Louth man who saved Donald Trump $9m thrust into spotlight by Paris Hilton

A Co Louth man who quietly rubs shoulders with the world's elite, was thrust into the spotlight by Paris Hilton when she shared his picture with her 43 million followers.

Despite rubbing shoulders with rich and famous, Nigel McKenna believes it's hugely important that he always remembers his roots back in Kilkerley, where he used to pick strawberries and potatoes for pocket money.

Now he works as the executive estate manager for one of the world's richest men - billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, and meets presidents, royalty and celebrities as part of his job.

One of a family of 17 children, Nigel lost his dad in a car accident when he was only seven years old and was reared by his mum Kathleen who worked hard to give them everything they needed.

"I used to wear socks as gloves out picking potatoes and I remember looking up at the aeroplanes thinking that someday I'd be on one too," he said.

"I was 20 when I went to New York and started work in a coffee shop near Wall Street. One day, while serving coffee to a young man who had his feet up on a table, I asked him 'would you do that at home.'

"He looked at me, laughed and said 'you're right. You're as Irish as they come.' That man was JFK Junior."

Nigel McKenna
Nigel McKenna

'Smart enough to hire someone smarter than you'

Hardworking McKenna worked all hours making coffee, cleaning apartments and undertaking handyman jobs until heading for France.

After a stint managing different hotel operations at EuroDisney in France, Nigel secured a green card and returned to New York with his new wife where he went back to night school to study finance and accountancy.

"I was working in the Hyatt Hotel when I first met Donald Trump.

"At the time he was being taxed by New York City occupancy tax for every guest he comped. The hotel tax liability with fines added up to over $10m, but I managed to get it down to $1m. Trump personally thanked me and made me the manager of the quarter.

"He told me: 'You don’t have to be the smartest man in the room, you just need to be smart enough to hire someone smarter than you.

"I then worked with entrepreneur, real estate developer and hotelier Ian Schrager for 11 years. I was his corporate controller, after I pointed out a $1m mistake on $20m project that they were working on.

"When Mr.Schrager heard that I discovered the mistake. His asked me to work for him personally and run his family office as his asset manager. If he wanted to buy a plane, I would have to find out how to buy a plane, how to manage a plane, how to manage a crew and all that goes with it."

Nigel with Paris Hilton
Nigel with Paris Hilton

'My secret is out!'

Now Nigel is working as the executive estate manager for one of the most influential men in the world - self-made billionaire Stephen Schwarzman.

The founder, chairman and CEO of the world's largest real estate company in the world Blackstown Group, Schwarzman also owns many companies including Merlin Entertainments (Legoland, Madame Tussauds) and Hilton Hotels as well as being an investor in the new Center Parc in Longford.

"I manage his residences all over the world, staff, plane and maritime. I fly thousands of miles each year around the world to make sure everything is ready ahead of his arrival," said Nigel.

"Naturally as the Executive Estate Manager, managing and overseeing special events is part of my job. I get to met presidents, prime ministers, royalty and celebrities, all while flying under the radar."

However, he was thrust into the public eye in December when Paris Hilton took his picture at a party and tweeted it to 43 million people.

"Now my secret is out," he laughed.

"I'm rubbing shoulders with the elite but I think it's very important that I never forget who I am and where I came from and that I'm thankful of the opportunities trusted to me in America that I would never have received at home.

"To me, I'm always going to be Nigel McKenna from Kilkerley. I start work each day like it is my first day on the job!”

Nigel, on a recent trip home.
Nigel, on a recent trip home.

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