Photograph by Ken Gabrielson
Dan Scavino was a Yorktown High School student just trying to earn some extra cash when he took a job at Westchester’s Briar Hall Country Club in 1990. “I worked in the bag room, cleaned the golf clubs, and caddied on weekends,” he recalls. Then one day, “Donald Trump pulled up in a limo, got out and bought the club. I was like, ‘Wow — what’s he doing up here?’ ” Fast-forward 19 years and Scavino is still standing on the same golf course — but now it seems that everybody is saying “wow” about him. Currently the executive V.P. and general manager of the five-star Trump National Golf Club, Scavino, 34, now chats with the Donald every day, jets around with him on his private plane, and seems to have Trump’s complete confidence when it comes to keeping an eye on the mogul’s ever-growing golf empire. Others are noticing, too. Scavino was named one of 40 Under 40 rising stars last year by the Greater Southern Dutchess Chamber of Commerce; in the May 2009 issue of Golf Inc. magazine, he was recognized as one of the world’s “Most Admired [Club] Operators.” Happily, Scavino doesn’t expect to be hearing the words “you’re fired” anytime soon. He tells us about his meteoric rise.
How did you end up back at the Trump organization?
Well, I worked there all through college [at SUNY Plattsburgh], too. After I graduated I worked at the Coca-Cola organization for four years, where I was promoted three times, then in pharmaceuticals. But I always wanted to get back to the golf world. In January 2004, I became the assistant manager of the golf course.
Was Donald glad to see you again?
Well, I told him the story of how I used to caddy for him, and he only sort of remembered me.
So, you oversee the club in Westchester, and now you’re also involved with some of his other clubs?
Yes, I’m very involved in our new golf course in New Jersey and we also have a new club in D.C. In the winter I travel with Mr. Trump pretty much every other weekend down to Florida, stay at his Mar-a-Lago resort, oversee the golf club in Palm Beach. I fly back with him on Sunday nights.
Do you fly in his private plane?
It’s the same one you see on The Apprentice; it gets us down to Florida in about two hours. It’s probably the coolest private plane I’ve ever been on, not that I’ve been on that many. It’s decked out with conference tables and chairs and couches, you name it.
It sounds like you have a hectic schedule.
Yeah, in the summers I work six to seven days a week, 80 to 90 hours, easily. Then in the winter, it’s down to Florida on the weekends.
You must have a pretty patient wife.
Jen is great. She works part-time and is home with our two boys, Ethan, who is two and Justin, who is one. And my family is welcome down in Florida whenever they want to come. We also have two Portuguese water dogs.
So do you still get nervous around Donald?
At first I was awestruck by him. But all these years later, dealing with the likes of Joe Torre, who I’ve become very good friends with, and Bill Clinton who comes up all the time... Billy Crystal, Bloomberg, Shaquille O’Neal, it goes on and on. But none of that stuff really fazes you anymore. I look at Donald as my boss. It just happens that my boss happens to be a trademark.
What’s Clinton like?
He is one of the most unbelievable people I’ve ever met, as far as charisma. He has a tremendous personality and he’ll play with anybody. He plays with Donald and he too loves the game of golf. He always claims that this is his favorite golf course and he knows every nook and cranny of it.
If you play golf with Donald, do you have to let him win?
No, he would kill me anyway. He’s a very good golfer. He’s about a five handicap, while I’m about a 12 handicap, so I have no chance. But he’s a lot of fun out there.
Are you at all like Donald?
That’s funny, my wife and some of my employees sometimes say, ‘You sound like Donald.’ I just have a passion of wanting to succeed. He just has this karma that rubs off on you, this positive energy of everything is great and it truly is.
Does Donald act like he does on The Apprentice?
Yeah, he’s pretty right on. You see his caring side, his funny side and his serious side — where if something pisses him off, he’s going to let you know it. I’ve had those experiences as well. If you do something great, he’ll let you know. Positive reinforcement. If you do something the wrong way, he certainly has his own ways of letting you know that, too. It’s part of the territory, but he’s been great to me all these years.
Do you watch the show?
Oh yeah, I watch it all the time. When I talk to him on Monday, I want to know what I’m talking about. We have Apprentice nights here at the club. We get a couple hundred people who come to watch The Apprentice here; the members love it.
Where did your work ethic come from?
I thank my parents for it. My father was a teacher at Mahopac High School for 30 years and my mother stayed at home. They gave me a lot of positive reinforcement.
Do you play any other sports?
Just golf. I would love to still play lacrosse in a summer league, but my schedule just doesn’t allow it.
So do you ever get away from golf?
Well, I live on Beekman Golf Course [in Hopewell Junction]. When I pull into my driveway, there is a tee box to my left, a green to my right. From the porch, you see the sixth hole. I love it.
This sounds like a dream job.
It is. Not one day is the same. It is grueling, but exciting. Every morning I get up and I still love to go to work. I love working for Donald — he keeps you on your toes. You don’t know where you are going to be, what call you’re going to get. He’s an unbelievable leader and this is an unbelievable job. I’m so fortunate to have it.