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Mike Micklewright

Quality Insider

Why Trump Is Bad for U.S. Business

An inconsistent egotist at the helm of a TV show is a deplorable role model

Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 12:02

Editor’s note: This column first ran May 10, 2011, more than five years before Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. We think it's worth reading now not so much for political reasons but rather to emphasize the enduring usefulness of quality management tools. We’re also interested in readers’ views on the relative importance of management as a science vs. an art, both of which are highlighted here.

There is one show on TV that I try to watch religiously. It’s Donald Trump’s Apprentice series, even though I cannot stand him or the message he delivers to U.S. business managers week after week. The message is one of instilling fear in the workplace. The contestants on the show are constantly on guard and fearful of getting fired. It becomes painfully obvious that they will do whatever it takes to make sure that the other contestants look bad and they look good, in the eyes of Trump.

I know, I know… if I despise him and his message so much, why do I keep supporting him and his show by watching week after week? I can’t answer that question. Perhaps I’m like the person who goes to church every Sunday and loves to watch a weekend murder mystery, or the person who despises gossip but watches soap operas, or the person who weighs 400 pounds but watches nonstop ESPN.

What is so wrong about the message that Trump sends to naive, young, and impressionable American managers? That it’s OK to drive fear into the organization and have employees compete against each other, not just between two teams (or departments), but within teams (departments). This is the equivalent of the head of an organization telling those within a department that the most talented employees will retain their jobs and the others will be fired.

Forget about the outside competition. Forget about the customers. Forget about teamwork and working together to try to overcome the department’s or team’s shortfalls. It’s all about internal competition within the department or team. The main concern on everyone’s minds is not to screw up and ensure that if someone else screws up, don’t help that person, and in fact, pronounce their failure.

This is exactly what happens week after week as we faithfully watch the “Apprentice” and as others watch at their own work places. We see people quit the task, become disengaged, stifle their own creativity, work within the system instead of challenging the system, and sometimes even purposely sabotage the effort. We see this at work, and we see this on the “Apprentice.”

The boardroom

Toward the end of the show, after it has been announced which team has lost and the winners have been released from the dreaded boardroom, we see Trump ask the remaining teammates of the losing team which person he should fire, building up even more resentment and less teamwork for the remaining survivors moving on to the next week’s event. And week after week, though the editors try to make nearly every project look successful, the customer continues to be neglected because they are not the true focus.

This is why Trump is bad for business. He is teaching the wrong lessons. Why? Because it makes for good TV and it feeds his already extra-large ego. It also allows him to openly practice nepotism when he puts his three children in positions to openly judge other contestants. Nice message to send to small-business owners out there, as if they didn’t already know it’s OK to put your kids in positions that they do not deserve and for which they are unqualified.

The boardroom and the critical decision of who will be fired that week is like a wide-open performance review that allows individuals to gang up against each other with vicious venom. There is no talk about how to improve the system, how to make more money for the customer or charities, what was done, and how the team can work better together the next time. It’s all about who was the lousiest and who should get canned that week. Yes, it is entertaining, but there are a lot of impressionable young people out there who think this is the way to manage.

The firing usually comes down to Trump’s judgment and mood that week. If you are a beautiful sexy model or ex-Playboy bunny, you will last at least half the season no matter how incompetent you are because Trump obviously likes beautiful women in the workplace. If you say as team leader that you are to blame and should be fired, one week “The Donald” says that he respects someone so honest, and the next week he says he cannot stand a quitter. Complete inconsistency. If you’ve gone to rehab, one week Trump will commend you for doing so, the next he will berate and embarrass you. The decision process is so obviously judgmental and subjective.

It really all depends on how much he likes you for whatever reason—just like a real performance review. The problem is that there might be young managers who look up to Trump as a model of who they would like to be. What a shame and what a damaging message he’s presenting.

It is this same very ego-driven and greed mentality that led to the Great Recession we are finally exiting from. Stay tuned for the rerun.

W. Edwards Deming stated that we need to drive out fear. To the wise and informed, Trump has demonstrated why this is so important. To the rest, they see the selfish benefits of driving in fear. Deming also talked about a greater long-term purpose in business. Developing a constancy of purpose, one based on long-term performance, not short-term results. The Donald has shown us that there is no other purpose in business than to live for the short term and bury everyone along the way as long as you come out on top.

Trump is extremely damaging to American business. He doesn’t care though, as long as he looks good and makes more money.


About The Author

Mike Micklewright’s picture

Mike Micklewright

Mike Micklewright has been teaching and facilitating quality and lean principles worldwide for more than 25 years. He specializes in creating lean and continuous improvement cultures, and has implemented continuous improvement systems and facilitated kaizen/Six Sigma events in hundreds of organizations in the aerospace, automotive, entertainment, manufacturing, food, healthcare, and warehousing industries. Micklewright is the U.S. director and senior consultant for Kaizen Institute. He has an engineering degree from the University of Illinois, and he is ASQ-certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, quality auditor, quality engineer, manager of quality/operational excellence, and supply chain analyst.

Micklewright hosts a video training series by Kaizen Institute on integrating lean and quality management systems in order to reduce waste.



"We think it's worth reading now not so much for political reasons but rather to emphasize the enduring usefulness of quality management tools."

I was born at night, but it wasn't LAST NIGHT!  It is clear why this article was rerun.

If QD wants to become a left-wing blog, then FINE, but have the intellectual honesty to admit it.

Dirk, will you be posting a counter-point article? I doubt it.

How about QD rededicating itself to a focus on Quality theory, management and practices, while leaving politics where it belongs - anywhere else!

Counterpoint welcomed

Thanks for your comment Steve. We would love a counterpoint article. If anyone wants to write a counterpoint, we will certainly take a look at it.

In fact, let us offer what we think is a good jumping off point for a counterpoint. It is this recent interview on NPR (link below). The piece leans to the left but there is a great bit about halfway through which essentially says that President Trump's approach, as chaotic and contentious as it seems, might be a good thing.

Could you make an argument that maybe "Quality Management" needs a shakeup? Could Deming, Juran, et al, in fact, be wrong (at least in today's climate)? In today's fast moving, global environment, does 50-year-old quality management theory still hold water? We would be excited about such a piece coming in.


The president also seems comfortable surrounded by competing personalities and power centers in the White House. That can generate a lot of friction and palace intrigue. But not everyone thinks that's a bad thing.

"It can make things pretty intense on the inside. But for the rest of us on the outside, it tends to lead to wiser decisions," says Chris Demuth, a veteran of the Reagan White House who is now a distinguished fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute.

Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt deliberately pitted staff members against one another, Demuth says, often with creative results.

He also shares the president's view that being unpredictable is a good thing.

"If we look back through history there are several of our presidents who actually cultivated a reputation for unpredictability to keep foes especially in international affairs a little off balance," Demuth says. "Richard Nixon was very good at promoting the idea he could be just a little bit crazy."


A vivid contrast to Trump

I agree that Trump's egomaniacal style would make for a horrible President, ignoring any political positions. Trump is always bragging about how smart he is, which tells me he isn't really that smart.

Another Republican primary candidate, Herman Cain, has a business background. I saw him speak back in 2004 and blown away with his leadership style and approach to people. I heard him on the radio in Dallas yesterday and he talked about taking over as CEO of Godfather's Pizza. Cain talked about how they were near bankruptcy and he didn't have all the answers - so he relied on the people closest to the work, the ones that know the problems best and they turned things around. It sounded a lot like Lean leadership, servant leadership.

Trump is all about Trump. Herman Cain seemed to be in service to other people and THAT is the type of man I'd want to see as President (or CEO of a company).

He's a Survivor

Well, Mike. I have to disagree with you again. I wonder, if you are correct, how he got all his money? Maybe God gave it to him? Maybe the State...like welfare? I have watched team after team and their sub-optimal performance –right out of Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints.

It seems as if nobody took the movie Gladiator seriously like they did the Godfather. Everybody quotes from the Godfather movies like they should quote Shakespeare. Recall the scene in the movie Gladiator, after they have been taught to fight as individuals, Maximus says, “No matter what comes out that door…if you want to live then we have to fight together…” Probably a truism. The Roman army won as much as they did because they trained for 5 years together – trained to fight as a team, not as individuals – and they won, victory after victory until the Mediterranean was a Roman Lake. What did they have that the others did not have? They had an Aim; they had a system; they had leadership; they had training; they had spirit; they had excellent tools; they had good military processes. What they did not have was good political processes like peaceful succession.

Rich, don't be so politically naive. The birther thing was a ploy. It worked pretty well no matter what political side you were on. Based on the reactions, like a big Maverick-style poker game, 'The Donald' got a look at everyone’s hand. Pretty sharp.

Trump is a New Yorker. That, in and of itself, says a lot. He has a big ego because people expect him to have one. It’s a “face.” All famous politicians have ‘faces’ they wear in public – Roosevelt, Stalin, Nixon, etc. Their public side was very different from their private side. How he acts on television is not necessarily how he acts in the company. Howard Hughes was the “real thing, baby”. Nothing phony about him. He had vision. He had drive. He was all business, 24x7. Many successful business men were driven by some 'inner vision'. They come from all ends of the political spectrum – Perot and Spielberg are to opposites, yet both successful. Trump is that type of individual.

Thomas and Forrest, I tend to agree with you. I have seen ‘Chainsaw’ Al Dunlap and “GEe” Jack Welch on television. Both have reputations for grossly misusing Juran’s Pareto Principle. You cannot keep firing the bottom 10% forever and expect to have anything left…let alone people who trust each other. You get the same thing that Deming warned against –fear. Yet they are constantly held up as business icons to be listened to on CNBC and Bloomberg.

I wonder if Mike watches Survivor? Now that is a show that I could recommend to an Organizational Behavior course in any MBA school. “Dog-eat-dog” and the “winner-take- the-hind-most”… Week-after-week we see petty alliances forged and forgotten for convenience. Something that I have seen in all 40 years of my work life and several companies.

Thomas is right again. These shows are for entertainment. The only show not mentioned is Undercover Boss. I have never worked in a company whose processes would not have benefitted from this practice. Unfortunately, the idea came along too late – despite the movie Brubaker.

Same effects

Reward programs can have the same effects that fear causes due to internal competition and suboptimization.


The man is a complete joke, as he proved with the birther issue. Not to be taken seriously-he won't run, bank on it.


Mike,I certainly hope you're


I certainly hope you're wrong about managers actually watching and taking lessons from this show. It's clearly meant to entertain, not to educate. The fact that you watch every week indicates that you find it entertaining. Your insights from this article indicate that you understand that it has zero or negative value as a guide to doing business.Let's hope that others are able to draw the same distinctions.

Thomas Pyzdek  


He's not that bad

Middle managers may not like his practices, but look at some of the greatest, most successful businessmen, from Hughes to Rockefeller. They all had deep personalities that did not conform to the accepted business and personal practices of the day.





Forest Wilson
Cherokee Fire Protection Co.

Bad for the Country, too

Not to mention the absurdity of his potential candidacy for president.  I'm convinced it's just a ploy for more nourishment to feed his bloated ego.  He couldn't possibly run a viable campaign; he doesn't have skeletons in the closet, he's got entire skyscrapers full of them.  I can imagine the Dems licking their chops at the prospect.