School of Management Experts Debate Business Savvy of The Apprentice

Posted: November 8, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

The popular NBC reality television show The Apprentice portrays 18 men and women competing each week for a dream job with The Trump Organization and a hefty six-figure salary. George Mason School of Management professors J.P. Auffret and Ellen Fagenson Eland, regular viewers of the series, recently discussed their opinions of the show and how it portrays the corporate world.

Is The Apprentice realistic?

J.P. Auffret
J.P. Auffret

In some ways, yes—obviously the timeframes are compressed and some of the tasks and contestant relationships are a bit contrived—but nonetheless there are similarities to working for a large corporation,” says Auffret. “The one part of the show that I believe is most similar to business is that many of the contestants at times say too much. These contestants don’t have a good sense of when to stop talking, and as a result they tend not to do very well on the show. This is a problem that has hindered many people’s careers in large dynamic businesses.”

Eland agrees. “Many of the tasks are similar to the types of responsibilities employees would have in large corporations. It’s also very real the way that the contestants operate in groups—people in groups often disagree and take sides. I think that’s very accurate.”

“One thing that isn’t accurate, however, is the way the project managers are chosen. In management, a project leader is often picked by the boss because the boss likes that person and thinks he or she is a good leader,” says Eland. “On the show, the contestants draw names to see who leads a particular task. The project manager is often a bad position to be in on The Apprentice because that person has a high chance of getting fired.”

Do you see a difference in the way the male and female contestants manage their teams and make decisions?

Ellen Fagenson Eland
Ellen Fagenson Eland
Photos by Evan Cantwell

“In the first season of the show, the women’s team won almost every challenge, and in this season, they lost most of them. I find that a little suspicious and wonder if they were chosen by producers in order to fail,” says Eland. “The women do not seem to like each other. There are no alliances, and although they pull together for the challenges, there don’t seem to be any real friendships. However, they weren’t that far off in the challenges they lost.”

What’s the best business lesson to learn from watching this show?

“You have to take risks in business to get noticed, but you should always take calculated risks,” says Eland. “When you stand out, people feel threatened by you. If you stand out and succeed, people will notice, but if you fail, that will be public as well.”

Would you want to work for Donald Trump?

“No! He doesn’t seem very supportive, and I would want a boss who is more caring and appreciative of employees who do well,” says Eland. “I also find his colleagues, George Ross and Carolyn Kepcher, horrible. They never have anything nice to say, and have very superior attitudes. People don’t talk to people like that in business—they can’t!”

Auffret has a different opinion. “My impression is that it would be quite enjoyable. Trump has some interesting businesses and a good strategic and customer view. He seems to delegate well, is loyal to good employees, and is personable.”

Who has the best chance at winning and why?

“Jennifer has a good chance of winning—she has a good business sense, speaks well, and seems to have the respect of the other contestants,” says Auffret.

Eland likes Andy, at age 23, the youngest of the competitors. “I think Trump really likes Andy and has saved him a few times even after he messed up on some of the challenges. It’s important for Trump to like you. If someone rubs him the wrong way, or he feels like he can’t trust a person, then that person will definitely be fired.”

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