2005-01-29

Apprentice 03.02 - The Motel from Hell


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I believe that there is much to be learned about human nature, business and success from NBC and Donald Trump's hit show "The Apprentice." Therefore I'll be blogging along with each step of the "16 Week Job Interview."

Previously:
Net Worth: The Street-Smarts
Magna: The Book-Smarts
Apprentice 03.01 - BK 101: Revenge on the Nerds

What a difference a week makes? Both teams were 180 degrees out of phase with their performance last week. To be fair, this week's mission put a premium on strategy, financial management and planning. To a degree it highlighted the advantage of a well-rounded business education and experience.

The Mission: This one was a killer! Each team was given a motel in disrepair. They had 48 hours and $20K to renovate, and rent out rooms. Guest evaluations of their lodging experience would determine the winner.

Summary: Neither team completely escaped the pressure of working around the clock for two days. While testing key elements of the leaders' training and experience, it also tested the willingness of every player to get dirty and work hard.

Michael took the reins at Magna, feeling that his experience as a Real Estate Developer would be tailor-made for this project. One thing I'll say for Magna - through two missions they've demonstrated a willingness to find and follow the best-qualified leader. Todd turned out to be a disappointment, but this week, Michael was a pleasant surprise.

Almost to a person, Magna pitched in and attacked the task of cleaning up the dirty motel. Even Danny proved that for all his faults, he is able-bodied - something in demand on both teams during this mission. And, on the positive side, Danny came up with the idea of having a staff get-together (a.k.a. party!) with the guests.

After unsuccessfully trying to bog Michael down in insignificant details early, Verna shocked everyone by walking off of her front desk job, and the team, shortly before guests would be checking out and putting the spotlight on her customer service role. Carolyn eventually tracked her down and talked her back, but not before the potential damage had been done.

Things didn't go nearly as well for Net Worth. Brian, the self-proclaimed negotiating king, volunteered to lead. While no one else on the team was willing to take charge, they also seemed unwilling to follow Brian and his brash personality. Clashes between Kristen who took on the role of project accountant and Brian who didn't who much interest in money until the second day when there wasn't enough of it to buy carpet, were frequent and loud. This mission highlighted Brian's total obtuseness when it comes to the softer skill of managing people and personalities.

Still, Net Worth did a capable job, getting their motel into rent-able shape in time. But, they messed up some of the details, and as this mission relied on the subjective evaluation of the motel guests, victory would turn on those details.

Results: Both teams were able to rent out rooms that were in good, but not great shape. Net Worth tried, but Magna trumped them on customer service. My guess is that that was the key difference. The editors chose entertainment over information when it came to the evaluations, making it appear that both teams were getting failing grades. Only in the boardroom did we discover that on a scale from 1 (worst) to 5 (best), Net Worth rated nearly a 3 and Magna almost 4. Pretty high marks for such a daunting task, and an impressive turnaround and win for Magna.

For a reward, Magna joined Steve Forbes for dinner aboard his yacht. I love this about the Donald. Earlier in the show we see him playing golf with Anika Sorenstam. Trump doesn't just know all the big names. He's in with them well enough that they'll give up quality time for him.

Back in the board room, the battle was over before it began. Trump opened, as usual, by asking PM Brian general questions about the mission. Brian accepted responsibility for the failure and missed opportunity, and when asked directly agreed that he should be fired. Even the casual Apprentice fan knows that this is suicide in a game where Trump fires contestants they don't fight hard enough for the opportunity to continue on in the show. Brian did bounce back to fight, but I believe that this board room effectively ended when he said, "Yes, I should be fired."

This was an ugly board room. While Brian never gave up the "hot seat" nobody on the team missed their opportunity to not impress Trump, George and Carolyn. Trump didn't even bother winnowing the field to three. It all ended when he abruptly fired Brian and ordered the rest of the team out. Our last image of Mr. Trump was that of a very displeased man.

Analysis:
Great job by Michael. Not only was this a huge mission to manage, he had to bring unity to a team that concluded the prior mission divided and in disarray. Given many opportunities, Michael refused to be distracted from the big picture and the task at hand. To boot, Magna began a manpower-intensive mission on person short and ended two short. Michael's stock is way up after this one.

I am not impressed by Danny's "party with the guests" idea. This was not a brilliant business idea. It was another example of his desire to play manifesting itself in the right place at the right time. This "genius" of his will not be transferrable to other missions.

Danny is off the hook for the time being, as Verna has supplanted him in the crosshairs of team Magna. She wasn't greatly contributing to begin with, and eventually folded under the pressure of a sustained labor-intensive mission. Worse, she walked off the job at a critical time. Her team may have rallied around her when she came back, but they won't soon forget that Verna couldn't be counted on and didn't have the juice for this mission. In the Apprentice, one dramatic, emotional moment doesn't mask the lack of leadership potential.

My suspicions regaring Brian were correct. He is a brash, one-trick pony. And even there, I suspect that his skill as a negotiator is less about business savvy, and more brute force. This guy has an uncanny knack for wearing people down.

All of Net Worth's problems do not leave with Brian however. We saw conflict between Kristen and the other girls on the team. And more basically, we saw this team's poor judgment and willingness to fight rather than work together.

My suspicions regarding Chris were dead wrong. He waited until the board room to do it, but made up for lost time as he stepped up and revealed himself to be a complete idiot. Just as the noose was tightening around Brian's neck, Chris spoke up and added nothing new to the conversation, but managed to bring the attention of the board room upon himself at a time when that attention was unwanted. Had Brian not beaten him to the punch, Chris could well have wound up fired simply for being stupid.

John was the only Net Worth member not greatly harmed by this mission. He continues to show good business instincts combined with strong people skills. That his attempts to counsel Brian and smooth things over among all of the team members failed, wasn't John's fault. Brian was at war with the rest of his team. They were going to have nothing to do with reason.

Outlook:

Strong:
John (NW) - He remained unflappable (a characteristic of the past two Apprentices) through a tempestuous mission. However, if Net Worth can not regain their team unity, his good standing will be in jeopardy.
Michael (M) - Absolutely outstanding performance in a tough mission. Trump had to be impressed.

Close Behind:
Alex, Kendra (M) - Their stock remains unchanged as they continued to show generally solid insight, but still haven't had the chance to demonstrate their true worth.

Neutral:
Kristen, Audrey (NW) - Kristen was dead on with her immediate focus on planning and budget. However, she has not formed good relationships with the rest of her team which could one day hurt her ability to lead. For now she stays put. We'll see which way she breaks in the next couple of weeks. I was impressed to see Audrey come out of her shell a bit. She had some good instincts, but really hasn't done anything significant enough to make a call on her.
Bren, Stephanie (M) - He turned in a solid, but inconsequential performance in this one. It could be that he is more than "the next Raj." Losing the bowtie would help quite a bit. Stephanie still really hasn't shown enough for me to make a call on her.

Not helping their own cause:
Angie, Tara, Tana, Craig (NW) - Right now this is less about individual performance and more about having been part of a catastrophe.
Danny, Erin (M) - A strong upgrade for Danny after his solid performance as a worker bee. I was tempted to move him to neutral, but he was in a deep hole after last week. Erin continues to be more about her wardrobe and attitude than succeeding at this game. This week we did find out that she's two-faced which is not a pleasant addition to her image.

Stick a fork in 'em:
Chris (NW) - He's just dumb. The only mystery here is, will a poor performance on a mission get him? or will it be another poor judgment in the board room episode?
Verna (M) - Don't let all the "welcome home's" fool you. She walked off the job when her team was counting on her. Magna won't forget it, and Trump won't forget it. She's got that wide-eyed innocence thing going on, but in the end it's all about business. She dropped the ball and will not likely get a chance to carry it again with the game on the line.

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