Monday, July 11, 2005
Interview with Kelly Perdew, Winner of The Apprentice
Kelly Perdew is the winner of "The Apprentice 2," and was recently promoted to Executive Vice President in the Trump Organization. He's also a longtime reader of the socalTECH newsletter. Kelly was the President of local company eteamz.com -- an amateur sports portal; Co-Founder & CEO of The Layoff Lounge -- an event production company; Co-Founder and still Chairman of MotorPride.com -- a motor enthusiast community site; and just before winning the show, he was the President of CoreObjects.com, an outsourced offshore software development company with headquarters here in Los Angeles. I thought it would be interesting to talk to Kelly about the contrast of the high tech community here in Southern California and his experiences with The Apprentice and the Trump Organization.
BK: Congratulations on the win -- I know there were lots of people in the Southern California tech community who were watching your every move and cheering you on. How are you finding it working for Donald Trump?
KP: This has been an amazing experience. I'm learning so much and my network has expanded more than I thought possible. I've done everything from meet the President and address Congress to play golf with Emmitt Smith and run the live auction for Larry King's Cardiac Foundation Gala. On the business side, not only am I getting a great introduction to real estate, but I'm working closely with a master brander. Think about it...Donald Trump is a walking brand. There aren't many of those out there and it didn't happen by accident. I'm learning as much about marketing as I am about real estate.
Personally, Donald is incredibly funny and a great leader. The loyalty in his organization is phenomenal. There are people in his organization that have been here for over 20 years. That is a testament to his leadership.
BK: Are you finding that your experience in the tech industry here applies to commercial real estate?
KP: That's a great question. I think that every experience gives you lessons you can take with you no matter where you go. I am fortunate that I attended West Point, was in the Army as a military intelligence officer and airborne/ranger, had a great experience at Anderson and UCLA school of law and spent the last 10 years building companies in Southern California. All of the same principles I learned and used (with varying levels of success!) in each of those environments are serving me well here: Perseverance, Integrity, Teamwork, Passion, Flexibility, Impeccability, Loyalty, Duty, Planning, and Selflessness. You should always take as much as you can from every experience. More likely than not, you will have a chance to use it later.
BK: Why did you decide to try out for the Apprentice, and what drove you (having already been a successful entrepreneur and executive) to compete on the show?
KP: I love a challenge. Whether it's West Point, Ranger School, a joint JD/MBA program, or starting a new company like www.motorpride.com -- I really enjoy, and usually thrive in, high stress, competitive, multi-tasking environments. I went into "The Apprentice" viewing it not just as an interview with Donald Trump, but as an interview with EVERY potential employee, investor, business partner and customer that I may have in the future. I also realized that a "good" showing in front of 15-20M viewers every week for 15 weeks would radically expand my network, create significant new opportunities and increase my ability to do all the things I wanted to do. So far, so good!
BK: What was your strategy going into the show, and how did you think it played out?
KP: Well, based on how things played out, I have no complaints! I went into the show with a two-pronged strategy. The first one was to win every task. And that meant every second of every task I was focused on winning. Not backstabbing, not jockeying for position if it didn't seem things were going well, just winning. My reasoning on this was that if I never end up in the boardroom, then it was highly unlikely (never say never) I would get fired. I was on the winning team for 11 of the 15 tasks and it worked out that the only time I was in jeopardy of being fired was in the finale. I was in the "final" boardroom one other time, but I had exemption because I'd won the task prior as the project manager. This part of my strategy was also evident in that I always tried to keep my team as strong as possible, even if it meant I might have a higher chance of being fired if we lost the task. For instance, as project manager in the Pepsi task I kept Kevin on my team with Ivana (and sent Jen away because she was the weakest person on the team) even though Kevin had an exemption and if we lost it would be me vs. Ivana in the final boardroom -- basically a 50-50 chance. If I were trying to "game it" instead of win, then I'd have sent Kevin to the other team so that my chances of being fired if we lost the task would decrease (1 in 3 vs. 1 in 2). The second prong of my strategy was to be in a leadership role as much as possible. My leadership background, experiences, and basic nature all drive me to lead. I also felt that if I were leading, then I would have more control of my destiny. I led as the project manager for four tasks and my team won all four times. And even when I wasn't the project manager, I was acting as the project manager's right-hand man and tracking all the activities, managing others, and acting almost in a "de facto" leadership role as necessary. I was definitely able to either make or influence every important decision.
BK: Where do you go from here -- more Trump or back to high tech?
KP: Technology is in my blood, but this real estate stuff has a lot going for it! Although I have taken a less active role with my technology endeavors, I still remain involved. I'm on the advisory boards for both www.coreobjects.com and www.motorpride.com and am evaluating board positions with other technology companies where I can add value. I am learning a lot about real estate and am excited to get more involved with that business.
I'm looking at this 12 months with Trump just like any other business arrangement -- toward the end of the term I'm sure Donald and I will look at each other and determine if we want to continue the relationship, adjust it or go our separate ways. I do like working with him and he encourages entrepreneurial behavior so you never know what might happen!
BK: Finally, what are the biggest lessons you learned going through the experience of The Apprentice?
KP: Actually, it helped reinforce some things I've learned before...
a) Be passionate about whatever you're working on! You'll do better and other people can tell when you're not "into" something. Besides, life is short and you should enjoy what you're doing.
b) Give back. Some of the most rewarding aspects of this entire experience have been in giving back to charities. With this "quasi-celebrity" status I've got, I'm trying to give back where I can. I'm working as a celebrity spokesperson with Big Brothers/Big Sisters (www.bbbs.org), The National Guard Youth Challenge Program (www.ngycp.org), the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (www.komen.org), and the Department of Defense (www.todaysmilitary.com/kelly).
c) Be yourself. If you're honest with yourself about who you are and what you want, you'll end up being a lot happier. Your authenticity will come through and be apparent to others.
d) Never give up. In the true spirit of the entrepreneur, you've got to "keep on keeping on no" matter how difficult the circumstance appear to be at the time. Hard work will prevail!