NEW YORK -- Two dozen of Donald Trump's top advisers were seated around a conference table on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, debating strategy for a multibillion-dollar development project. Suddenly, Blanche Sprague, the most fiery of Trump's executives, erupted at her boss -- cursing him and storming out of the room, leaving the others stunned. When Trump phoned her office, Sprague explained that a close friend had died, and vowed to apologize for her outburst at the next meeting. "No, no, I don't want you to do that," Trump insisted to the hard-driving Sprague, who sells his condominiums and often plays the role of hatchet man. "For someone like you to do that might break your spirit, and I don't want to do anything to break that." The approach was the essence of Trump the Manager. Although he often appears to rank among the most brash and egomaniacal of executives -- a virtual one-man show -- the flamboyant deal maker depends heavily on a hand-picked team of key advisers and managers, associates say. He knows what makes them tick, how to motivate and manipulate them, and what they can and can't do well. Although they credit him for most ideas, the team members have helped him create and operate a remarkably successful and diverse $3 billion-plus empire -- ranging from casino-hotels, condominium towers and an airline to a bicycle race, a best-selling book and a board game. They help turn Trump's visions and deals into reality and perpetuate an image that admirers see as personifying the American Dream and critics see as a Capitalist Nightmare. They protect him from the most far-fetched of ideas and prevent some plans from crashing in flames. The Trump Organization, which began in the early 1970s but has grown rapidly since 1980, includes his patient younger brother, who terms himself the "plow horse" of the team; a shrewd and cautious negotiator whose previous employer was wildly successful before its fortunes plunged; and two former city commissioners with valuable contacts in government and law. It includes his wife, Ivana, who is president of the Plaza Hotel, and three other very strong-willed women, among them one of the few female construction supervisors in the industry. "I have found in many cases {women} are more effective than a man would be," Trump said. "They're very dedicated to showing me that they can do it." Crucial to the mix is Trump's executive assistant, Norma Foerderer, a former foreign-service aide in Tunisia and Uganda, who calms him down, pumps him up and edits his anger. Foerderer is Trump's scheduler, press handler, social coordinator, sounding board and confidential critic. She supervises the screening of thousands of letters and phone calls each week -- including offers of oil wells, marriage, wineries in Portugal, a sheep farm in New Zealand and requests for money. According to many of his executives, Trump's cult of personality -- more than anything he learned at the Wharton School of Business -- is key to the success and style of the organization. "He finds talented people, and he brings out the best in them and also the worst," said Louise M. Sunshine, a developer who worked with Trump for a dozen years. Sunshine left after a fierce dispute, becoming the only top executive to leave the organization and not return. "You become very single-minded," she said. "All the rest of your life falls away. He totally absorbs you." The touch of Trump's managers and advisers often is invisible to the public but nonetheless helps shape his image and empire. Sprague, the Trump executive vice president who is criticized by associates as antagonistic, co-wrote Trump's controversial "death penalty" newspaper ad -- saying muggers and murderers should be hated and made to suffer rather than psychoanalyzed -- after a woman jogger was attacked in Central Park in April. "That's why the ad was so mean," a Trump adviser said. Although the casino-hotels in Atlantic City and the Trump Shuttle have their own corporate structures, the organization's executive team is surprisingly small. Most of them earn six-figure annual salaries, with a few, including executive vice president Harvey I. Freeman and casino-hotel chief executive Stephen Hyde, topping $1 million. Trump keeps a close eye on the executives, echoing a hands-on management style that his father displayed as a builder, owner and manager of thousands of rent-controlled apartments in Brooklyn and Queens. Executives say Trump gives them plenty of room to maneuver, but he personally signs hundreds of checks a week, reviews about 100 documents, often phones the same people that his managers will be calling that day and repeatedly quizzes the managers about details of projects. Many associates praise Trump's style as entrepreneurial and inspiring, some find it overbearing and overwhelming, and a few say it can't survive the empire's phenomenal growth. Soon, more than 17,000 people will be on the payroll. "In the spirit of a benevolent despot, he has created a very exciting, very challenging work climate that gives senior executives a great deal of latitude, a great deal of responsibility, but in a framework where no one is operating under any misapprehensions about where the buck starts and where the buck stops," said James F. Capalino, a former New York City general services commissioner who is Trump's development and government-relations consultant. For Bruce Nobles, a devoutly corporate-type executive who is president of the Trump Shuttle, entry into the maze of tiny executive offices that fill Trump Tower's 26th floor and part of the 24th floor was a sharp contrast to former jobs at American, Pan Am and Continental airlines. "It surprised me as to how much of a family type operation it was, instead of a business kind of orientation where there is a structure and there is a chain of command and there is a delegation of authority and responsibility," Nobles recalled. "As the organization gets bigger, and it seems to be getting bigger all the time, he'll have to do a better job of actually managing the place as opposed to making deals." Just this month, Trump managers have helped work on the possible purchase of a stake in Tiffany's, a possible Trump baseball team and new league, a decision on a tower for the Lexington Avenue site of Alexander's department store and a planned TV game show. If Nobles is the most puzzled by the Trump style, the executive most vociferously dedicated to Trump is Sprague. "If you asked me what stands out most about me, it is that I am the most anal neurotic perfectionist you will ever meet," said the fast-talking Sprague, explaining her skill in creating and selling multimillion-dollar apartments and in pleasing Trump. "But he's even worse. And I understand exactly what he wants. He doesn't have to tell me." Sprague, 41, regularly launches into tirades with contractors and threatens them with anything from financial ruin to violence to get work done to Trump's standards of glitz and polish. "I am willing to risk going to jail for murder to get a contractor to give it to me," Sprague said. "And they know that." Irving Fischer, chairman of HRH Construction, which builds many of Trump's projects, said, "A lot of people find her very tough to deal with. They say she is being unreasonable. But she is not. She is knowledgeable, as opposed to someone who just makes demands without understanding the process." As much as Sprague is the most volatile of the top executives, Harvey Freeman is the most controlled. Freeman and Donald's brother, Robert, are Trump's two top inside advisers. They sit on the Shuttle board of directors in New York, finalize casino deals and oversee design, construction and operations in Atlantic City. Freeman, 51, a negotiator, strategist and investment adviser, is the most cautious of the bunch. He learned his conservative approach by witnessing what happens when things go bad. Before joining the Trump Organization, Freeman was with Arlen Realty & Development Corp. from 1965 to 1980, becoming senior vice president at the firm led by high-flyer Arthur G. Cohen. Arlen's fortunes soared to a peak of $2 billion in assets, and then sank after Arlen bought the ailing E.J. Korvette's retail store chain and fell on hard times in the real estate industry. "The experience of coming on a recession in the real estate business has left me with a good deal of caution, and a good deal of knowledge about conservatism and the need for good management," Freeman said. Freeman screens five to 10 potential deals a week, including casino-hotels in the Caribbean and Europe, office buildings, land offers, airlines, entertainment companies, real estate funds, sports promotions and television shows. A pile on his desk recently included snapshots of a casino-hotel in Aruba. Freeman, who is known for a dry sense of humor, was a key negotiator of Trump's $365 million purchase of the Eastern Shuttle and led negotiations of the deal in which Merv Griffin bought Resorts International and sold Trump the uncompleted Taj Mahal casino-hotel in Atlantic City. "His ego doesn't get in the way of making a deal," said Kenneth W. Pavia, a negotiator on the Griffin team. "That's critical, especially when you're dealing with other people who have egos." Freeman plays a key role in finding the downside to potential projects. "One of my roles is to not get caught up in the enthusiasm to the extent that everyone else does -- to find the pitfalls as well," Freeman said recently. He is one of the team members who regularly challenge Trump -- and sometimes prevent disasters. Freeman often joins with longtime Trump adviser Gerald Schrager, a lawyer at Dreyer & Traub who has handled dozens of Trump deals, as they play grand inquisitors, asking tough questions about potential projects before Donald, who also may turn to Robert for his opinion, makes the final decision. For example, when Trump wanted to buy the New York Daily News newspaper several years ago, Freeman, Schrager and Robert Trump advised against it for economic reasons, and he "acceded to our joint wisdom," Schrager said. Trump rejected their advice in buying what is now the successful Trump's Castle in Atlantic City and in keeping the former Barbizon Plaza Hotel to create condos instead of selling it for a $45 million profit. Robert Trump and Harvey Freeman, along with groups of Trump lawyers and negotiators, present a formidable team. The pair helped Donald supervise creation of Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, which vies with Caesars to be the top revenue-producing casino-hotel in Atlantic City. And in the Griffin negotiations, several opposition lawyers said they grew to respect Freeman and almost fear the fierceness of the team. "They are as hard-nosed and cold-blooded as you'll find," said Morris Orens, a chief negotiator on Griffin's team, "so they don't let a lot of things get in the way." Robert's demeanor contrasts sharply with his brother's impetuousness. "Robert is far more patient with people than I am, which I consider a great asset," Donald said. When the Griffin talks turned into shouting matches between Trump negotiators, led by Freeman, and Griffin negotiators, led by Thomas Gallagher, it was another Trump executive vice president, Susan M. Heilbron, who stepped in and saved the talks from collapse. Known for her candor and personable nature, Heilbron made friends with Gallagher and held telephone conversations into the night with him after the blowups, trying to find common ground on issues ranging from who would get which boardwalk billboards to differences of tens of millions of dollars in prices. The next day, she would do the same with Freeman. "Susan was the only one we felt had credibility," Orens said. "She was always genuine and tried hard to make things work. I think she took a lot of heat for that from Trump's office." Heilbron, 44, a former New York City ports and terminals commissioner who quit after trying unsuccessfully to disband and merge the agency with two others for efficiency, supervises Trump's federal regulatory matters and his litigation. That often involves dozens of lawsuits filed by him or against him, including many over the use of the Trump name. She also has become one of Trump's key conciliators. "She is very unusual in that she is a lawyer who has a tremendous sense of people, and I find that very few lawyers have that sense of people," Trump said of Heilbron, who was senior vice president of the state Urban Development Corp. from 1984 to 1986. "Susan is always in a position where the people on the other side can talk to her, even it if would be impossible for them to speak to me or someone else." Trump has other conciliators, as well as disrupters on his team. Anthony Gliedman -- another Trump executive vice president and a former city commissioner -- played the role of peacemaker in one of Trump's most bitter and embarrassing disputes -- the battle of 100 Central Park S. Trump tried for years to evict rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants at the building, which he wanted to gut and combine with the former Barbizon Plaza Hotel next door to create luxury condominiums. Once Trump decided he would give up the eviction fight, Trump sent in Heilbron and Gliedman. Heilbron was able to soothe the tenants; Gliedman advised dropping some of Trump's overly combative representatives. The pair was able to negotiate a settlement with the tenants, who praised them. "Tony succeeded in convincing us and the tenants of Trump's good faith," said David Rozenholc, the tenants' lawyer. Although none of the top executives -- not even Sunshine -- has stopped being a Trump ally, some started as his adversaries before they were hired. "I like to hire people that I've seen in action," Trump said. "I often hire people that were on the opposing side of a deal that I respect." He hired Gliedman after the two had a stormy, drawn-out battle over a tax abatement worth more than $25 million for Trump Tower, the dark-glass building on Fifth Avenue next to Tiffany's. Gliedman, as city housing commissioner, said the building should not get the break. Trump, who at one point reportedly warned that he would never forget what Gliedman had done, sued and won. "It was one of the most unhappy moments in my life," recalls Gliedman, 47. Two years later, in January 1986, Trump invited Gliedman to a restaurant in Little Italy, where Gliedman insisted on treating, and Trump asked him to join the organization, possibly to work on Trump City. Gliedman's first task was to oversee rebuilding the Wollman skating rink in Central Park after Trump promised to do within a few months what the city had failed to do in six years. When Gliedman chose a key contractor and Trump immediately agreed, Gliedman was stunned. "In 20 years of government, no one had said yes to me without conditions before," recalls the soft-spoken Gliedman, who also had been a labor negotiator and ports commissioner while at City Hall. "It was a very liberating experience." He described Trump as "one of the very few people in New York City who can get things done." Since then, Gliedman has used his contacts and negotiating ability to wend many projects through the maze of government and regulatory bureaucracies, unions and community groups, including the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which approved an additional floor of rooms on top of the Plaza Hotel. He also has tried to get his current boss, Trump, and his former boss, Mayor Edward I. Koch, to settle their feud. "Tony is, by nature, a mediator," said Henry J. Stern, city parks and recreation commissioner. "He wants people to get along." Trump said, "Tony has a tremendous sense and a feel for the politics of what's going on. Politicians even call Tony to ask him his opinion on where they should stand on certain issues -- unrelated to Trump, issues that would have nothing to do with me -- because he has developed a tremendous respect as to judgment, he's got great judgment." Among Gliedman's close contacts are Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins, whom Gliedman supported in his successful bid for the Democratic mayoral nomination over Koch. Trump has backed former U.S. attorney Rudolph Giuliani, the Republican nominee.