An Oceanside High School student asked Donald Trump’s deputy, George Ross, how he would feel if Donald Trump fired him.
“It can’t happen,” joked Ross, the Donald’s executive vice president, senior counsel and, as millions of “Apprentice” fans know him, right-hand man. “He can’t afford the severance pay.”
Ross shared many facts and opinions about the popular reality TV show, his billionaire boss and the business world with students at OHS last Thursday. These students, who are active in Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), a business-oriented program, crowded into the library to listen as Ross revealed that he had never been fired from a job, because he always worked to the best of his ability, he said.
A graduate of Brooklyn Law School, Ross was a practicing attorney for 50 years and headed a major law firm. Trump hired him for his first development deal, when he converted the rundown Commodore Hotel into the Grand Hyatt on Park Avenue in the 1970s. Since 1996, Ross has worked for the Trump Organization in development and supervision of Trump’s buildings and in the licensing, promotion and marketing of his products.
With Ross’ bio in mind, the DECA students asked him a variety of questions, particularly about the qualities needed most to become a leader in business. He offered three staples: be yourself, build both your knowledge and underdeveloped skills, and understand human nature.
Ross said “The Apprentice” has many lessons to offer, from the proper way to look, act and talk to other leadership qualities such as staying in control under pressure and interacting well with others.
For its second season, “The Apprentice” attracted a million applicants, a number whittled down to 500. Each was videotaped, and from these interviews the final contestants were chosen.
“But you don’t know how they’ll act,” Ross continued on his point about interacting well with others. “You get some unusual ones, like Omarosa,” he said about the contestant from the first season who displayed the most questionable behavior. Ross added that he felt that Kwami, who finished second overall, should have been fired for picking her to assist him in his final project.
One student asked if Trump would hire people with special needs, and another girl wanted to know if Ross though it was wise for a woman to use her good looks to advance her career.
In explaining the Trump Organization’s hiring practices, Ross noted that race and gender were irrelevant, and that a degree from an Ivy League school was no guarantee that an applicant would be hired over someone from a less-prestigious college. Trump hires according to a person’s complete package, with the basic standard being: “Do they have what it takes to succeed?” Ross said. And women who rely on their beauty, he said, “don’t cut it in the marketplace at all.”
The most important quality for success in business or any profession, Ross stressed, was to work at something you enjoy. “If you don’t do that,” he warned, “get out.”
“He was an inspiration,” said sophomore Taylor Braun after Ross talked and fielded questions over two periods. “It was inspiring to hear he wasn’t from some Ivy League school and made it in
“I was surprised at how personable he was,” said senior Nicole Wolosoff about Ross, who projects a grumpy persona in Trump’s boardroom.
When asked about his favorite subject in school, Ross simply said, “Recess,” which generated a wave of laughter.
One boy joked, “Between you and me, who’s the winner of the second season?” If Ross were to reveal that information to anyone, he could be sued for as much as $5 million. “I can tell you this much, it’s one out of two,” joked Ross, who lived with his wife and two daughters in Oceanside for 25 years before moving to Hewlett Harbor in 1983.
Ross described doing the show as “nine weeks of hell,” explaining that “The Apprentice” involves a crew of 200 people, 16 cameras and 8 hours of work a day. Like the show’s fans, he sees the finished product only when it airs each Thursday night. His favorite show was last season’s lemonade episode, when the male contestants were disoriented and the women used sex appeal when trying to sell their product. “I never saw such stupidity in my life,” he said.
Ross said he pulls for nobody on the show; he simply observes the contestants and gives input to Trump, who makes all final decisions. Ross said that when firing employees, Trump never sugercoats what for them is a traumatic experience. “You can’t make it appear nice,” he said his boss once told him.
One boy inquired about what makes Trump a better businessman than others. “Donald has the ability to make very quick decisions,” Ross replied. He explained that Trump is thoroughly engrossed in his work and loves the deals and action of business, and bluntly said “no” when asked if his boss will ever retire.
After estimating Trump’s worth at $2.5 to $3 billion, Ross declined to reveal his own worth. He has accepted no salary for either of his first two seasons with “The Apprentice,” but said he’s struck a deal with Trump to be compensated for the third. For now, he’s enjoying the success of the show, whose ratings for last season’s finale were in league with the Super Bowl and the Oscars. He attributes the show’s success, in part, to the fact that it’s something the whole family can watch.
One fan of the show, sophomore Matt Coleman, said, “I liked that he said that business is hard work, but if you be yourself and give it your all, you’ll succeed.”
“I feel very strong about giving tips about education to kids,” Ross said on opening his talk, adding that he wished there were business courses when he attended high school. “That’s why I’m here.”
Ross told the Herald that of the many questions he fielded, none particularly stood out. “What was important,” he continued, “was that some students asked the prime question: What characteristics are need to be a business leader?”
Said sophomore Jillian Cohen, “I think what stood out for me most was when he told us to enjoy whatever you decide to do in life.”