In 2005, Randal Pinkett SM ’98, MBA ’98, PhD ’02 won season four of The Apprentice. So how has his life changed as a result? And what was it like working for Donald Trump for a year? Read on to find out.
Love it or hate it, reality TV has become a new way to gain notoriety, both positive and negative, in America. For Pinkett, the gamble to appear before millions of viewers as he vied for a six-figure, one-year contract working for Donald Trump paid off, partly because he clearly defined what he hoped to gain from the experience. “I wanted to build a platform for my speaking and writing and build my company,” he says. Four years later, he still needs the business affairs manager, PR professionals, book agent, and speaker’s bureau he initially hired to handle the opportunities presented to him.
He’s attracted more private-sector clients to the Newark, New Jersey-based management, technology, and policy consultancy, BCT Partners, he cofounded and leads; published books; appeared as a correspondent for PBS’ CEO Exchange show; and serves as a national spokesperson for numerous causes, including Autism Speaks, a nonprofit he worked with during the show’s final episode; the National Visionary Leadership Project, founded by Dr. Camille Cosby (wife of comedian Bill Cosby); and the United Negro College Fund, for which he’s headlining the Empower Me tour.
These days, he spends 80 percent of his time drumming up business for BCT Partners and 20 percent on his personal brand, a split he’s perfectly happy with. “I try to manage my speaking engagements and appearances,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’m a full-time entrepreneur.” Learn more about Pinkett.
On the big decision
If you watched The Apprentice finale, you know that at the end, Trump offered the job to Pinkett then asked him if he should also hire Rebecca, the runner-up. “There is one and only one apprentice, and if you’re going to hire someone tonight, it should be one,” Pinkett said. “It’s not The Apprenti [sic], it’s The Apprentice.”
The decision earned him some critics, an admittedly difficult experience for Pinkett. “I had to do a lot of soul searching [after the show]. It boils down to, do you want to be principled or popular?” he says. “I believe I found a certain grounding and strength in my faith to believe in who I am and what I stand for.” And in the end, he knows he made the right decision. “I would regret it to this day if I had caved in to that,” Pinkett says. “It was an insult for him to ask the question”—one Trump hadn’t asked before and hasn’t since, he points out. “It was a clear victory, and I earned it.”
On working for Trump
Pinkett spent his year managing the renovation of three properties in Atlantic City. He says the first three months presented a steep learning curve, but he caught on and learned a great deal about overseeing large construction and renovation projects. He also gained insight into the entertainment and hospitality industries, especially customer service and how to craft an experience for guests consistent with an overall brand. And, he gained exposure to the inner workings of a multibillion dollar organization. “The experience validated that we were doing many of the right things in my company,” Pinkett says. “It wasn’t dramatically different; there were just more zeros assigned to the decisions.”
In 2009, Pinkett was shortlisted to run as Lieutenant Governor on incumbent Jon Corzine’s ticket. The news caused quite a stir in New Jersey, where many in the media derided him as solely a product of pop culture. A Vanity Fair article quipped, “The day voters elect a reality television star to an important public office is the day America officially jumps the shark.” It was the first time Pinkett had experienced “reality TV star” as a pejorative epithet, but the celebrity he’s encountered has taught him how to handle the spin-doctoring. “This is politics. Unfortunately, sometimes there are people looking for an angle to discredit you,” he says. “If it wasn’t reality TV, it would have been something else.” And, he’s quick to point out that this debate was only possible because of his appearance on television. “When they contacted me about the position, I was told that, in addition to my qualifications, another reason I was being considered for Lieutenant Governor was that I am a respected figure,” he says. “You don’t achieve that recognition just by working hard.” Pinkett was ultimately not selected as running-mate, and he’s not certain he would have accepted the offer. While he has no immediate plans to formally enter politics, he isn’t ruling it out at some point in his career.
On personal growth
“I’m very happy and very proud to have been on a nationally televised program,” says Pinkett, who is still recognized and congratulated on the street. “People are proud and flattering about the way I presented myself. It’s very humbling.”
While reality TV may not change every cast member’s life for the better, Pinkett has certainly proven that a savvy strategy and clear goals can extend the rewards beyond fifteen minutes of fame. “I think the key is that I was able to seize the window of opportunity and what I wanted to get out of this experience,” he says.