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updated 4/28/2004 4:37:14 PM ET 2004-04-28T20:37:14

Memo to The Donald: You can't fire us, we quit. In fact, we never wanted to work for you in the first place.

That was the message thousands of our readers sent to Donald Trump, star of NBC's The Apprentice, who finished a surprising fifth among preferred billionaire employers in our poll. Which billionaire, we asked, would you most like to work for, and which one would you least like to work for? The winner of Trump's reality-TV show will be revealed Thursday night, but we're unveiling our winner today--and it's not Trump but Oprah Winfrey. (NBC is a partner in MSNBC)

Our readers don't want to go into Trump's boardroom to learn the art of the deal. They don't want to be his apprentice. They'd much rather work for Oprah, Mark Cuban or Steven Spielberg. In fact, the only billionaire who appeals to readers less as a boss is the so-called Queen of Mean, Leona Helmsley.

"A fat lot they know," responds Norma Foerderer, vice president of media relations for The Trump Organization. Foerderer has worked for Trump for 23 years, and she says that at least 18 of the 60 people in his executive offices have been with him for 15 years or more. "We happen to love him," she adds.

Video: Carolyn and George from 'The Apprentice' Trump did win our separate "Monday Matchup" poll from April 12, which pitted him against Cuban and Richard Branson, asking readers which billionaire's reality show they would most like to appear on.

But Trump-love was less in evidence among the 45,000 people who voted in our "Which billionaire would you most like to work for?" poll, posted Feb. 26 as part of our World's Richest People coverage. As of midday today, Trump came in fifth out of ten billionaire contestants, with 6percent of the vote. He even finished behind "none of the above," which garnered 8percent. Winfrey's main competition came from Cuban, the former dot-com wunderkind turned Dallas Mavericks owner, who is starting his own reality show to compete with Trump's. Winfrey and Cuban got 32percent and 18percent of the vote, respectively; Spielberg came in third with 15 percent, while Apple ComputerChief Executive Steve Jobs was fourth with 7 percent.

But the really resounding vote came when we asked readers which billionaire they would least like to work for. A whopping 36,000 votes have poured in, and 29percent are for Helmsley, the New York real estate empress. But Trump was a not-so-distant second with 22 percent. Winfrey was third with 12 percent; former Time Warner board member Ted Turner was fourth with 10 percent.

Apparently, wealth was not the top priority when it came to choosing a potential employer. The two richest billionaires mentioned in our polls were News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch, worth $7.8 billion at last count, and Marvin Davis, who is worth $4.9 billion--nearly twice as much as Trump. But neither Murdoch nor Davis received many votes in either poll.

Consolation for Trump: His new book, How to Get Rich, is a bestseller, and The Apprentice has owned its time slot for NBC. In the show, Trump challenges a crew of young and mostly attractive entrepreneurs with a series of business tasks, from selling lemonade to running restaurants to renting loft spaces. Contestants have had to deal with sharp elbows and backstabbing by their rivals, and Trump can be withering with the losers each week when they come to his boardroom at the end of the show. For fans, the joy has been in hearing him utter the words no contestant wants to hear: "You're fired."

Troy McClain heard those words two weeks ago, but the former Apprentice contestant told us today that Trump still has his vote for best billionaire employer. Growing up in Idaho, McClain says, Trump "was the sky to me." Perhaps so, but McClain is out, and now there are only two contestants left, Bill Rancic and Kwame Jackson. One will win the big prize, a $250,000-per-year job with Trump's organization. Who do you think will win? And, out of the 16 original contestants, who do you think should have won?

And you can still vote in our ongoing polls about which billionaire you would most or least like to work for: Click here to vote.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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