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Trump's right hand a star in own right.

When Rhona Graff-Riccio, executive assistant to "The Donald," walked into an employment office 17 years ago, she had no idea that her career would lead to a part on the number one-rated television show, The Apprentice.

In January of 2004, Graff's boss, Donald J. Trump, joined forces with Mark Burnett Productions and NBC to produce and star in the television reality show.

Not only does Graff have a role on The Apprentice, but she also works with the producers of the show to initiate and coordinate the task assignments and rewards for the show's wannabe apprentices.

"It's funny how life has a strange way of leading you on a path and you really don't know where you are going to end up," said Graff, who still refers to her boss as Mr. Trump. "Did I ever think I would be on a number one television show? Absolutely not. From what I understand, they will be using me a lot more in season two."

Graff worked several years in sports marketing and was president of a sports marketing company. The job involved a lot of travel and, when her mother fell ill in the mid-eighties, she decided it was too much to juggle.

In 1987, she went to an employment agency. "They said the only thing they had open was a secretarial position. I said I had never really been a secretary. I always had my own rolodex, my own appointment book. I am used to doing my own thing," said Graff, who holds a master's degree in education and psychology from Queens College.

Then they told her the job was working for Donald Trump.

"So I said, 'Now that's interesting.' I've never done this before, but he's somebody I admire and have a huge amount of respect for and I think I can learn a lot from him. It would be a fascinating job."

Her first meeting with Mr. Trump went well.

"He makes quick decisions and he gets a feel from you initially whether he likes you or not. And he said 'Okay, we'll give you a shot,'" she said. "So I think he really took a chance on me, because, like I said, I never worked in a quote unquote secretarial position before."

She was a little awestruck at first.

"It was very tough in the beginning," she said. "I was a little intimidated by him. I think anyone naturally would be. But I became comfortable in the job and he began to trust me more. And here I am, 17 years later."

Mr. Trump obviously does not regret his decision.

"Rhona has been with me a long time and I know I can rely on her judgment, as well as her skills. She is bright, articulate, extremely efficient and has proven herself to be responsible and loyal on every level," he said. "I consider her to be an integral part of The Trump Organization."

Her duties for Mr. Trump include coordinating and scheduling his meetings, screening his phone calls, handling his correspondence, arranging his travel itinerary, organizing and spearheading The Trump Organization's special events, including political fundraisers, acting as a liaison with members of the media, arranging and coordinating interviews and photo shoots, editing and disseminating news releases, communicating and acting as liaison with the heads and support staff of all The Trump Organization subsidiary companies, as well as with a variety of movers and shakers in the business world, the political realm, the sports arena, and the media and entertainment fields.

One of her primary responsibilities is fielding calls for Mr. Trump. Not every caller gets through to Graff, however.

"Our first line of defense is our main switchboard," she said. "Those ladies have a very, very tough job because of who he is. We get thousands of phone calls an hour. The phone literally does not stop ringing. I'm not the only person who works here. This is a team effort."

But there is that occasional fluke caller that gets through.

"We had somebody call impersonating Al Pacino," Graff said. "He was very good. Mr. Trump does meet a lot of celebrities and you don't always know--it could very well be that person."

"So when the receptionist said Al Pacino, I took it," she continued. "As it turned out, it was not Al Pacino. It did get as far as Mr. Trump and he even said [the caller] was really good."

To ensure that callers are who they say they are, The Trump Organization has developed a system.

"Sometimes, if Mr. Trump wants someone to speak to me, he gives them a code," she said. "My name is out there and anybody can ask for me, but there's a little code name that I know that's its okay to set this meeting up or to go further. It helps, it definitely helps." Working for The Trump Organization, Graff has met some very high profile people.

"The most interesting part of the job is I never know who I am going to meet," she said. "I do have the opportunity to meet an array of people from the media, from movies and television to the highest level of people in business and politics. That's fascinating."

She is also Mr. Trump's intermediary and tries her best to ensure every caller is treated fairly.

"I know I am a means to an end," she said. "Everybody knows in order to get through to him they have to go through me, so they are always on their best behavior. I'm never rude to anybody unless they are really insistent. I really try to be gracious to everybody and make an effort to make them feel that they are being heard. "

With Mr. Trump on the road to tend to his myriad of projects and business dealings, Graff handles the communications for many of his business transactions.

"You are dealing with some very important people in this city on some very important issues and projects," she said. "And there is a certain way he likes things done. You have to have a certain style when dealing with people and he wants to know whether you can get the job done and do it properly."

Graff enjoys her job working for "The Donald."

"The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I've done a good job for Mr. Trump and that he is happy with what I have done in representing him well. If he's happy with what I've done for him, I feel rewarded."

"Getting a 'Good Job' from him really makes your day. And he's careful with his compliments."
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Title Annotation:Construction & Design
Author:Nelson, Barbara
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 4, 2004
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