Three Huge Mistakes Trump Made On The Apprentice

I'd like to be the executive producer for The Celebrity Apprentice. I've been told that it takes no investment of time or energy to fill that post, but I've nevertheless put some thought into this.

When The Apprentice first came on the air, people told me I should watch the show because it had some actual business lessons about leadership and teamwork. Despite my normal aversion to reality TV, I gave it a try. Unfortunately, what I learned from Governor Schwarzenegger's predecessor was all about what not to do when leading a team. Here are three of Donald Trump's mistakes that you can easily avoid.

1. Don't Surround Yourself With Yes Men

Reality television thrives on conflict. This is especially true of shows that have a competitive format. It's not enough for the competitors to want to beat each other; the judges have to snipe at each other, too.

Despite the fact that internal conflict could have helped the ratings, the original version of The Apprentice was oddly free of any tension between the judges in the boardroom. No matter whom the old host decided to fire, the assistant judges always agreed that he had made the right decision.

Surrounding yourself with yes men doesn't make for great television. It also doesn't help with making good business decisions in the real world. Real leaders need to evaluate information from their subordinates. That sometimes requires listening to multiple points of view. It's a bad practice to write off people who disagree with you or to ignore facts that don't support your predetermined position.

Perhaps employing relatives and suck ups was just something the old host did for the TV cameras. Hopefully in his real business he would surround himself with a team of experts that could offer him actual guidance and not merely endless reassurances that he was already making the best possible decisions.

2. Don't Overestimate The Opportunity

This is especially important for anybody undertaking a new venture. Before diving into unfamiliar waters, it's a good idea to estimate the size of the opportunity. All you have to do is identify your industry, determine the annual sales, and then estimate your market share. The old host of The Apprentice would regularly botch two out of the three steps.

Before every task, the old host would tell the contestants about the industry they'd be working in and what that industry's annual revenue was. It would sound impressive, but it would also be completely irrelevant to the task at hand. For example, he began one episode by proclaiming the HUGE annual revenue for the restaurant industry... before assigning the teams the modestly-sized task of selling as much pizza as they could in one afternoon.

It's easy to see how the old host failed to properly estimate the size of the opportunity. First, he didn't narrow the size of the market. Instead of the entire restaurant industry in America, he should have looked at just pizza sales in just a few blocks of New York City. (He also should have subtracted sales in the evening since the teams were only peddling to a lunch crowd. And he should have divided the whole thing by 365 instead of listing an annual income.) Second, he skipped over the important step of estimating what percentage of the market they could claim.

Why did he mention the annual sales at all? You could argue that the old host was trying to make his show seem more important than it was by mentioning some large (and unrelated) numbers, but who would do that? Even a kid who offers to shovel the neighbors' driveways for ten dollars each would know better than to brag that he's part of the $70 billion landscaping industry.

3. Don't Underestimate Your Costs

Revenue minus expenses equals profit. That's not a hard concept for viewers to grasp, but the old host of The Apprentice generally didn't take any of the operating costs into account during the show's boardroom segments. On one episode, a team earned about $4,000 during a task... but they had to take the flamboyant step of hiring a blimp to do it.

The old host could have taken two approaches to measuring the performance of his teams:
  • Talking about the revenue that his teams earned, which would make him sound successful.
  • Talking about the profit, which would run the risk of revealing that his teams are losing money.

By conveniently ignoring the fact that his teams had to pay for taxes and expenses, the old host consistently prioritized inflating his personal brand over keeping the actual business afloat.

Bragging and self promotion works for a while, but the end of the day somebody is going to have to pay for that blimp.