- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

Season 3 of Donald Trump’s NBC reality show The Apprentice has just begun. And already, we know we will learn more this season than last. Why? Because the brilliant story line—pitting street-smart entrepreneurial high school grads against college thoroughbreds —makes all of us, no matter how sports phobic, pick sides and start rooting. Imagine, a 9-on-9 made-for-TV battle royal to decide whether a college education is worth it. This is a question that all of us (especially those paying college loans) desperately want answered.

And here is the bottom line: if episode 1’s result is any indicator, it is time to put education on the back burner. In this, the sell-a-specialty-burger-for-Burger-King contest, the high schoolers soundly defeated the college kids. For his poor leadership, the college grad team leader, 34-year-old University of Miami alum Todd, got the Trump-A-Dump. He got sent from the suite to the street for two failures: an awfully bad burger promotion and training too few cashiers to serve the mealtime rush. But lucky for us, by the way he got grilled and eaten for lunch by the diploma-challenged team, Todd and his educated group gave us plenty of lessons to use on our jobs.

Episode Update.

Donald Trump set the stage by dividing the 9 women and 9 men into 2 groups: those with a college degree and those without. Then he surprised us by noting that the high school grads earned 3 times as much as the collegiates. So the diploma-free gang took Trump’s tally to heart and named themselves NetWorth, while the 4 women and 5 men with pigskins decided to call themselves Magna (after the college name for first-in-class, Magna Cum Laude).

Episode 1 featured the two teams running separate Manhattan Burger King stores for a day. The winner was the team who sold the most of a featured burger, which each team picked from a group of the fast food chain’s new flavors. Winning team NetWorth, headed by technology entrepreneur John, chose the Western Angus burger and used a cowboy theme and free trip for two to Las Vegas to outsell Magna by 182 burgers to 139. Losers Magna, by contrast, chose the Triple Cheese Angus burger and struck out with a “triple play” baseball-like theme that was ill-conceived and even less well executed by Todd and this season’s wacky guy, Danny, who designated himself “Marketing Vice President and Chief Morale Officer”. Winners NetWorth earned dinner in the exclusive wine cellar of New York’s ultra-chic 21 Club with Donald and Melania. Meanwhile, losing project manager Todd brought Alex and guitar-playing Danny into the Board Room with him to face The Donald. Nearly all firing fingers pointed at Danny for his embarrassingly bad burger promotion. But the only finger that counts, Donald Trump’s, pointed at Todd for his utter lack of leadership. Todd won the dubious distinction of being the season’s first candidate to hear “You’re Fired!” Now Todd must wait the longest, locked under around-the-clock surveillance (albeit with 24 by 7 access to hotel room service), until the final episode airs in 15 weeks. Oh, the agony of defeat.

Lessons Learned.

Lesson 1.

A great story line is your greatest asset.

Season 2’s ratings were lower than Season 1’s for one simple reason: Season 2 lacked a compelling story. Season 3’s “street smarts vs. book smarts” theme, however, connects with everyone. We all, whether we lack a diploma or have several, relate to this season’s theme. This story will put The Apprentice back on peoples’ minds at work once again. For you, the lesson is this: If you are not connecting with your customers, maybe it is time to update your story.

Lesson 2.

By not having enough cashiers, the Magna team was unable to achieve their one and only goal…selling burgers. Even though the cardboard baseball promotion was cheesy, lunchtime will bring you in customers regardless and without the ability to process their transactions then you have failed. Their lack of attention to actual point-of-sale cost is a telling sign that their academic training of theory may not play in the real world.

Lesson 3.

Leadership is not taught in a book.

The Donald learned leadership not from his Wharton School degree, but from his hardscrabble father Fred Trump, who owned low-end buildings in New York City’s five boroughs. Later, Donald Trump wrote the bestseller The Art Of The Deal, but none of its lessons came from the classroom. The leadership lesson of Season 3 may just be that the street may be a better teacher than America’s highly-touted and high-priced colleges. Stay tuned.

Jay Whitehead is America’s most-read, most-watched and most-listened-to expert on workstyles and careers. Email your questions and comments to [email protected]

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