Today, Sir Richard Branson spoke out against Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. In reference to this, we are re-posting David J Anderson’s 2005 article about their respective management styles, as previously published in the book “Lessons in Agile Management Book: On the Road to Kanban”.
Management by Reality
Fired on the Asphalt
Thursday, January 6, 2005
This past fall season has seen a TV ratings war between the king of Manhattan real estate, Donald Trump, and the mildly eccentric (superficially) Sir Richard Branson. Trump had a second season of his show, The Apprentice, while Branson launched his copycat show, Rebel Billionaire.
The most interesting thing to watch was the very obvious differences in styles. Trump seems to breed confrontation, and his organization is very hierarchical— a hierarchy reinforced with the trappings of power. The final two contestants got to boss around former colleagues while being chauffeured in a Maybach limousine as their lackeys followed behind in a minivan. Trump dismisses the losers with his punch line, “You’re Fired!” The entire season was filled with bickering, Machiavellian intrigue, and outright bitchiness among the colleagues—particularly the women.
Meanwhile, Branson’s style is collaborative. He allows the losing team to debate who should be up for his “elimination challenge.” Branson encourages consensus, while Trump encourages finger-pointing and dissent. Whereas Trump looks for loyalty to the defeated leader, Branson looks for objectivity in the analysis of the defeat. Branson then has the losing elimination pair challenge each other. In the case of an outright loser then he doesn’t have to fire anyone — they self-selected, such as the guy who fell asleep during the night while camping out in the African savannah. An emotional Branson hugged the guy as he handed him his ticket home on the airport canopy before they boarded their next flight. He was evidently sorry to lose such a strong candidate.
The final dismissal with Branson is again non-confrontational—the uncharitable might call it passive-aggressive. He simply confronts the two losers on the tarmac at the steps to the plane and hands them each a ticket. One ticket allows someone to board while the other sends the loser back home to the USA on a different flight.
One final key difference is that Branson never asks his elimination contestants to do anything he wouldn’t do himself, and he often joins them. With Branson it’s all casual clothing, breaking bread around the table, hugs, and emotional support. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that his organization is much flatter than Trump’s and that his senior managers don’t enjoy the trappings of power because he recognizes that the only power they wield is the power to influence through respect.
When I’m watching The Apprentice, I can’t help but remind myself that it is entertainment and that much of it is set up for the viewer. It isn’t real. It isn’t reality. It’s fake! However, I feel that the differences in style between Trump and Branson are real and really are reflected in the nature of the two game shows. I have made up my mind who I’d prefer to work for. Have you?*
It is worth considering that Branson’s show ran for only one season, while The Apprentice ran for five and spawned other versions around the world. The conflict, the politics, the power, and its trappings appealed to the viewing public much more than Branson’s collegial collaborative culture did.