Written by Keith Coats and Graeme Codrington.
The ongoing search for better and stranger reality TV shows has produced many brilliant ideas. When one of the world’s most flamboyant businessmen and NBC got together to create the 2004 hit, The Apprentice, it must have sounded like a great idea (in fact, it WAS a great idea, ‚The Apprentice 2‛ is already being aired in the US). ‚The Donald‛ got to increase his media profile (he insisted on being billed as ‚the star‛ of the show) and show off his excessive lifestyle (did you notice how most of the rewards in the show involved showing off Donald’s assets, from his jets and boats to his restaurants and penthouses)? NBC got to expand its reality TV offering, and pull towards a better target audience with a business-based show â€? they also got some of Donald’s money â€? he was the Executive Producer. Donald could write off all the expenses to his marketing budget, and still feel he got a good deal. Oh, and he also got to hand pick an apprentice to run one of his companies for a year. In an age of talent wars, finding that level of talent is critical – getting other company advertisers to pay part of the costs is genius.
I am not a great fan of reality TV (there’s an oxymoron if ever there was one). Nor am I a fan of Donald Trump. By all accounts, however, this show has been one of the better ones in this genre, and often received top ratings when it was aired in different countries. It has probably lacked some of the inter-personal drama of many of the others (especially Survivor), but I am sure the second series will push some of those boundaries a bit further (a recent behind-the-scenes look at the first series did indicate some of the lengths the producers went to manufacture tensions, including allowing food to run out and sleep deprivation). It is also, however, a reflection of a typical business context, where personal issues are often taboo. But it is not the entertainment value of the show that concern us. It is the business principles it espouses.
A generation of young people (and many not-so-young aspirant billionaires) are taking weekly diets of Trump-o-mania to heart, and believe that they are learning the principles of long-term business success. At so many levels, this is dangerous.
The first problem is that Donald Trump has always seemed to have only one definition of success � not only on this show, but in his entire public career. He seems totally focused on making the most money. His personal life is certainly no model. Failed marriages, estranged children, multiple bankruptcies (which might make personal financial sense, but what about the employees who are affected?) � these are not a clever way to live a fulfilled life. Making money can never be the primary goal of business. Making money is necessary in order to sustain a business for the long-term. But it is an enabling condition to fulfilling a goal or vision. The best-selling business book of all time, ‚Built to Last‛ (by Jim Collins) made that point very clearly.
This attitude was emphasized throughout The Apprentice. Time after time, the participants were judged purely on how much money they earned, and not on intangibles such as creativity, teamwork, perseverance, thinking and problem solving skills, and leadership, to name just a few of the leadership skills we at TomorrowToday.biz consider essential for success in the emerging connection economy.
It was ironic that just a few weeks after completing the first series of The Apprentice, Donald Trump’s casino business went bankrupt for the second time. In the December 6, 2004 issue of Time magazine Trump was quoted as saying, ‚I don’t think it’s a failure; it’s a success. In this case, it was just something that worked better than other alternatives.” (p11)
At one level, its part of his genius. He has consistently manipulated America’s stunningly liberal bankruptcy laws. It allows people like Trump to take massive risks, and when they don’t come off, to be protected against the fall out. With few exceptions, that kind of protection is simply not available in the majority of countries. That kind of business approach would be exceedingly dangerous in any country that penalizes bankruptcy. My home country, South Africa, puts a restraint of seven years on most business activities after a bankruptcy. This would be crippling to any entrepreneur who followed Trump’s cavalier style.
It could be argued that a small, fairly young consultancy has some nerve to criticize one of the most successful businessmen of the past two decades. As we have said above, success is defined in many ways, and part of our contention is that Trump is not as successful as he appears (financially and otherwise). But the other part of our answer to this criticism is that Donald Trump, like his hair, continues to embody the spirit of the 1980s: a decade of greed and excess in corporate America. The last few years have seen many of the remnants of that era collapse and fold under the pressure of a new set of values. The values of a young and emerging generation who don’t want what their parents had � or at least are not willing to pay the same price to get it.
The Trump’s of the world need to enjoy their moment in the sun, for that sun is setting and a new one rising.
Keith Coats is a director of TomorrowToday.biz, a dynamic organisation that helps companies identify the mega trends that will impact the people connected to their business � employees, customers and partners. Keith is a recognised expert on leadership development and a gifted facilitator, executive coach and futurist.
Graeme Codrington is a partner of TomorrowToday.biz, a dynamic organisation that is assisting both large and small companies navigate the rich steams of the new economy. Graeme is a sought after local and international speaker, best-selling author and generational expert, with a passion for helping companies choose their futures, get the best out of their “bright young things” and effectively plan for leadership succession.

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