Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You're Fired! Part II: Three women gone in three weeks

    In week two of Celebrity Apprentice was Child's Play when the task was to write a children's book targeted to four and five year-olds, based on at least one member of their group, which would then be read and performed in front of a group of children. They were being judged on originality, age appropriateness and performance. Project managers were Meat Loaf for Backbone, the men's team, and Lisa Rinna for A.S.A.P., the women's team.  Meat stepped up for the job while Rinna was a vocally reluctant choice saying that she wanted to wait a few more weeks before being in the lead spot. I will admit up front that I was rooting for Meat Loaf, not only because I love his music and his politics, but also because of the man he is showing himself to be on the show.  As long as I am admitting to things, I will say that I was actively hoping that Lisa Rinna would lose.  Her whiny, divisive, catty and backstabbing behavior from week one had me disliking her. On top of that, I was sure that she would not have the chops to pull off a win, regardless of the challenge presented by Mr. Trump.
   The study in group dynamics witnessed on this show is fascinating.  The bifurcation of the large group along gender lines should make it clear that although abilities being equal, men and women are different. Again we watched the women have a failure to form a team. Although the backbiting was less this week, we saw a lot of diva behavior especially from Dionne Warwick who comes across as a hard and unkind woman with an overextended sense of import. Rinna was an expected failure as a leader.  She was unorganized, lacked vision and direction, and ultimately expected the team to do the job for her which they did with Star Jones stepping up not only taking the lead, but also the largest chunk of the task.  The book idea they came up with used LaToya Jackson as a timid lion who couldn't find her roar, with the moral of "be yourself" which was far too advanced for four and five year-olds who are not developmentally ready for such an abstract concept. Niki Taylor knew this and voiced her concerns, but was unable to be persuasive and bring about a change. What they did do well was keep the vehicle for their message simple, using different animals to help the searching LaToya find her roar.  Their illustrations were cute, but in production which was Star's responsibility, a very small font was chosen and the words were lost on the page which is not user friendly for either the target beginning readers or their parents. Their performance was well done and appealing to the children.
     The men quickly formed a cohesive team under Meat Loaf's leadership and their idea was a result of group brainstorming with simple guidelines. Lil Jon was the star of their book as a new kid in a new school who felt small and how he learned to fit in with the encouragement of his teacher.  The illustrations were adorable and captured a young Lil Jon beautifully.  John Rich took on the challenge of writing the story in rhyme.  One pretty major disconnect occurred which temporarily fragmented the group when Meat Loaf miscommunicated an address when sending Jose Canseco and Gary Busey to deliver their gathered props to the rehearsal space.  The wild goose chase was understandably frustrating, but seeing these two grown men have veritable temper tantrums was ridiculous. Where most of the men shone was in the performance.  They came together as a team again, recovering nicely from the earlier schism. Let's face it, men are still little boys in a lot of ways and they got into their roles excitedly.  Lil Jon had all the kids rapping about knowing their ABCs and 123s at the end of their performance.
    Ultimately, the women lost because the theme, conceived by Dionne Warwick was not age appropriate and their book design, by Star Jones was flawed by having a tiny font. These strong personalities who are so egotistical that they wanted their names on the cover of the team's book for conception and author. In the boardroom they united to crush their project manager. The responsibility for the loss did indeed fall squarely on Lisa Rinna who was an ineffectual project manager with no leadership or organizational skills. She expected her team to do everything on their own to support her while she did little more than encourage creativity: But creativity without direction is chaos and Rinna was fired.  In reading her candidate bio, I learned that she owns two fashion boutiques in California. Obviously she hired people to run them, because if it were up to her to manage, they would never get off the ground.

    Week three had supermodel Niki Taylor square off against brain-addled Gary Busey in "Unhappy Campers," a marketing task involving Camping World that had each team create a camping experience in midtown Manhattan. The goal was to present a cohesive branding message for Camping World  while highlighting the vastness of their product line.  Each team were given two RVs and the opportunity to spend $5,000 for accessories to enhance the midtown camping experience.  The women chose the two midrange RV's and set out to decorate them so that they felt like home. Their money was spent mostly on home goods and Niki assigned each woman a room to decorate.  While the ladies set about making their RVs a home-away-from-home, Nikki took Playmate of the Year Hope Dworaczyk to design signage and get them printed for their campsite.  While they were away, the ladies finished the inside of the RVs and called Niki to inquire about her vision for the outside.  Niki was nonplussed by the inquiry believing that it was obviously camping. She did not consider that none of her teammates had ever camped and therefore had no point of reference for what she was taking for granted as basic knowledge. The women figured it out though and created several cozy outdoor spots along side their RVs. The signs that the beauties came back with were placed on the outside fence of their camping experience. 
     The men, this week, were a royal mess.  Gary Busey is scattered, unfocused and obviously permanently affected by his 20+ year-old brain injury.  He and Jose Canseco sat around and talked more than worked.  Jose was downright lazy and was actually shown nodding off in one of the campers and did not even pretend to look busy when one of the scion of Trump stopped by to check in on the team. Jose & Gary even tossed a baseball around while the other teammates were off doing the graphics, gathering accessories and arranging for greenery to be delivered. Both Mark McGrath and Richard Hatch had the idea to bring some greenery onto the site to create more of a nature feeling.  Mark consulted with Busey about his plan and informed him that delivery costs but then Gary forgot that he promised funds to McGrath and gave the rest of the budgeted money to Richard Hatch.  McGrath is quick to panic and got quite   upset with Busey about his forgetfulness.  The comedy here is that Busey insisted he didn't forget anything and that he did not promise Mark the delivery money.  It all worked out when Mark called his contact and managed to arrange for free delivery. John Rich and Lil John got some fabulous signage to hang on the men's RVs, one of which was a $250,000 fully loaded luxury behemoth complete with fireplace, flat screen TV's and all the creature comforts.
     When morning came, final preparations were made. Each team arranged their campsites with care, but the men truly created a camping ambiance with their lavish use of greenery, including hedges, trees and  Astroturf.  Their Camping World signage was prominently displayed on their RV's and when the public began to arrive to tour the sites they saw men doing what they do when camping. By the time the owners of Camping World showed up, John Rich had written a jingle which he played for them excitedly.  The women's site looked barren in comparison to the men and Niki was disappointed that she had not thought about adding trees or other greenery to their display. When the Camping World owners were taken on their tours of each site, they found that the women were better able to talk about the features and benefits of their RV's. This is where LaToya Jackson outdid everyone. The men were stumped when one of the owners asked Meat Loaf what was behind a door on the outside of their mega RV.  It turned out to be an outside flat screen TV and the men thought not knowing that was the nail in their coffin.
   In the end the men did a much better job at the actual task of brand messaging for Camping World and garnered their second win in a row.  The sparse and poorly placed signage on the women's side was truly their demise and in the boardroom, Niki took full responsibility for their loss and told Mr. Trump that she had let her team down and she was the one who deserve to be fired.  Trump agreed and that was that. 

   Week four was "Off the Hook" with the teams having to write, produce and present a 30 second commercial for a video phone marketed by ACN.  The audience for their presentation would be at a meeting of 450 of ACN's top producers. They were encouraged to evoke emotion with their commercials while keeping in line with the ACN brand image.  Project managers were Lil Jon and NeNe Leakes.  I must confess to having never seen nor heard of either one of these celebrities until watching this show. Lil Jon is a musician renown for bringing the southern style of Crunk to the mainstream, and for his entrepreneurial endeavors, while NeNe is a favorite on the Real Housewives of Atlanta. 
   NeNe is a formidable woman both in stature and demeanor. She took on the role of project manager with confidence and was the most successful so far at creating a true team.  She appropriately discerned and utilized the strengths of her team members. Her weakest links were LaToya and Dionne. The ladies played it safe with a traditional themed commercial of a family separated by miles having sent their daughter of to Paris to study.  Dad sends a video phone and the first time they talk on it he brings Mom over to say hello and it's Marlee who signs to her daughter telling her she is missed and loved.  Very touching, almost a Hallmark moment. 
   Enter, Lil Jon. He is a high energy rapping entrepreneur. He brought the men together as a team better than the three previous project managers completely avoiding conflict and his business experience served him well in leading the men to a high risk concept for their commercial which went for humor and surprise rather than the company suggested emotional hook. His idea? Grandparents Gary Busey and a hired actress receive a gift of a video phone from their grandson who has left home to travel the world, with a note to plug it in and call.  They call and are awed by the experience of being able to see their beloved grandson and learn of his adventures.  During the conversation the dorky young man excitedly shares with his family that he is engaged and wants to introduce his fiancée. A very large sexy man, played by Jose Canseco. 
   The drama for the ladies arises from familiar places. LaToya Jackson complains that her vision is blurry and can't see well. She is given the menial task of "time log keeper" which she felt was an important role which she took very seriously.  Dionne and the Playmate were tasked with shopping for the furniture and props or the their sets.  They dawdled while shopping and when they returned to dress their sets, Dionne once again got her Diva panties in a bundle when asked questions about her Paris set.  What is emerging as a power trio among the women of NeNe, Star and Marlee took the bull by the horns, sharing the larger pieces of the project.  NeNe directed the commercial with Marlee as her Assistant. Star prepared the presentation for the meeting. They hired actors, met with film crews and wrote the script while they waited for their set items to arrive.  LaToya looked ridiculous walking around looking at her phone regularly for the time and then calling out what was on the schedule next or that they were running out of time. The biggest disconnect came at night after the shoot when they were all gathered in the editing bay putting their commercial together: story, graphics and voice over. It was late and the Diva wanted to sleep, so she went up to NeNe and said she was going back to the hotel.  Just like that Dionne abandoned her team.  Now it was true that only the editor, NeNe and Marlee were actually working at this phase, but the rest of the team was there for support and a true desire to see the finished product.  They were more than a little put off that Dionne had left. 
    When Trump's daughter popped in to see the men, they chose to be secretive about their idea, but assured her that things were going well.  She saw a cohesive team working synergistically toward something they believed in, although a few (Jose, John & Richard) harbored concern about the edginess of their approach and that it might offend some of the more conservative members of ACN. The only blip on the men's radar this week was Gary Busey. Surprise! He has boundary issues, lacks self awareness and demands a lot of attention on a regular basis which made it difficult for PM Lil Jon to communicate effectively with his director Meat Loaf. Busey's eccentricity played out when he got into character and put on his costume which was a burgundy satin robe.  He went commando underneath and had to redo several takes due to wardrobe malfunctions causing his manhood, named "Big Wednesday," to be exposed. He certainly adds color to the group!
    Both teams made effective commercials and their presentation s were well done. NeNe introduced Star who gave a very pointed marketing presentation for their commercial.  Lil Jon came out all high energy and used language that hooked the audience and got them excited about what they were about to see. Suggesting that the commercial could become a viral video or was Super Bowl material was genius. The winner was decided by popular vote of the ACN audience and was a close 47% to 53% in favor of the men.  They took a huge risk by going with something risqué, and it paid off.
    Back in the board room, the ladies were devastated at their third loss in a row and Mr. Trump asked them to evaluate what might be wrong. Star attributed the problem to be that skill levels were very different, as was the drive to win. Dionne was exposed for her bad attitude and  her feet held to the fire for walking out of the editing bay. She has an exaggerated sense of self importance and is truly unlikeable. When asked by Trump who she thinks he should fire she challenged him to fire her and when all was said and done, that is exactly what he did.

    It is amusing to me to watch celebrities try to do real world tasks. You can tell which ones have remained grounded and which have lost touch with what is reality for most people.  In some cases, they are laughable and in others annoying. As the cast dwindles in the coming weeks it will be interesting to see where it all ends up.  I would love to see it get down to Star and Lil Jon for the final showdown, but Star may do herself in at some point with her bossiness. Time will tell.
    As far as what I am taking from Trump University, I believe that I am more capable than some of these celebrities and would not have been intimidated by any of the tasks thus far.  Since this is my first experience with the Apprentice franchise, I would like to know if the non celebrity version is handled the same way with similar tasks or if Trump takes it easy on the elite. Finally, I must admit that I find myself enjoying Donald Trump, the man.  I wonder if he is kinder or tougher than his real world persona within his companies. If nothing else, the series is keeping my interest and I will continue to watch, observe and blog about my insights.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

You're Fired! Part I

     Last Sunday the season premiere of Celebrity Apprentice aired and although I have never seen previous seasons, I decided to watch the show on line today for several reasons. First of all, my #3 teenage idol (behind Donny Osmond and Bobby Sherman), David Cassidy is among the contestants as is Meat Loaf, whom I adore for both his music and for being an outspoken fiscally conservative celebrity. Secondly, Donald Trump has been popping up on my radar screen more lately and it seems clear that he is toying with the idea of a presidential bid in 2012. It may also be notable that I was not attracted to the show by any of the female contestants and in fact do not even know who several of them are or for what accomplishments they find themselves famous. Now that I have tuned in, I am hooked and will be watching on line every week.
     Mr. Trump divided the candidates along gender lines, which always makes for interesting dynamics. He revealed that their first task was to run a Manhattan pizzeria for a day and raise money for charity. Once the teams were delineated and the task was announced they were off to their Trump Tower suite to choose a team name and a project manager.  The men came to the table with different ideas for a name, quickly found areas of common ground, took to an internet thesaurus for inspiration and decided on the unifying name, Backbone. Richard Hatch, the first winner of the popular Survivor reality series was chosen unanimously as their project manager. The women also came to their table with different idea for names. Rather than coming up with a unifying name to bring about cohesion, they chose A.S.A.P.P. (Artists, Singers, Authors & Professionals with Purpose). It was so obscure even to them, that when the time came to reveal it in the board room, they had forgotten its complex meaning. Star Jones, an attorney famous for being on The View was unanimously chosen as project manager for the women's team. Then the fun really started.
     Backbone took over a Famous Familglia  Pizzeria near NYU while A.S.A.P.P. chose the location closest to Times Square in the theatre district. Although timing is a bit unclear, it seems they had one day to train and prepare and one day to be in business to make money. Each team quickly set about assigning tasks: pizza-maker, counter service, cashier, delivery, marketing, etc. Almost immediately subordinates began complaining about their project managers being too bossy, controlling or otherwise unpleasant.  To me, this meant that both teams made good choices in leadership.  Though they were frustrated, each participant set out about doing the necessary preparatory work required for a day of food service.  They made, weighed, portioned and stored dough; they grated cheese and sliced toppings, etc. 
     The gender dynamics played out like textbook scenarios. Men formed a cohesive team, remaining task and goal oriented while setting personality differences aside - for the most part.  The standout in this was David Cassidy who was appreciably less industrious than the other men and far more needy as a worker.  Richard Hatch took his project manager role very seriously and put his megalomaniacal control freak tendencies to work with unwaivering determination to win. Unfortunately he expresses himself in an overly aggressive, demeaning and downright bullying fashion. He also has little self awareness and absolutely no humility. This makes him unlikeable. Is it necessary to like one's boss to get a job done?
     The women failed to form a team and there were catty remarks being tossed around under their breath and lots of negative judging of their chosen leader. Although they could not set aside their personality conflicts they did hunker down and get their preparations done. Lisa Rinna was the most whiny, catty and backstabbing. She would say one thing to her fellow workers and another to her "boss" which makes her unlikeable. Niki Taylor, a supermodel was the most surprising to me. She stood out as a team player, confident in her strengths and ready to put them on the line and work hard, she was the pizza-maker.
    Hatch chose Hip-Hop artist Lil John, Country & Western star John Rich and actor Gary Busey as his marketing team. They created a fun and effective campaign from menus to street hawking. Putting Gary Busey out on a street corner in an ill-fitting suit with menus and pepperoni confetti as the  evangelizing "Pizza Profit" was genius. All team members were encouraged to use their network connections, to call friends, family or whomever to get donations.  Some slices of pizza were sold for thousands of dollars in the name of charity.  The worker bees had fun running the pizzeria for a day and took joy in brining in money, Hatch was a mostly hands-off manager who demanded productivity while celebrating successes.
     Jones took the marketing task on personally while sending the other women back to the prep kitchen. Although she was sure in her confidence, her results at print posters and menu were lackluster at best. Her biggest mistake was taking two people out of the store for delivery. She sent Lisa Rinna and Marlee Matlin.  That was too much personnel out of operations which caused some major fallout when Star decided to close the retail side of the business to focus on what was to be a large delivery order. 
     Ultimately the win went to the women's A.S.A.P.P. team because they raised almost 2 1/2 times what the men brought in.  They did this in spite of their operational shortcomings and even though they missed a final delivery to a fire station that would have added an extra $35K to their total.  How?  They leveraged their natural gender traits. Women are relationship oriented and they called everyone they knew to come and support them. Their friends came through spectacularly.  One man came in and ordered 20 pizzas for each of his two offices @ $1,000 per pizza for a total of 40 pizzas for $40,000. When Star realized that time was running short and her operation could not support the order in time, she called her friend and asked him if she could do just 20 pizzas total and was told just one would do. A monkey could have come through with one pizza. She and her team were let off the hook way too easily and she should be extremely grateful for that kind of generosity. 
     With the women snagging the win, someone from the losing men's had to be fired.  The boardroom antics leading up to the firing were quite dramatic and very entertaining.  David Cassidy continued to whine about not being heard, complained about Richard Hatch manhandling him and offered multiple excuses for his dispassionate attitude and less than optimal performance.  Richard was classless both during the task in his treatment of Cassidy and the boardroom by referring to him decidedly feminine terms, i.e. little, delicate, needy, etc. However he was not responsible for David's poor performance. The men seemed united in the desire to see their leader be let go but it was "Keith Partridge" who got fired by "The Donald." Baseball player Jose Canseco was particularly chivalrous in his indictment of Hatch and defense of Cassidy. I look forward to learning more about this intriguing athlete as the show progresses.
     All things being equal, if both teams had to run their businesses for a month or more, it seems clear that the men would come out on top with their more cohesive team, better operations and relying more on the generosity of the general public rather than calling in favors from friends. The women's personality issues, cattiness, failure to form a team and sloppy operations set-up would have ultimately caused their demise. They were lucky this time.
     Finally, on a personal note, I believe that the reason I was so immediately hooked by this program has a lot to do with my current path of self-reconstruction. It is clear that I will learn a lot about how different qualities come into play in the success or failure of a business venture. As a new student in Trump University, I look forward to my education.