Q&A: The Apprentice winner Kelly Perdew

Written by Kim Shiffman

What happens to winners of The Apprentice after they spend a year working for Donald Trump? Like any reality-TV contestant, they squeeze out every second of their 15 minutes of fame. The winner of The Apprentice‘s second season, military man Kelly Perdew, is doing just that. He’s currently hosting GI Factory, a show that looks at military technologies, and he recently published Take Command: 10 Leadership Principles I Learned in the Military and Put to Work for Donald Trump.

But give him some respect: before appearing on The Apprentice, Perdew was a proven entrepreneur. He founded and grew several successful U.S.-based firms, including a dot-com and an event marketing and production company. PROFIT spoke to Perdew recently to ask him about entrepreneurship, The Apprentice and, of course, The Donald.

Are entrepreneurs are born or made?

I think they are made. No one’s born an entrepreneur. That said, I think there are two types of entrepreneurs. There are those people who work in an industry, and because of their knowledge and understanding, they identify a problem and come up with a solution, either inside their organization or they go and build a team around themselves. They become an entrepreneur from their circumstances. The other kind is what I am: someone who has a deep, burning desire to build an organization.

Are the challenges on The Apprentice a good test of someone’s ability to effectively manage a business?

The tasks on the show provide a great proxy for how you manage teams. They show your passion, attention to detail and your problem-solving capability. Certainly a three-day task can’t be an exact model, but it gives you insight into people’s team-leading capability. And definitely you get to see how somebody reacts under pressure. Adversity reveals brilliance.

What qualities helped you to win the show?

Have you seen my book, Take Command: 10 Leadership Principles I Learned in the Military and Put to Work for Donald Trump? Those 10 principals helped a lot. Planning, integrity and probably the flexibility are the three of the ten that were most salient during the show.

Tell us a bit more about the book.

After I won The Apprentice, I was asked over and over again, “Do you think your military background helped you win?” and my initial reaction was, “Definitely.” I couldn’t understand why people didn’t understand the amazing amount of leadership training you get the military, so I wanted to identify the military training I received and how it applies to business. So I got insights from amazing business leaders who have military background. Marsha Evans, former CEO of the Red Cross, and Jim Kimsey, founding CEO of AOL, have hit massive home runs in business, and they attribute their success to military principles.

What are your top tips for business success?

You have to focus on your people. I don’t care what the product or service you’re providing is, you have to attract and retain the best people. If all you focus on is the bottom line, then that’s the kind of people you’ll attract.

That said, every company is built on several legs — its employees, customers, shareholders and the community. It’s impossible to build a valued business without giving good weight to each of those four components. It’s the same way you are in your life: you have to be evenly weighted or something will give. It’s being well-rounded.

What’s the worst mistake an entrepreneur can make?

You need to be very careful in smaller companies if you’ve taken money from friends and family. Make sure your decisions are based on business, not emotions. I stayed in a company for much longer than I should have because I took money from friends and family. You don’t want to destroy relationships, so be careful.

Tell us something about Donald Trump that we don’t know. Is he just how he seems on TV, or is there a different side to him?

He’s incredibly passionate and very funny. He’s also very self-deprecating — like what you saw on the Emmys. [Trump donned overalls and a straw hat and sang the theme to Green Acres with Will & Grace‘s Megan Mullally]. That’s the way he really is. His passion is overriding. He feels so strongly about the Trump brand and Trump name.

Are you watching the current season of The Apprentice?

I don’t watch reality TV. I think I saw two episodes of season one of The Apprentice. Then, when I found out I was going to be on it, I watched a couple more. I like CSI. Not New York; it’s a toss up between Miami and Las Vegas.

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