Video: 'Carolyn 101'

Dateline NBC
updated 10/7/2004 10:50:33 AM ET 2004-10-07T14:50:33

She calls herself a straight shooter, but when she takes aim, get out of the way. Millions see Carolyn Kepcher every week as one of Donald Trump's trusty troop leaders on "The Apprentice.” And she's all business. But step outside the boardroom and you'll see another side: a mom, a wife, a professional like so many others, juggling and struggling to make it all work. So how did she get to the top? And can she help you get that extra edge at the office? Read an excerpt of her book, “Carolyn 101,” below:

Chapter One: A Foot in the Door
To: Carolyn Kepcher [E-mail]

My friends have just been watching The Apprentice and when it ended I made a comment, saying that you seemed to be a real smart lady and I said I was sure that you were very aggressive in the business world, and that I'm sure that you worked for many top companies. My friend responded that he thought you were probably related or connected personally to Trump and that's how you got the job. How did you get the job? Please explain.

My personal agenda, going into the meeting, had just one item on it: Impress Donald Trump.

I had about thirteen minutes of face time at my first meeting with him in which to accomplish that task, make my pitch, and get out. After that, I knew the chips were going to fall where they may. Looking back, I don't recall that going to work for The Trump Organization was a serious consideration at that point; the prospect seemed too remote to contemplate. Still, in light of my brush with celebrity since my TV debut on The Apprentice, the irony hasn't been lost on me that I owe my current high public profile to the fact that ten years ago, in my mid-twenties, I was lucky enough to land a job strikingly similar to the one nearly 215,000 young Americans competed for in the spring of 2003, during the casting call for the first season of The Apprentice.

Since The Apprentice I have become "Carolyn," as in "Don't Cross Carolyn!" To my husband's distress, public opinion has seen fit to chop off my last name for simplicity's sake. Often these days I'm stopped in the street or in hotel lobbies by people who profess to know me, which in a sense, I guess they do. I have earned a reputation (justified) as a straight shooter and a tell-it-like-it-is kind of woman. That's not an act, by the way, that's who I am. But I have also earned a fearsome reputation as a starchy hanging judge, as Donald Trump's "Ice Queen," or another personal favorite, "Donald Trump's stern taskmaster."

Some people have even charged me with being tougher on the female contestants than on the men. In a later chapter, I intend to plead not guilty to that charge -- with an explanation. But my main reason for writing this book has nothing to do with softening, straightening, or correcting my image. I'm more than happy with my reputation as a businesswoman and a professional, and even happier that we at The Trump Organization have been given an opportunity to show millions of viewers that we are not just about constructing and managing glamorous commercial buildings and exclusive residential developments, spas, and golf courses. Like every true visionary I've ever met, Donald Trump is both a talented teacher and a talented student, as I think is obvious from his conduct and character on the show. Under his tutelage, I have learned to sharpen my skills as a negotiator and a deal maker, although the negotiating and deal making I do as executive vice president and senior manager of two of The Trump Organization's premier golf properties is, I admit, on a much smaller scale and lesser plane than Mr. Trump's.

I'm writing this book mainly because a number of fans -- mostly but not all of them women, mostly but by no means all of them young women, and mostly but by no means all of them women in business -- have inundated me with mail in recent months, asking me a variety of questions about how I got to my present position, what I think of the evolving role of women in business, how to negotiate some of the simplest yet toughest aspects of getting ahead and succeeding in professional life. We'll discuss writing a winning résumé, making a successful presentation in a job interview, dealing with bosses, good and bad, employees, good and bad, and colleagues, good and bad. We'll talk about how to dress for success, how to manage a meeting, how to ask for a raise or a promotion, how to manage work and family, and how to play with the big boys (and rarely, if ever, lose).

Rather than answer all my questioners individually -- although I've tried -- I'm writing this book to convey in print some of the messages I've sought to communicate by both my words and my behavior on the show. My personal values, if you will, can be summed up in one sentence: Whatever you do, always remain a lady.

And for the guys, I think the same rule (with one word switched) applies nearly as well: Whatever you do, always remain a gentleman.

I also believe in leading by example. This is why rather than merely laying out a long list of rules of conduct, I've included lessons and experiences from my own career as a way of showing you, as opposed to telling you, how best to handle oneself when confronted with the wide variety of problems, challenges, and opportunities that typically present themselves in the workplace. I believe the best way to understand career success is to look carefully at the people who've achieved it.

Being the tell-it-like-it-is type, I plan to tell it like it is. I'm not planning to hand out savvy advice on how to make money (for that, see Donald Trump's Trump: How to Get Rich). Forget about getting insights here on where to invest, or how to become a millionaire in five seconds, five minutes, or five years. I'm thirty-five and have been working steadily since I was twelve, with a little time out, of course, to finish high school, college, and one year of graduate school. I've been on the job ever since and have risen to a senior executive position in an organization dominated by men in an industry -- the golf industry -- likewise dominated by men.

I'm often surprised to find very bright and well-educated people who don't have the faintest idea of how to get ahead or move to the next level of their careers. We will be training our sights on sharpening skills such as sizing up a situation, spotting opportunities for advancement, and anticipating your next move. This book is for all of you looking to push onward and forward and upward in your careers.

In preparation for The Apprentice's second season, Donald Trump, George Ross, and I went down to 40 Wall Street -- a Trump Organization property -- to sit in on some of the casting and screening discussions. Now please bear in mind that 215,000 people applied to become contestants for the first season, and more than one million applied for the second.

On the day we went to Wall Street, it was snowing and cold. An estimated two thousand people had been standing in line since three or four in the morning, dolled up in their best business attire. I saw young women in high heels with their toes showing, half frostbitten. Once they made it into the lobby, they had to wait in another long line, before -- if they got lucky -- they joined the few to be plunked down at a big round table where Donald, George, and I were sitting. Once they joined us, in groups of ten, a topic would be thrown out and they would be given, at the most, ten minutes in which to respond -- to show us their stuff.

I knew it was possible that the contestants facing me, confronted with stepping up to the plate and making their pitch to be cast, had flown in from some distant city or small town. Maybe they had hired a babysitter, skipped a day of work, risked losing their jobs, risked freezing to death, in the cold, all for the sake of grasping this golden ring, gaining this great opportunity, one moment of face time in which to impress us.

Carolyn 101:

Opportunities tend to be one-time shots; if you don't take them that instant, you lose them forever.

I was shocked at how many of those contestants, who had put so much of themselves on the line to get that far, and who probably had impressive work experience and résumés, totally blew that opportunity. It's not that I wanted them to make fools of themselves, to jump up and down on the table screaming, "I'm over here! Come and get me!" But come on, at least demonstrate some smarts, show us some pizzazz, open your mouth, make sure we remember you when we leave this table. Granted, it can be tough for ten people to have a real conversation in ten minutes. But I can remember one young person (I can't even recall if it was a man or a woman) reaching over the table so that he or she deliberately blocked a rival from saying anything. And you know what? The woman being blocked out of the game didn't do a damn thing about it. Which one was worse? The rude one who shoved the rival aside, or the passive one who refused to defend herself? I'd have to say I wouldn't have hired either of them to paint my house.

Curious about this phenomenon, I asked this young woman point-blank, "What do you have to say about what just happened here?" This was at least, you'd have to admit, a germane topic of conversation. You know what? She didn't say anything. She couldn't say anything. She was just so embarrassed to be put on the spot, she choked under the pressure.

This book is for her.

Copyright © 2004 by Carolyn Kepcher. Published bySimon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

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