Is this the Apprentice you really want?

anticipating the turkey
Creative Commons License photo credit: theilr

Trump surely came to a fork in the road during last night’s final episode of The Celebrity Apprentice.

A Morton’s fork to be exact. A Morton’s Fork is a situation where you have no good choices – but you have to make one anyway.

I don’t do much reality TV, but I do use the DVR to record the shows that contain instructive moments that I can pass along here, in the print newsletter and elsewhere.

The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice are two such shows. In every episode there is at least one useful observation that can be made, so there is almost always value enough to sacrifice 40 minutes of your life (assuming that you fast forward through the commercials on your DVR).

Not your normal Apprentice

This season has been painful to watch, even on the DVR.

The sometimes-ugly, always vocal victimhood dynamics of Joan Rivers and her daughter Melissa vs. some members of the rest of the team combined with the feisty gamesmanship that Annie Duke displayed were an interesting combination. Include the alcoholic situation with Rodman and the surprisingly spineless Jesse James (both of whom have a lot more under the hood – but failed to show it) and you end up with more entertainment than education.

Frankly, it started to approach the level of the intentional drama that other reality shows create and move away as a source of takeaways for business owners. I know that isn’t the reason for the show, but it’s why I even bother to watch it.

However there was a gem that paid off all season long and it should have been obvious:

This season was a lesson in leadership (or the lack thereof).

Here’s just a sample of the things that project leaders had to deal with:

  • Diversity. Dennis Rodman and Jesse James in the same room with Joan Rivers? Perfect.
  • Substance abuse issues? Yep.
  • Sexual harassment? You know who I’m talking about.
  • Stubborn, my way or the highway employees and leadership? Yep, we had that.
  • Staffers who will do anything to make themselves look good while positioning themselves to avoid taking any blame if it goes wrong? Yep, we had that.
  • Take my ball and go home types? Absolutely.
  • Passive aggressive types? Definitely

Annie get your gun

I will say this: If I have to send someone else into a room where only one will come out alive (business-wise), Annie Duke would be on the short list on one condition: If and only if I don’t ever have any concerns about the present or future consequences of her actions in that room.

No question she is a very sharp cookie.  But that isn’t enough.

In her closing remarks, her points were right on: She raised the most money. She won the most challenges. She won the most as a project leader.

She clearly is one of the best game players (duh) the Apprentice has ever seen.

But would you trust her with your back turned? Something in the back of my mind says no and that alone is enough to get counted out in my book if I’m choosing someone to represent me.

Cry me a Rivers

As for Joan, she displayed amazing tenacity. I seriously doubt anyone expected the 75 year old comedienne to make it to the final.

However, her outbursts – including that Hitler thing – were simply unacceptable. Duke nailed it in the final discussion when she more or less accused Trump of allowing behavior (from both Joan and Melissa Rivers) that would get you kicked out of any Fortune 500 business.

Problem is, she failed to note that she would’ve earned a pink slip as well for her behavior.

So NOW what?

I suspect this is where Trump found himself.

I found it a disappointing class to choose from from the outset and I wonder if that’s where he was as well.

Based on his long history of entrepreneurial business success elsewhere, I expected Jesse James to clean house.

Instead, it was as if he had a victim mentality during much of the show. He not only looked the part of the underdog, he lived it. I wonder if he really knew what he was getting into and just coasted until he was gone because it wasn’t his cup of tea.

Regardless of the reason, that was really disappointing.

If I’m Trump and I’m trying to choose between Rivers and Duke, I have to ask myself: who do I want to represent the Trump name?

Who do I want representing Trump in boardroom discussions?

Who in the room consistently exhibits the cool professionalism AND aggressiveness that is necessary to represent Trump’s business?

None of the above

For me, the answer is none of the above.

There’s not a single person in that boardroom who can hold a candle to previous (regular) Apprentice winners.

I guess The Donald just didn’t figure he could close out the show without naming a winner, which is probably for contractual reasons.

That’s a shame.

At least there were lots of teachable moments this season. If you cant train your lower management using the examples in this show, you’re missing something.

Evidence of the value of paying for a Trump

Donald Trump & Melania
photo credit: Boss Tweed

Earlier this week, we talked about small business events and the value of paying for someone like Donald Trump to show up at your event.

Case in point: http://www.arkansasbusiness.com/article.aspx?aid=105098.54928.117227

PS: Happy Mother’s Day!

Exposing the meaning of Trump’s Commandments

In a September 2006 Trump University article, Richard Parker writes about “The Ten Critical Commandments for Entrepreneurial Success“, but doesn’t elaborate much on where he’s coming from. He makes some important points, and several of the items need to be explained and expanded upon, so we’ll address those rather than rehashing the entire list.

In Commandment #1, Richard says “Pay for the past, consider the present, but buy for the future.”

What he’s talking about is not paying for the future performance of the business. No one, not even Trump, can 100% accurately predict that. Paying a reasonable and fair price for the performance of the business in prior years is your goal – and in fact, the only thing that makes good sense unless there is some hidden gold that you’ve already detected (see #7). That aside, what’s going on today could change in a moment. You sure don’t want to pay for what the current owner thinks might happen in the future. Presumably, you are better at strategic planning and execution, management and marketing BUT that is YOU. You aren’t paying for you, you’re paying for the assets. One note about that: the customer list and its recurring revenue, while generally looked upon as worthless by many banks, is the real gold.

In Commandment #2, Richard says “Buy a good business that you can make great.”

In other words, buy potential, that so-called diamond in the rough. Buy something that your skills and the skills of your team can make substantially better. You dont want to spend 100% of your time in survival mode, because that’s all you’ll ever do. It’s worth it to spend a more to get a business that you can spend time expanding and fine tuning, rather than just trying to keep it alive. I hold #2 pretty close, as most of the businesses I’ve owned got that way by virtue of Commandment #2.

In Commandment #4, Richard says “Fall in love with the profit, not the product.”

Richard takes a lot of heat for this in the comments area on that page, but I believe thats because some didnt fully understand what he meant. Of course, he might have intentionally been vague to provoke some reactions from those who just didnt get his point. Hard to say. What he really is trying to get across is that your desire to buy a business has to be based on the numbers. You just cant allow yourself to be blinded into buying a bad business because of your love for the products and services it offers. You must be objective and matter-of-fact about your choices. You can ALWAYS use your love for that favorite product or service from that unprofitable business in some other way.

In Commandment #6, Richard says “Look for a company that offers ‘autopilot’ and ‘cruise control.’ “

What he means here is that the company has systems in place to accomplish tasks. If you are required to repeatedly perform tasks that can be automated, or can be systemized, you’ll get tied down doing that work. If the systems arent in place, but can be built in short order, that’s ideal. When I say “systemized”, think about McDonald’s (not the food). Most of them are run day to day largely by a bunch of young teenagers on their first job. How can a billion dollar, global business do that?? Simple. Systems are in place for everything. Manuals and procedures and automation define and/or control every process. Constant measurement. In other words, autopilot.

In Commandment #7, Richard says “Find the hidden gold.”

As long time readers know, I owned a software company a few years back. One of the frustrations that we faced early on was a struggle to convince our clients that they needed to backup their databases on a regular basis. After all, hard drives fail, power goes off, and computers die or get stolen.

To solve this problem, we created a small, easy to use backup program for our users. It worked great and helped both ourselves and our clients. It helped us because it saved us weeks of time over a year’s worth of dead hard drives, trying to recover critical data for our clients. Instead, we now had a tool that made the job easy and clients benefited from that. So now we have clients with properly backed up databases (most of them anyhow) and we have occasional need to look at their databases.

This was before gmail and other email services allowed for big emails, so we once again faced a challenge. We took our little backup program and gave it the ability to upload the backup to our web site so we could get a client’s data. One thing led to another and we decided to offer the ability for our clients to backup their data on our web site, so they could sleep easier at night, knowing they had an off-site backup.

This “afterthought” of a service, that started mostly as a convenience for something that challenged us…ended up being a upper 4 figure monthly increase to our bottom line. That’s hidden gold. EVERY business has hidden gold, and most have more than one mine. Look carefully for them when examining a business for possible purchase, you may find that you choose differently based on the opportunities you discover.

In Commandment #9, Richard says “Identify what is not perfect yet.”

Everything is an opportunity. Look back at #7. Having clients who didnt realize the value of backing up turned into substantial revenue. That business still isnt perfect. None are. Every flaw might be an opportunity for a product or service that your clients simply cant do without. Systemize processes. Make the business more efficient, and your employees not only get better jobs, but the net result is a staff that generates more revenue.

What commandments would you add? I’d like to hear them.