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He's Hired!

Cigar entrepreneur Bill Rancic, 32, is Donald J. Trump’s newest employee. Rancic prevailed over fifteen other candidates on the NBC-TV reality series, The Apprentice. He won a $250,000-a-year job managing the construction of a 90-story luxury tower in Chicago, his home town. How’s that for an entry-level job!

Over the course of 13 weeks, Trump gave the candidates a series of business tasks, “firing” one of them at the end of each episode. The choice came down to Rancic and Harvard MBA Kwame Jackson. In Thursday’s season finale, Rancic had to manage a celebrity golf tournament, and Jackson a Jessica Simpson concert.

Bill and Kwame presented contrasting management styles. Despite the artificiality of a made-for-TV job interview, the outcome was a textbook lesson in business. Both candidates chose a trio of cast members fired in previous episodes, who served as their “employees” for this final project. Kwame delegated everything and asked his staff almost no questions, assuming they would complete their assignments without direction. Bill was immersed in the details, at times annoying his team by constantly reminding them what needed to be done.

But in the end, Bill’s golf tournament came off without a hitch. The closest he came to a mishap was when a sponsor’s promotional sign was misplaced. Bill himself found it just in time, when he had the inspiration to look for it in a dumpster. Bill was probably more visibly tense than a golf tournament director should be, but given the stakes you can’t blame him for leaving no stone unturned.

In contrast, Kwame was always calm in the eye of the storm, but his team kept dropping the ball. His only defense was, “As an executive, you have to delegate, and trust that your people will get things done.” In fact, successful executives delegate only what their employees have proved they can handle. As the Russians used to say, trust, but verify. After thirteen episodes with these people, Kwame should have known their weaknesses.

Kwame’s biggest mistake was relying on the series villain, Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth. Over and over again, Omarosa had proved she couldn’t be trusted. We the audience knew more of Omarosa’s treachery than Kwame did, but Kwame surely had seen enough to know that Omarosa was a loose cannon. And Kwame’s other employees, Troy and Heidi, were also poorly coordinated. None of their errors were fatal in the end, but perhaps that’s just because Kwame got lucky. Kwame seems to just trust everybody, and hope for the best.

Even had Kwame been lucky enough to stay out of trouble, I suspect that Trump would have chosen Bill anyway, as his hands-on style is much more to Trump’s liking. Kwame’s blind faith in a team that kept letting him down made Trump’s decision easy. Kwame is a likeable guy, and I believe he’ll be very successful over time, but his actual performance throughout the series was just mediocre. There’s more to good management than just delegating and being a nice guy.

What are we to make of Omarosa? Throughout the series, she fought with teammates and fumbled one task after another. Not content with blowing her own chances, she also sank Kwame’s. After her firing, she complained to a national magazine that another candidate had called her a nigger. The other candidate vigorously denied it, and producers say there’s no videotape evidence. Omarosa was caught lying outright several times, so there’s little reason to believe her. Omarosa has acquired a variety of nicknames on Apprentice fansites: Assarosa, Assinina, Assahola, Assorama, and most wickedly, Osamarosa. For a more glowing portrait, you can visit her own website, http://www.omarosa.com/, but I suspect her fifteen minutes of fame are about up.

I don’t watch much TV, but The Apprentice had me riveted. Unlike most so-called “reality” series, The Apprentice actually resembled real-life. Sort of. The tasks were constrained to fit in weekly one-hour episodes, but they were real projects that we could all recognize: selling lemonade, renovating an apartment, developing a marketing campaign, securing donations for a charity auction, and so forth. Contrast that with Survivor, another show that knocks off a contestant every week till only one is left. In that show, the weekly “challenges” are elaborate made-up games that wouldn’t occur anywhere else.

The Apprentice’s least realistic conceit is the requirement that someone be fired every week. Some episodes had a clear-cut goat, but other times there was no candidate who obviously deserved to go. Nevertheless, Trump summoned the losers to his “boardroom” for a ritualistic performance review, ending in the trademark phrase no candidate wanted to hear, “You’re fired!” We often winced along with them, but Trump’s critiques were always fair, specific, principled, and dead-accurate. The Apprentice was compelling, because as Trump observed, “Everyone’s been hired, and everyone’s been fired.” I disagreed with a couple of his firings, but in the end Trump found the right apprentice: Bill was the cream of a very fine crop.

Don’t shed any tears for the non-winners. They all seem to be doing very well indeed. Three have gotten engaged since the series wrapped last fall. Another is pregnant. Trump was so taken with winsome Amy Henry (the last to be fired before the final episode) that he has offered her a job as head of sales in Trump World Tower, at Columbus Circle. Amy has other options, and is mulling the offer. Troy McLain is considering a career as a motivational speaker, at which I think he would excel. Kwame has been offered $25,000 for a one-week gig pitching chicken for KFC. Omarosa is doing a shampoo commercial. Two other candidates have started a clothing line. The series’ other loose cannon, Sam Solovey (fired in the third episode, but indelibly memorable nonetheless), is so flush that he offered Trump $250,000 for the chance to work for him. A dumbfounded Trump accepted Sam’s suitcase full of cash and said he’d think it over, but I expect him to politely decline.

NBC has Trump signed for two more seasons. In a recent casting call, 250,000 people submitted applications for the chance to get fired next fall.

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