the office multiple nights and still didn't finish it for reasons beyond my control. The challenge for me wasn't trying to complete my work, because I knew I had given it my all, the challenge was mustering the strength to walk into Mr. Trump's office and tell him that I wasn't going to have it done in time and that I had to completely disappear for three days. I was fortunate that he is an amazingly respectful person when it comes to me being Shomer Shabbos; his response to me was 'Go home, go pray and be with your family - we'll pick it up after the holiday.' That response was remarkable to me – he did not have to jeopardize his deal to let me practice my religion. I left his office feeling this incredible emotional relief and great respect for him.
Raymond Cohen: What, would you say, is lacking in the business world today?
Jason Greenblatt: I think that younger citizens today are not being taught the importance of ethics in the context of business, in particular when it comes to technology, which changes so quickly. Today's society is so focused on pushing ahead and disrupting the status quo, and the ethics that should be part of the equation either follows much later or gets totally lost. We need to do a better job of teaching ethics to the younger generation, in elementary schools, high schools and universities. We need to train the younger generation to understand that ethics of the old world can be, and must be, a part of ethics of the new world. I once read something written by John Maxwell in which he relayed a story about the time when he was asked to write a book about business ethics. His response was that he could not, because, he said, there is no such thing as business ethics, there is only ethics. Maxwell explained that people try to use one set of ethics for their professional life, another for their spiritual life, and still another at home with their family, and that gets people into trouble. He said that ethics “must be lived by one standard across the board.” I think today’s younger generation is being swept into life at such a fast a pace, with many new opportunities and too many distractions. Because so much time is utilized to focus on these opportunities and distractions, not enough time is spent on learning about ethics and other core values.