Playing the Trump Card

Stefanie Schaeffer capitalizes on the opportunities after winning The Apprentice

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Palm Springs High School graduate Stefanie Schaeffer (class of 1992) speaks rhapsodically about the tallest residential building in Las Vegas, which welcomed its first occupants on March 31. “It’s 64 stories encased in 24-karat [gilded] gold glass, and it’s gorgeous,” Schaeffer says. “It looks like a jewel in the middle of the skyline.”

Since April 2007, the winner of Donald Trump’s 2006-2007 season of The Apprentice has served as vice president of sales and marketing for the Trump International Tower under a contract that came with her win on the reality show. She chose working on Trump’s Cap Cana hotel/apartment/golf course development in the Dominican Republic over a high rise in Atlanta, Ga., and then asked for an additional assignment — one that involved the subject of one of The Apprentice tasks.

“I fell in love with the Las Vegas project during the filming,” says Schaeffer, who spends half of every week in Las Vegas and the rest of her time in her hometown of Oak Park — that is, when she isn’t jetting to the Dominican Republic (“as Mr. Trump sees fit”) or to New York to attend meetings or update The Donald on the progress of the projects. (Incidentally, she never calls him anything but “Mr. Trump,” saying, “I think it’s more respectful.”)

“I work pretty much 24/7,” Schaeffer says. “I am working to market the Las Vegas project in California to different real estate companies and brokerage firms. I speak professionally about the Trump Organization and the Las Vegas project while in California to entice buyers from other areas beyond just the Las Vegas locals.”

Despite the long hours, Schaeffer never considered asking for a vacation during her yearlong contract. “If I decide to go away and go skiing for a weekend, I am able to do that,” she says, and then adds, “Your vacation is when you go to sleep at night and when your phone stops ringing — if it stops.”

Schaeffer not only speaks as a representative of the Trump Organization, but also as a motivational speaker at charity functions, commencement ceremonies, and meetings of women’s groups.

“I enjoy sharing the message about the importance of perseverance and a positive attitude in business — not only in business though, but in life as well,” she says. In fact, she has developed her own program called Strut Your Stuff that “focuses on techniques that help you balance your personal and professional life.” That includes healthy eating, skin care, and, she notes, “etiquette, which I think is something really forgotten in today’s society — the basics, like being nice.”

Whether or not it’s proper etiquette, the question she gets asked most often is whether Trump’s hair is real. “It is absolutely real,” she affirms. “It is his hair, and he loves it.”

The Strut Your Stuff concept came to her after she made appearances as The Apprentice winner. “I had requests for a book,” Schaeffer says, adding that the American Cancer Society asked to purchase books to pass out copies to 2,000 at its May meeting in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, there is no book — yet.

As for how to achieve the balance she espouses, she says, “I think it’s important to make time in your day that gives you pleasure — if that means 10 minutes of going to your favorite coffee shop and buying a cup of espresso or 30 minutes on the treadmill or sitting outside in the sun and reading a couple of magazine articles, you have to find your little bits of pleasure throughout the day and infuse them into your day.” Schaeffer labels these “catnaps of pleasure.”

Previously a Los Angeles lawyer defending worker’s compensation cases, Schaeffer actually took a pay cut to work as Trump’s apprentice at a salary of $250,000. And she had to take a more humble position in the organizational structure, winning over those already working on Trump’s projects.

“It’s about jumping in and being a team player and not going into it feeling it’s an entitlement,” she says. “The onus is on me coming in and making myself part of the team. It’s about being nice. It’s about being professional. My attitude is I can always learn something from every single person I encounter,” she says, then adds, “and maybe [I can] teach or give something back in some way. That attitude has never failed me.”

She claims Trump has never given her bad advice, but has given her a lot of good advice. “The best advice is something I already knew from my father, but that he reinforced: to be fearless unfailingly — to be fearless in everything you do and to have a very, very strong belief in yourself regardless of what other people say.”

As gruff as Donald (“You’re fired!”) Trump can be in The Apprentice boardroom, Schaeffer says he has never been rough with her. “I have never given him reason to be rough with me,” she says. “He is down to earth. He expects a lot, and I give him more than he expects. … I am very good at what I do.”

What has surprised her is how hands-on he is. “He is far more aware of the details of each and every one of his projects than I would have ever expected,” she says. “He has a very strong working knowledge of detailed information. I think it is because he is so interested in what he does.

It has been a pleasure to work with everyone from the Trump Organization, and they have made me feel a part of the family. I have a great working relationship with Don Jr., Eric, and Ivanka,” she says, referring to Trump’s children/employees. “It’s fun to work with really smart people.”

For all her enthusiasm about the Trump Organization and the Las Vegas project, she has no plans to buy one of the Trump International Tower condos, which sell for anywhere from $700,000 to $7 million. “If Mr. Trump would like to give me a condo at Trump International for 10 cents on the dollar, I would love to take one unit off his hands,” she says, clearly revealing that she has learned something from her negotiating-minded boss. “I would prefer to buy property in Palm Springs.”

Schaeffer spent a good deal of her youth in Palm Springs visiting her grandmother and then lived here from the beginning of middle school through high school. Her lawyer father, Peter Schaeffer, has an office on Tahquitz Canyon Way. She and her fiancé, worker’s compensation lawyer Paul Magdalin, are considering the purchase of a second home in Palm Springs — one on a golf course. Schaeffer, who grew up caddying for her father (“He was close to a scratch golfer”), became an avid golfer with — “on a good day” — a handicap of 28. She particularly likes playing at Mission Hills, PGA West, and the Mountain Course at La Quinta Resort & Club. She concentrated on tennis in high school, playing on the varsity team, but returned to golf three years ago to participate with her law firm in charity tournaments.

In March, Schaeffer played in the pro-am tournament of the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills. “That’s the biggest one I have ever been in, but they don’t get much bigger,” she says. “It’s one of the Majors, so I consider that the top of the line.” Despite her inherent confidence in herself, she admitted before the tournament that, although she was “out-of-my-mind excited about it,” she was a bit nervous at the prospect of golfing next to a big-name professional. “That’s a little intimidating,” she said. “I am expecting a lot of myself in the Nabisco.”

In addition to golf courses, Schaeffer’s favorite places in the desert are Tahquitz Canyon for its waterfall, The River at Rancho Mirage for its hustle and bustle, El Paseo for its galleries, Le Vallauris for its wine list, and Bristol Farms for its matzo ball soup.

She and Magdalin, who are planning a late 2008 wedding, have been considering Carmel, Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara for the ceremony; but, she notes, “It could be Palm Springs if we have our home by then. Do they have wineries here?”

Schaeffer’s contract with the Trump organization ended April 23, but the man at the top asked her to stay. She’s weighing many options that have arisen as the result of her newfound celebrity, including those that involve her favored pastime of golf.

“There are several opportunities. You might see me on television,” she says. Then, she reconsiders her words. “You are likely to see me on television.”

This time, of course, she won’t be an apprentice.

Dose of Reality TV

Win, lose, or draw, Stefanie Schaeffer says, she would repeat The Apprentice experience again — as tough as it was.

“What wasn’t tough about that show?” she asks rhetorically. “It’s entirely competitive, which for me is no problem. There was a large amount of backstabbing, which was fine, because I didn’t take part.”

The aspect of the show that was difficult for her was the penalty bestowed on the losing team each week: “Living outside in a tent with no electricity or running water. Living outside with no creature comforts and still having to be at the top of your game. Wearing a moldy suit, dirty heels, and the top of your head looking like it was done with an eggbeater. I believe I brushed my teeth with Heineken and Colgate on more than one occasion.”

The best part of the show, she says, was “the friends that I made along the way that I will be in touch with the rest of my life. Also, what I learned about myself. I realized that I am far stronger than I thought I ever was. That show taught me that I can withstand anything.”

A Charitable Heart

Since winning The Apprentice, Stefanie Schaeffer has filled her calendar with speaking engagements. In May, she gave the keynote address at the annual American Cancer Society meeting in Los Angeles. But she has been involved with the charity for years.

“My mother was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at 46,” she says. “It was the Cancer Society that provided support. I feel like I owe my mother’s life to the Cancer Society, so I pledged I would forever be involved with them and do whatever I could to help people become aware of the risks and how early prevention can prevent death.”

Among her activities with the ACS, Schaeffer takes teddy bears to the chemotherapy ward at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. She has a soft spot in her heart for children.

“Anything with children that helps give them a fighting chance and the tools to succeed,” she says, “that is something I will never turn away from.”

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