During his most free-wheeling speech in months to the Boy Scouts of America’s National Jamboree in West Virginia, President Donald Trump told a story about wealthy real-estate developer William Levitt.
The anecdote started out as a lesson about dedicating yourself to your work, but then it devolved into a story about a cocktail party attended by “the hottest people in New York.”
“If you love what you do and dedicate yourself to your work, then you will gain momentum, and look — you have to, you need to,” Trump began. “The word momentum — you will gain that momentum, and each success will create another success. The word momentum.”
Trump then pivoted to telling a story about Levitt and how he became a successful homebuilder through the merits of hard work.
“At night he’d go to these major sites with teams of people and he’d scour the sites for nails and sawdust and small pieces of wood,” he said. “And they’d clean the site so when the workers came in the next morning, the sites would be spotless and clean, and he did it properly. And he did this for 20 years, and then he was offered a lot of money for his company.”
Trump talked about how Levitt sold his company “for a tremendous amount of money” and “went out and bought a big yacht.”
“He had a very interesting life,” Trump said. “I won’t go any more than that because you’re Boy Scouts, so I’m not going to tell you what he did.”
The crowd groaned.
“Should I tell you? Should I tell you?” Trump asked.
The crowd responded with an enthusiastic “yes.”
“Oh, you’re Boy Scouts, but you know life,” Trump said. “You know life.”
Trump then continued his story about Levitt, talking about how the conglomerate that bought Levitt’s company “didn’t know anything about building homes” or “picking up the nails and the sawdust and selling it — and the scraps of wood.”
The conglomerate lost a lot of money on Levitt’s company, Trump said, and then asked Levitt if he wanted to buy it back.
“He so badly wanted it, he got bored with this life of yachts and sailing and all of the things he did in the south of France and other places,” Trump said. “You won’t get bored, right? You know, truthfully, you’re workers. You’ll get bored too. Believe me. Of course, having a good few years like that isn’t so bad.”
Trump talked about how Levitt “failed badly” after he bought back his company, and then he went on to detail a cocktail party.
“I saw him at a cocktail party, and it was very sad because the hottest people in New York were at this party,” Trump said. “It was the party of Steve Ross who was one of the great people — he came up and discovered — really founded — Time Warner, and he was a great guy. He had a lot of successful people at the party. And I was doing well so I got invited to the party.”
He continued: “I was very young, and I go in — but I’m in the real estate business — and I see 100 people, some of whom I recognise and they’re big in the entertainment business. And I see, sitting in the corner, was a little old man who was all by himself. Nobody was talking to him. I immediately recognised that that man was the once great William Levitt of Levittown, and I immediately went over — I wanted to talk to him more than the Hollywood show business communications people.”
Levitt recognised Trump and told him how bad he was doing with his business, Trump said. When Trump asked what happened, he said Levitt told him that he lost his momentum.
“I’ll tell you, it was very sad, and I never forgot that moment,” Trump said. “And I thought about it, and it’s exactly true. He lost his momentum. Meaning, he took this period of time off long — years — and then when he got back, he didn’t have that same momentum.”
Trump ended the story with a lesson.
“The big thing: Never quit. Never give up. Do something you love,” Trump said. “When you do something you love — as a Scout I see that you love it. But when you do something that you love you’ll never fail.”
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