You're fired! ND professor fires back at Trump

Author: Carol Elliott, Tribune Staff Writer

For starters, everyone knows “The Apprentice” is just a TV show and bears as much resemblance to reality as “The Donald’s” hair does to haute coiffure.


After all, what boss would pit his employees against each other, reward them for winning at any cost, pick favorites and snap, “You’re fired!” before booting an employee out the door.


Could there be some reality to the reality TV show?

The answer seems to be yes.

But in terms of management style, the show might be called, “What Not To Do,” despite the over-the-top reputation of its star, mogul Donald Trump.

“Unfortunately, I do see similar approaches in real companies,” said Matt Bloom, an associate management professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

“It’s all too common to find high levels of internal competition and interpersonal conflict, and all the negative outcomes they produce in companies.”

In real life, the result of the management style on display in “The Apprentice” is more likely to result in an Enron or Tyco, where rules get bent and the culture becomes one of “all about me,” said Bloom.

“I would only use (the show) as an example of very poor management,” said Bloom. “I saw nothing that I would consider an exemplary way to manage a company.”

Not a pretty picture

“The Apprentice” is an NBC reality show broadcast on Thursday nights. The format is basically “Survivor” set in a boardroom. No coincidence here — both shows were created by Mark Burnett.

The show debuted in January with 16 candidates, all vying for the grand prize of a one-year apprenticeship as head of one of the Trump-owned companies with a $250,000 salary.

Each week, Trump points a finger at one of the hapless job-seekers, and with a flick of the wrist and the now-famous, “You’re fired!” — another one bites the dust.

The field is now cut to four, with mortgage lender Troy McClain, 32, the latest to be canned. The “apprentice” will be named on a two-hour finale to be aired April 15.

Bloom doesn’t watch “The Apprentice,” or much TV at all. And he’s no big fan of “The Donald.”

And he has never been fired, although he admits as a teenager he once quit a job to save the manager the effort.

So sitting with Bloom to watch an episode of the survival-of-the-slickest reality show is like taking your mother to see, “Dude, Where’s My Car?”

For an hour, Bloom alternately grimaced, looked amused and said, “Huh,” while six smart people on the show resorted to tripping each other in order to avoid having Trump’s finger of fate point at them.

In the process, Bloom pointed out mistake after management mistake that might make for good TV, but a very ugly corporate culture.

All about me

“Oh my gosh!” Bloom said almost as soon as the show’s introductory theme music (“For the Love of Money,” by the O’Jays) died out. He would repeat the expression often.

Trump had just given out that week’s assignment. He asked each team of three candidates to mount a promotional campaign to sign up gamblers at the Trump Taj Mahal casino and hotel in Atlantic City. The team whose gamblers spent the most money would win.

Before Trump could clear the lobby, the contestants started plotting strategy — against their own team leaders.

“I really want her to prove she deserves all the attention she’s getting,” sniped Florida Realtor Katrina Campins, 24, about her team’s leader, Amy Henry, 30, a former real-life dot-com millionaire and clearly a Trump favorite.

The comment quickly set the theme for the show — everyone looking out for No. 1 and losing sight of overall goals.

“That’s dangerous,” said Bloom of the infighting. “To create competition amongst employees is really divisive. My guess is there will be back-stabbing at the end. They’d like to look good, but they really want someone else to look bad.”

Amy and Katrina continued their power struggles while trying to arrange a car rental for a promotional giveaway.

“It’s not a team,” said Bloom, after Amy cut in on Katrina’s efforts to negotiate with the car dealer. “It’s two adversaries working towards the same goal. It’s great TV, but in terms of an organization, it’s just awful.”

Earlier, Bill Rancic, 32, owner of a Chicago-based cigar company, said of team member Troy, “Frankly, I’m not exactly fond of the way he does business.”

Bloom stopped the tape.

“This is where you get people bending the rules all the time,” said Bloom, picking up on Troy’s willingness to cross ethical lines because the pressure to win is so huge.

Bill later resorted to deal-making on his own without sharing information with his team, another blow to building cooperation.

“If too many of the kudos are individually based, it becomes “all about me,” said Bloom. “People will bend the rules just to get the star out of there.”

By the time the boardroom scene took place with Amy squaring off against Katrina, Bloom was throwing in the management towel.

“Ohhh,” said Bloom, when Amy lied outright about the lame idea for the car rental being hers. “Really, they have created such an ugly environment here. Honesty is gone. Team building is gone.”

And at the end, Trump canned Katrina, despite her best efforts to dethrone Amy by tattling about her “personal relationship” with another team member, Nick Warnock.

No fun, just success

In management terms, the big mistake in the show was developing individual stars instead of focusing on overall organizational goals, said Bloom.

This leads to infighting, self-promotion and kissing-up to the boss instead of relying on knowledge and judgment.

“Over the long run, the organization suffers because it does not get the best out of its employees,” said Bloom. “The people suffer because they work in a toxic work environment.”

And though they may seem productive in the short-run, many of these businesses collapse in scandal or financial difficulties.

Instead, management should promote a culture where the sense of unity is high and everyone is focused on the company’s vision and goals, said Bloom.

“In these environments, stars still emerge, but they tend to be recognized and celebrated by the entire organization.”

Management that engages its employees’ creativity, passion and commitment achieve stellar performance over the long-run, said Bloom.

If “The Apprentice” followed that formula, “it would just be happy people working together,” said Bloom.

“Darn. What fun would that be?”


Those two little words p. With Donald Trump trying to trademark “You’re fired!” what will bosses say instead?

As it turns out, they don’t use those words very often anyway. After all, they’re somewhat politically incorrect these days.

“Many times, bosses soft-pedal it,” said Matt Bloom, an associate management professor at the University of Notre Dame.

But make no mistake. If you hear these phrases, it still means one thing — you’re fired:

  • We’re heading in a new direction that is not consistent with your skills;
  • We are downsizing;
  • You’re about to be separated from payroll;
  • We are offering you early retirement;
  • You’ve been outsourced;
  • You’ve been downsized; and
  • You’ve been rightsized.

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