It's official: A star is hired. Randal Pinkett, who earned three degrees from MIT, triumphed over 17 other competitors on "The Apprentice 4" finale Dec. 15 to earn a job with Donald Trump.
"Randal's been a star. He's got a star education. He's MIT. He's a Rhodes Scholar," Trump said. "Do you know what that means? That's serious, serious education." Some 800 students and alumni gathered in Kresge Auditorium to watch the live show on television.
Indeed, Pinkett seemed the clear favorite throughout the 13-week job interview, winning all three tasks he project-managed, earning the respect of fellow cast members, and being quickly snatched up by other competitors when opportunities arose to even the teams.
The win nets Pinkett a six-figure job with "The Donald" overseeing the renovation and expansion of Trump's three hotels in Atlantic City, N.J. "I see it really as what it's intended to be, an apprenticeship," Pinkett said in an interview before the last show aired. "I don't envision that I will begin a lifelong career at the Trump organization, but I certainly will work hard and seek to learn, and be a sponge. â€¦ I believe I have a lot to bring to the Trump organization through my experience as an entrepreneur."
Typical of reality TV drama, Pinkett's fate was left in question during the penultimate episode, in which he and challenger Rebecca, a 23-year-old financial journalist, organized large benefits. Pinkett did make some questionable decisions -- he dragged all of his employees to a party store for supplies and did not have a contingency plan for what would happen if his softball game were rained out, which happened. But Pinkett's grace under pressure and charm won over his clients.
At the end of the finale, Trump asked Pinkett if Rebecca should also be hired, but Pinkett said he thought the night belonged to him. "If you're going to hire someone tonight, it should be one," he said. "It's not 'The Apprenti,' it's 'The Apprentice.'"
Pinkett's final competitor could simply not top his academic credentials and business acumen. Pinkett, 34, hold five degrees, including one from Oxford earned on a Rhodes Scholarship and three from MIT: a master's in electrical engineering, an M.B.A. in the Leaders for Manufacturing (LFM) Program, and a Ph.D. from the Media Laboratory. He's also founded five companies, the latest of which is Newark, N.J.-based BCT Partners, a management, technology and policy consulting firm.
"There's no question that a lot of the organizational development and strategy and communication skills that I honed at MIT were applied on the show," said Pinkett, citing LFM's leadership activities and exercises as important to his training. "All those skills that have to do with being a leader and leading people I think I applied and applied effectively on the show."
Pinkett did face some troublesome moments: learning of his grandmother's death in episode one, missing a typo on a promotional poster, and having a teammate question his creativity in front of Trump. But never shying away from leadership and leading by example served him well. "My strategy was to be fair and to treat people with respect," he said. "I feel like I came across true to who I am and represented the kind of business person that I am in a very positive light."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 21, 2005 (download PDF).