The Apprentice Phenomenon

Mark Twain said that while history doesn’t repeat itself it often rhymes, and as we look back on the political turbulence of 2016 one rhyme is loud and clear. Trump’s rise from star of The Apprentice to President-Elect of the United States took most commentators by surprise but the result echoes many previous similar trajectories around the world.

For example, 10 years ago, the Georgian version of The Apprentice was hosted by career banker Lado Gurgenidze. One year later he was Prime Minister of Georgia. Meanwhile, in the UK, The Apprentice’s Alan Sugar is now Lord Sugar after being elevated to the House of Lords. Indeed just weeks before Trump’s election John Doria Jr., star of The Apprentice in Brazil, was resoundingly elected mayor of São Paulo.

Just for fun, I asked the CPI Christmas elves to conduct a thorough investigation into this phenomenon. It turns out that versions of The Apprentice have been produced in 29 different countries around the world and there have been 33 presenters in total including Donald Trump. Of these, a total of 12 have gained political office of some sort which means the chances of making the transition are greater than one in three.

We estimate the equivalent figure for an average member of the population to be about one in 50,000 which means that presenting The Apprentice increases your odds of political success an incredible 18,000 times! That’s a far better political boost than attending an Ivy League college, being the offspring of a politician – or any other path to power you can think of.

Other examples include Klaus Riskær Pedersen who starred in The Apprentice in Denmark and is now a Member of the European Parliament and Peter F. Gontha, from The Apprentice in Indonesia, now that country’s Ambassador to Poland. The sole woman on the list, Nora Mojsejová, starred in The Apprentice in the Czech Republic in 2011 and went on to be President of the Slovak political party SSS-NM.

The Fundamentals

So what explains this pattern? The Public Impact Fundamentals suggest that policy, action and legitimacy are the three components required to achieve impact so again, just for fun, we conducted a quick analysis. How does the average star of The Apprentice measure up to the average career politician against these characteristics?

Let’s start with policy – no doubt the weakest component for The Apprentice stars. Compared to the career politician they invariably lack any real policy experience and have not had to navigate the tricky tradeoffs and bureaucratic hurdles that policymaking generally requires. That’s 1-0 to the politicians.

By contrast, as successful business people running large organisations, one can argue that The Apprentice stars have a far greater bias for action than the politicians. They are viewed by the public as people who can take tough decisions and ensure those decisions are translated into reality. That’s one point each.

The tie-breaker is legitimacy and conventional logic might suggest that, with their direct mandate from the people, elected politicians enjoy greater legitimacy. However, Donald Trump and the other Apprentice stars have turned this logic on its head. They tend to derive legitimacy from the fact that they come outside the political establishment and can therefore shake up the system.

So perhaps the political ascendency of Donald Trump many other Apprentice stars around the world is not as unpredictable as it first appears.

Happy Holidays to those having a break and thank you for your support – we look forward to continuing the public impact conversation in 2017!

 

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