Real estate tycoon Donald Trump says he doesn’t like to fire people.
But Trump will dump 15 would-be protégés on national television during the course of an upcoming reality show in which a group of ambitious, young entrepreneurs and MBAs vie for a $250,000-a-year dream job as a top executive in Trump’s business empire.
It’s all part of “The Apprentice,” the highly promoted series NBC launches Jan. 8, hoping to spark the kind of lightning in a bottle that CBS captured with the premiere of producer Mark Burnett’s last big hit, “Survivor.”
But instead of sweaty, scantily clad contestants eating bugs and hunting wild animals as they endure the predations of remote but picturesque spots around the globe, the 16 players on “The Apprentice” compete in what Trump calls the world’s most ferocious jungle — the streets of New York City.
Divided by gender into two teams, the eight men and eight women face off in a string of projects assigned by Trump to test their salesmanship and street smarts.
In the series premiere, the two groups are each given $250 in cash and directed to set up their own outdoor lemonade stands to see which can sell the most by the end of the day. It’s tougher than it sounds.
The winners are rewarded by spending the night in Trump’s opulent penthouse apartment. The losers are summoned to Trump’s boardroom, where they do their best to explain themselves before one of them gets the ax.
Subsequent projects involve putting up an art show from scratch, renovating and leasing out vacant apartments and producing a rock concert — all within a day or two.
“These people did what we thought in some instances was impossible,” Burnett told reporters recently. “But no one came back to Donald Trump without results.”
The ax falls
Although firings make up the dramatic climax of each episode, Trump said he did not relish that part of the show.
“I don’t like firing people,” he said in a recent telephone conference call to promote the series. “But it also happens to be a fact of life in business. If you’re running a big company, firing people is a fact of life. It’s not something I enjoyed, but it’s something I had to do.”
Trump, who faced the threat of financial ruin himself from collapse of the real estate market in the early 1990s, said he consoled the losers by assuring them they all stood to gain “extraordinary jobs” by virtue of publicity from the show.
“It could be one of the people that I fired turns out to be one of the great business tycoons of the century,” he said.
Indeed, Trump said it is the high caliber of intelligence among the contestants that separates “The Apprentice” from the dozens of unscripted reality shows populating prime-time television in recent years.
Selected from 215,000 applicants during a nationwide recruiting tour, the 16 men and women cast for “The Apprentice” are all over-achievers in their own right with widely varying educational and business backgrounds.
They range in age from 21 to 36 and include an investment manager with a Harvard MBA, a former White House aide and image consultant, a former FedEx account executive and motivational speaker, a venture capitalist with a medical degree and a home-school graduate who owns a chain of chiropractic clinics.
The winning contestant will end up for a year as the head of one of Trump’s business ventures, but the real estate mogul said he doesn’t foresee his chosen “apprentice” keeping his or her title for long.
“The fact is that these people are looking to become very, very, very rich, and you usually become very rich when you work for yourself, not when you’re working for somebody else,” Trump said. “In theory the person who wins should want to leave me at the end of a year and go on and become a billionaire or whatever he wants to become, or whatever she wants to become.”