A guide to Donald Trump's business empire

NEW YORK - President-elect Donald Trump says his business is “great,” and you’ll have to trust him on that. But one of the few things an outsider can know for sure is that it’s a complex and opaque hodgepodge of an empire scattered around the globe.

Mr. Trump in May disclosed holdings in about 500 companies in at least 25 countries. But many of the 500 have no business operations. Instead, they’re shells set up to hold stakes in other companies, possibly to provide legal and tax protection. The disclosure document ran to 104 pages, but it revealed precious few details about how much each entity has borrowed, their profits or purposes.

The details matter because government ethics experts note the possibility that Mr. Trump might be tempted to shape regulations, taxes and foreign policy to enrich himself or his business partners. Foreign governments could create plenty of trouble, too. They could seek to influence him by rewarding or punishing his business interests in their countries.

Mr. Trump planned a news conference for Thursday on the future of his business but announced Monday he would postpone it until next month. Trump transition team spokesman Sean Spicer said the legal team needs more time to work out a plan so “proper protocols are in place.”

The president-elect has said while he’s running the country, he’ll leave management to his children and company executives. But he left open retaining his ownership stake.

What makes the situation so perilous is that no modern U.S. president has owned so much, had it spread so far around the globe and disclosed so little.

Still, plenty is known about his company, the Trump Organization.

  • Mr. Trump’s business ties abroad sprawl, but it’s not clear they run deep. He owns little overseas. Since losing nearly everything in the 1990s from a debt-fueled foray into casinos, he has preferred to take care of his money and strike royalty deals that entail little more than renting out his name.
  • Not every Trump building is owned by him. Many residential buildings bear his name, but many apartments in them were sold off years ago. This is true of Trump Tower on New York’s Fifth Avenue where he lives and works and through whose gilded lobby he has been parading candidates for his cabinet.
  • Ivanka, his 35-year-old daughter, is an executive vice president at the Trump Organization but also owns her own company selling clothes and jewelry. Likewise, her husband, Jared Kushner, runs his own real estate and construction business.

Here’s a cheat-sheet of sorts on Trump’s holdings.

Over there

Trump has his name on hotels, residential towers and resorts around the globe, from South Korea and Indonesia in Asia to Uruguay in South America and Turkey in the Middle East.

In Indonesia, he struck a deal for use of his name and management services for a resort and residential building in Bali owed by the MNC Group, a real estate company run by a politically active businessman, Hary Tanoesoedibjo. In his May disclosure, Mr. Trump said he made between $1 million and $5 million in licensing fees for this deal in the prior 17 months, as well as for similar deals in Turkey, Panama, the Philippines and India.

His partner in the Philippines venture, E.B. Antonio, was just named a “special envoy” to the U.S. by his country’s president. Mr. Trump faced criticism after India’s Economic Times reported that he held a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan shortly after the election with business partners in one of two Indian ventures, two residential towers in Pune in the western part of the country.

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Donald Trump and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announce a Trump real estate project in Georgia, at the Trump Tower in New York, March 10, 2011.

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump Organization said before the election that it was looking to enter new countries. Several media outlets reported that Trump tried to speed along a project in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by mentioning it in congratulatory call from Argentine President Mauricio Macri. A Macri spokesman denied to The Associated Press that the subject even came up in the call.

Two other projects to watch: A complex of five office towers under development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that’s tied up in a corruption investigation unrelated to Trump himself and a stalled project in Baku, Azerbaijan, with the son of a government minister who -- leaked diplomatic cables alleged -- has ties with an Iranian money launderer.

Trump’s tax returns might shed more light on his businesses abroad, but he didn’t release them during the campaign, breaking decades of precedent. As president, he isn’t required to publish public financial disclosures until his second year in office.

Offices, condos, retail

Much of Mr. Trump’s wealth is in just four buildings, according to Forbes magazine, which has been tracking his holdings for 33 years. Three of them are in Manhattan -- a wholly owned office building on Wall Street and stakes in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and an office tower nearby in midtown -- and one is in San Francisco.

Forbes’ estimate for the four buildings, after subtracting debt on them owed by Trump: $1.5 billion, or 40 percent of the president-elect’s $3.7 billion total net worth. (Mr. Trump estimates his net worth at more than $10 billion and says the value of his brand name alone is nearly as much as the Forbes’ tally of everything.) 

Among many other properties, Mr. Trump also has investments in a Chicago hotel and one in Las Vegas and, of course, the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. In the case of the latter, he doesn’t own the building but rents it from the federal government.

Golf clubs

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Trump plays a stroke as he officially opens his new multi-million dollar Trump International Golf Links course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on July 10, 2012. 

Andy Buchanan/AFP/GettyImages

He has been busy adding to his portfolio of golf properties in recent years, and here he has been risking his own money by taking ownership stakes. It’s a bold bet. The golf business in general is suffering as membership in clubs has fallen.

The Trump Organization has 17 golf courses in total. They include three in Florida, as well as links in California, New Jersey and New York. In 2014, Trump completed deals for Ireland’s Doonbeg golf club and Scotland’s Turnberry resort, the site of several British Opens. He has also struck deals to open two clubs in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Eric Trump, the president-elect’s 32-year-old son in charge of the courses, told the AP last year they were doing “fantastically.” In his May disclosure, Trump reported $306 million in revenue from his courses, more than a third of that from the one in Doral, Florida.

Mr. Trump did not provide estimates of costs or profits from the courses, so it’s not clear how much they are bucking the industry trend, if at all.

Suits and sofas, wine and cologne

Don’t think your “Make American Great Again” hat is quite enough? Not to worry.

You can wear Trump suits and ties, cufflinks and eyeglasses. You can dab yourself with “Success by Trump,” a cologne that, his website advertises, contains hints of coriander and musk.

You can drink Trump Natural Spring Water or Trump wine from his vineyard in Virginia. You can do that in a Trump chair, next to your Trump sofa and sideboard, while reading “Crippled America,” one of his many books.

Mr. Trump reported that the books alone generated between $1 million and $5 million in income over the 17 months prior to the May disclosure.

Other ventures aren’t faring as well. The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, the new name of Trump University, a real estate seminar firm, reported $13,000 in income in the May disclosure. Mr. Trump announced last month that he would pay $25 million to settle three lawsuits alleging fraud at the school, but he says he did nothing wrong.