The Ultimate Job Interview

How 'The Apprentice' Kelly Perdew Trumped the Competition

Monday, January 24, 2005; 4:43 PM

As a contestant on "The Apprentice" you were part of a 16-week job interview on national television. Did the show mimic a real-life job interview?

Oh, absolutely. You had to be credentialed and present yourself in the right way to even make it to the point where you get an interview. It's not something you could do just haphazardly. Getting your preparation down was critical. I looked at this as not just an interview with Mr. Trump and his organization, I was looking at this as an interview with every employee I may hire, every investor that may put money into one of my companies, every vendor, because 15-20 million people were watching us every week.

If you were to list the show on your resume, what skills did you learn through the process?

Kelly Perdew, center, president of NBC Entertainment, Jeff Zucker, right, and Donald Trump pose together after Perdew won "The Apprentice." (Chris Haston - NBC via AP)

For me, my strategy was not how to hide or try to get away with something. The critical aspect of my game plan was understanding the rules: If you're not brought into the boardroom you can't be fired and the easiest way not to get brought into the boardroom is to have your team win. I focused so much effort on the team win every time and it paid off. My team won I think it was 11 out of the 14 or 15 times we had events. I was able to avoid the boardroom so I didn't even have to get down into the mess of screaming at each other or defending yourself. The second piece was I gave it everything I had. I wasn’t lollygagging. I wanted to feel at the end of the day when Mr. Trump was making his decision that there was nothing else I wish I had said.

In retrospect, would you change any of the tactics you used on the show?

Every week was interesting because I had no idea how they would edit this. I also didn't know what the other team was doing. So it was interesting to watch. From a tactical standpoint, I literally went in and did everything I wanted to do. I can't complain about the outcome at all. The things that those CEOs of Fortune 500 companies said about me [were positive] . . . most of the people on different teams said, "Well, I may not like Kelly, but I have to say he is the one who should win because he executes." It was not about making friends; it was about business.

On "The Apprentice," teamwork is crucial to success. What was your strategy for dealing with all the diverse and challenging personalities?

It was basically lead by example. I had to pick up the slack sometimes. There were several people who went at [the game] that way. Kevin was really strong and did that, Ivana and Sandy also operated that way. [They were] very honest, had high integrity, and had a do-what-I-say-I-do attitude. You eventually sway enough people if you are doing that. That, combined with the kind of pressure that we were going to be seen by 15-20 million people, really made everyone perform. On the last episode, the finale, Raj and John definitely talked some smack -- to their detriment -- but they were really performing. They really put out hard. And that's why we did so well. I was impressed with that.

The show emphasized that you are a graduate of United States Military Academy at West Point and a former Military Intelligence Officer. How did the military prepare you for the show and for working in the private sector?

It's a phenomenal foundation for doing a lot of great things. The discipline, the time management, the attention to detail -- and those were the small items. But in the bigger picture, there is integrity and duty-concept . . . you do what has to be done when it is time to do it. That is something a lot of employers are looking for.

You are an entrepreneur and have run several start-ups. What drives you to succeed?

I am very competitive. I always want to put 100 percent out. I don't do things half-assed. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. It sounds cliché, but that is something I learned from my 100-year-old grandpa.

On your Web site www.kellyperdew.com, a business partner described you as a "generous networker." What is a key factor in developing a strong network?

There are some born networkers, but you have to practice. By practice I mean you have to practice your own elevator pitch and know exactly what you are looking for -- try it on friends and family. And from a karma standpoint, I think you have to give to get. You don't do it for that reason -- I really enjoy connecting people.

Do you keep in touch with your network regularly?

I use a technology now called LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), which helps a lot. But I am avid about it. Every time I meet somebody I look at them as potential employee, potential investor, potential business partner, or I think how can I help them do any one of those things.

You have spent a lot of one-on-one time with Donald Trump. What have you learned?

He has inspired massive amounts of loyalty. I went to his Christmas party and met a lot of people in his organization during my first week at work. These are people who have been there 20-30 years. That is a testament to a fine leader; and he [shows] downward loyalty as well, which is huge. He has a great sense of humor and he is very self-deprecating; you have seen the Visa commercial -- that is not out of character for him. He is extremely caring, quick, intelligent -- he’s a great guy. I am really excited to have him as a mentor for the next year.

What are your first impressions of your new job?

[Trump] will give you as much chain as you can swim with. I am working on two projects. One is a 1-million-square-foot office space -- a building he owns on 40 Wall St. in downtown Manhattan. I am working with George Ross on that and I am learning everything I can about commercial leasing, tenant management and all the issues of building management. The second piece I am working on is called Trump Tower Tampa. It is a residential unit, 190 units, 52 stories high and it is a brand new development in Tampa, Fla. I will be doing promotional activities for them. And that was just my first week [of work].

What advice would you give the next group of apprentices? Any guess on which team will succeed: Street Smarts or Book Smarts?

It's about whoever executes. So, not knowing each of them individually yet, it is going to be about execution. I'd say the Street Smart people are born to execute -- that's all they do. I know from [Trump's] reaction that the Street Smart people have impressed him with how creative they’ve been. So I’ll guess and say Street Smarts.

Have you tuned in?

Yes, I have seen the first episode. An interesting tidbit that may not come out: They compared the net worth of the Street Smart team with the net worth of the Book Smart team and Street Smart has three times the net worth. I don't know if that is because college is so expensive, or what.

-- Nancy Kerr
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer

Kelly Perdew joined washingtonpost.com for a Live Online discussion on Monday, Jan. 31. Read the transcript here.

© 2005 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive