Reality better than TV for these apprentices

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Make one mistake, and you won't necessarily be booted out of this board room.

About eight University of North Texas students with dreams of entrepreneurial success recently gathered around the board room of successful Dallas business executive Don Buchholz for some real-life advice on how to turn their business ideas into reality.

Immaculately dressed in dark business suits and eager to jump-start their careers, these young students are UNT's version of "The Apprentice," Donald Trump's popular television show that premiered Sept. 22 (Thursday) on NBC. But though the show may be called "reality TV," the students learned that the world of entrepreneurship isn't always as it appears on the small screen.

"`The Apprentice' is about breaking down, and our program is about building up," said Eileen Curry Resnik, director of UNT's Murphy Enterprise Center, which encourages entrepreneurship by providing students with business counseling, mentoring and training opportunities. "The students learn what it's like to make payroll; they learn that as an entrepreneur they sometimes have to sweep the floors; they learn how to deal with a sick employee not coming to work. They are much better prepared to be an entrepreneur."

During the fourth season of Trump's show, 18 young entrepreneurs – from a Rhodes scholar to an NFL player – are fighting tooth-and-nail to be the last person standing. In the first week of the show, the contestants created and marketed a new fitness class for a gym – before one contestant heard Trump's trademark words: "You're fired." At the season's end, the winner will earn a job with the The Trump Organization and a six-figure salary.

Likewise, UNT is grooming young hopefuls for successful, high-powered business careers. Each year UNT hand-picks up to 20 Wright entrepreneur interns – much like Trump hand-selects his "Apprentice" contestants – who are charged with finding an internship working directly with an entrepreneur.

But unlike "The Apprentice," workers aren't fired every week, they don't necessarily work on back-stabbing teams, and they usually have more than a few hours to complete Herculean tasks – like organizing charity benefits or creating an ad campaign for designer jeans.

"It's reality that you're under pressure to get a job done," said Buchholz, a 1952 graduate of UNT, who is founder of Southwest Securities Inc. in Dallas and chairman of the board of parent company SWS Group Inc . "It's not reality to get it done in four hours."

But on the other hand, completing projects ahead of schedule or beyond expectations is a good way to leap ahead in an organization, said SWS Group Chief Executive Officer Donald W. Hultgren, who spoke to the students alongside Buchholz. And when mistakes are made, workers aren't necessarily shown the door as quickly or as easily as Trump fires "Apprentice" contestants.

"If we didn't make mistakes and take calculated risks, we would not be making a lot of progress," Hultgren said. And besides, "Firing someone is not that much fun, as interesting as Donald Trump makes it look."

Wright entrepreneur intern Steve Basmajian worked for a year for an independent entrepreneur in Lewisville, redesigning a board game. He's watched "The Apprentice," but says the gamut of tasks in the television show just don 't reflect reality.

"They set them up to do things they're not geared to do, whereas in real life you are more focused," Basmajian said. "It's luck or ratings to keep those people on."

UNT's entrepreneurship program for students has been ranked as one of the Top 100 Collegiate Entrepreneurship Programs in the U.S. by Entrepreneur magazine for the second year in a row. The program is supported by UNT' s Murphy Enterprise Center, which offers scholarships, internships and activities to help students pursue entrepreneurial careers.

The Wright entrepreneur internship program culminates in the Jerry Durant Family of Dealerships Luncheon, benefiting the UNT Murphy Enterprise Center, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Nov. 4 (Friday) at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas. The students will be recognized at the luncheon, where Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda will deliver the keynote speech and Dallas businessman H. Ross Perot will accept the Murphy Award for a lifetime of achievement in entrepreneurship.

After enjoying years of hard-earned success, Buchholz had parting words of wisdom for the young entrepreneurs.

"If you enjoy what you're doing, you'll do a good job," Buchholz said. "If you don't like the job, quit, because you are not going to be successful."

For more information about the Wright entrepreneur internship program, visit or call Eileen Curry Resnik, director of the Murphy Enterprise Center, at (940) 565-2848.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108